Circuit court judges puts spotlight on Southern Illinois in upcoming novel

Southern Illinois University (SIU) Alumnus and Cook County Circuit Court Judge James Varga is writing a novel called Tombs if Little Egypt based on a crime trial in Southern Illinois.

According to Varga’s description, Tombs of Little Egypt is about two grave robbers Lou and Duke turn a small town in Southern Illinois upside down and arrested and are brought to court for their offenses.

Narrator Retired Sheriff Sam Carter documents a log of events to help his town be painted in a positive light for the future.


The description goes on to say,“ Beneath the retired sheriff’s wry narration of the investigation, arrests, and trial lies a fundamental question bound by neither place nor time. The truly good person is not the accuser but the accused, not the historian but the criminal, condemned between the pages of history in a tomb void of the dreams and hope of tomorrow.”

“At the end, what it’s basically about is, who is a truly good person?,” Varga said. “ That’s kind of like the existential, fundamental question…why is that person good?”

Varga graduated from SIU in 1975 and the University of Notre Dame Law School in 1978 and started his career as a prosecutor, he said.

“I was assistant state’s attorney when I began [in] prosecution,” Varga said. “What you do is you work your way up…you start with misdemeanors, and then you wind up at the felony courts… that’s where the big criminal cases are.”

Varga said he got a great jumpstart to his career being assigned to the John Wayne Gacy case better known as the Killer Clown, by chief prosecutor Will Kunkle.

“I didn’t have to put in a lot of years… after I did that [case] I kind of catapulted fast,” Varga said. “ [Kunkle] let me participate in the trial, take care of all the evidence, and put on very minor witnesses, like a tow truck driver or family members.”

Getting on the Gacy case was humbling and challenging, but he was grateful to Kunkle for giving him a opportunity to open doors for him at such a young age, Varga said.


Varga became a judge in Cook County’s Circuit Court in 1994. He said when judging he puts his bias aside and believes if you think it’s bad you shouldn’t do it.

“Sometimes you do run into some questions as a judge many times I used to,” Varga said. “I recognized as a law judge that I know the law, and if I finally share the law… I just interpret the law [and] apply the law.”

Varga always tells himself and the jury before starting a trial that you have to apply law even if you don’t agree with it and not to favor anyone, he said.

“We have the rule of law, and it’s supposed to be above everybody to apply to a president, to a judge, to everybody,” Varga said. “That’s what gives us our freedom.”

Varga said he views trial court as a place to interpret and law and apply it, and not make it your own.

Along with being a judge he is guest faculty at the University of Notre Dame Law School, Varga said.

“I go once a semester to preside over a jury trial for the law students and they were conducted at the St Joseph County Courthouse and then I’d critique them,” Varga said. “ It’s called the intensive trial…they’re taped, so they can see themselves [so] it’s tough.”

Varga has no plans of moving up courts enjoying where he is in trail court, but encourages students in law school to work had, he said.

Tombs of Little Egypt is scheduled to come out later this year. Varga said his objective is always to look for the moment of happiness and sadness at the same time with his writing.

Varga said the reader in the beginning will start to like the deputy, but by reading and analyzing the symbolism the reader should be able to sympathize with the criminals.

“There are all kinds of narrators and some are trustworthy, some are not.” Varga said. “ I’m not so sure Sam Carter’s a trustworthy narrator.”

Staff reporter Jamilah Lewis can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @jamilahlewis. To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.