SPRINGFIELD — The death of 81-year-old John McCullough of Lincoln last month has left a vacancy on a state appeals court.

McCullough, who was believed to be the longest serving judge in Illinois when he died Oct. 30, was in his third 10-year term as a member of the Fourth District Appellate Court.

Republican Rita Garman, the Illinois Supreme Court justice who represents the Fourth District, will recommend a replacement for McCullough to the full high court.

It remained unclear Thursday whether Garman will form a committee to accept applications from attorneys or lower-court judges who are interested in the post.

“She has done that in the past,” Supreme Court spokesman Joe Tybor said.

Garman also could make her decision in secret and ask her colleagues on the high court to sign off on the replacement with no public input.

There is nothing in state law that requires the justices to open the process.

Tybor also said there is no timeline that the justices must follow to fill the vacancy.

“It’s uncertain when the appointment will be made,” he said.

Fourth District Appellate Court Clerk Carla Bender said McCullough’s death came a month before he would have celebrated 50 years on the bench.

He launched his judicial career as a county judge in 1962.

“This is a great loss to the court,” Bender said.

As a justice on the state appeals court, McCullough was among a panel of judges hearing and deciding cases from lower court disputes in 30 Central Illinois counties stretching from the Indiana border to the Mississippi River.

Whoever wins the appointment will have to stand for election to a full term in November 2014.

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