No more Oreos: Jones to ‘talk less, smile more’ as he transitions from prosecutor to Adams County judge

Ingrid steals cookie

Judge Josh Jones, left, laughs as his daughter, Ingrid Jones, eats an Oreo cookie out of a package given as a gift by Judge Frank McCartney during Friday's investiture ceremony at the Adams County Courthouse. At right is Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lisa Holder-White. Assistant State's Attorney Laura Keck is in the foreground. | David Adam

QUINCY — Chief Judge Frank McCartney rattled off three reasons why the judges of the Eighth Judicial Circuit believe Josh Jones will be an excellent associate judge.

Intelligent. Prepared. An effective litigator.

McCartney, a judge during several cases Jones tried as an assistant state’s attorney in Adams County, offered one more reason. He turned to the judges in attendance for Jones’ investiture ceremony on Friday morning in the Adams County Courthouse, saying each of them likely had heard Jones’ explanation of circumstantial evidence given to many juries.

“He would tell his kids that they were not allowed to take an Oreo cookie out of the cookie jar,” McCartney said. “Inevitably, one of his children would try to sneak one out of the jar. He would confront the child, and the child would deny it — only for Josh to observe that, in fact, the child had Oreo cookie crumbs around their mouth.”

McCartney concluded his remarks by saying, “We are just sick and tired of hearing the same Oreo cookie story. The only way to stop that was by putting you on the bench.”

McCartney then handed Jones a gift of a package of Oreos and a framed definition of circumstantial evidence.

Jones thanked the judges who voted for him to become Adams County’s next associate judge, replacing Debra Wellborn, whose last day on the bench was Tuesday. He said they were instrumental in making him the lawyer he’s become, setting benchmarks for patience, kindness and compassion. 

“And perhaps most importantly, you’ve listened to that stupid Oreo cookie story over and over and over again,” Jones said with a smile.

After Friday’s ceremony, Jones said he believes he’s used the Oreo cookie story more than 200 times during his career.

“I’ve stolen lots of ideas in the course of my legal career, but that one was all mine,” he said.

Friday’s ceremony was an opportunity for friends, family and co-workers to wish Jones well in his new position. Jones worked in the Adams County State’s Attorney’s Office from December 2003 to October 2015, then from December 2016 until now.

“Where I was raised, you would drive through the country and occasionally come upon a turtle resting on the fencepost,” he said. “And you would know one thing: Ain’t no way that turtle got up there by himself. Much like a turtle on a fencepost, there is no way I would be here before all of you today without the help of countless individuals.”

Friday also was a bittersweet moment for Jones. It was the last time he sat at the prosecution table next to Assistant State’s Attorney Laura Keck. The two have worked side-by-side since November 2012 prosecuting some of the county’s most heinous cases, ranging from low-level drug offenses to first-degree murder.

“Josh and I have probably spent more time with each other than most other co-workers generally do,” Keck said.

She offered five reasons why Jones would be an excellent judge.

  • He’s meticulous about making sure everything is right. She told a story about how she had to change all the different shades of blue in a PowerPoint presentation to the same shade of blue as they prepared for a recent jury trial.
  • He has a movie quote ready for almost any situation. “Working in the court system can be incredibly stressful, especially in the practice of criminal law,” Keck said. “It’s often important to have a healthy way to release some of that stress.”
  • He will listen to both sides before making a decision. “As our office coworkers can attest, there have been times when we have had completely different views on some things,” Keck said. “Occasionally, we ultimately do what he wants. Most of the time, I can tell you he has changed his mind and does what I think.”
  • He can talk to people. “I know Josh can do it because I’ve seen him do it for years, even when he has a really bad day and doesn’t want to talk to anyone,” Keck said. “I’ve seen him take a deep breath and go into our conference room with a listening ear. They have no idea he is having a bad day while they meet with him. When they leave, they feel as though they’ve been heard.”
  • He was a friend and a mentor to Keck. She said when Jones was assigned to train her to become an assistant state’s attorney, he said he wouldn’t bother learning her first name. Instead, he referred to her as “minion” or “Pollyanna” because she was too happy and cheery.  However, as their relationship developed, Keck recalled times when Jones came to her home to play games with her children, giving her and her husband a break. “Josh came over and saved my sanity,” she said.

“I learned a ton from Josh about how to be a lawyer and try cases,” Keck said. “I was without a doubt the annoying little sister that he never wanted, constantly pestering him with questions.”

Jones said after the ceremony that leaving the state’s attorney’s office was a difficult decision to make.

“Oscar Wilde said there are two great tragedies in life. One is not getting what you want. The other is getting it,” he said. “It is sad to leave that part of my career behind because it has meant so much to me. 

“I remember the last case Laura and I tried together. We were dealing with a young girl who was horribly assaulted. We were sitting in the conference room when she was going through a lot of trauma. I realized that this was it for me. I wasn’t going to be doing this job anymore. There were a couple of moments where I was like, ‘Do I really want to give this up?’ Because that’s what being a lawyer is — protecting the innocent, making sure the community is a better place every day. So it’s bittersweet, but it’s a new challenge.”

Without the Oreo cookie story to fall back on now, Jones says as a judge he won’t need the oratorical skills he polished as a prosecutor.

“The best advice that I’ve gotten is from my kids (his son Henry and daughters Elena and Ingrid),” he said. “One of our favorite musicals is ‘Hamilton.’ There’s a line where (Aaron Burr advises Alexander Hamilton), ‘Talk less, smile more.’ I’d like to think as a judge that’s kind of how I would proceed with the cases. I don’t need to talk as much. That’s not my role anymore. My job is to call balls and strikes. That’s how I’m going to approach it. I’m not there to talk.”

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