Introduction: Remarks by Alderman Edward M. Burke

Thank you for visiting the Illinois State Judges Website where you will find a comprehensive directory and profile of every elected and appointed jurist representing the Circuit Courts, the Appellate Division and the State Supreme Court of Illinois during the calendar year 2015.

This useful guide to the Illinois Judicial System contains key information about the history and background of the court system from the adoption of the first state constitution on August 26, 1818 through our modern day. Provided herein, is all the essential information about each of the judges with detailed data including Identification; Education and Year of Bar Admission; County of Judgeship; Dates of Appointment; Dates of Election; Political Party and Legal Experience.

There are twenty-four judicial circuits in Illinois, comprising one or more of the State's 102 counties. The circuit courts are the courts of original jurisdiction. The Illinois Supreme Court, with seven justices elected from the five appellate judicial districts in the state, have mandatory jurisdiction in capital cases and in cases where the constitutionality of laws are being challenged. The court has final appellate jurisdiction and authority to elevate trial judges to the Appellate Court on a temporary basis.

The history and evolution of the court system in Illinois is a fascinating story and one worth knowing.

Borrowing on the old English tradition of judges traveling through the countryside on established routes to hear cases and adjudicate disputes–a practice dating back to the time of King Henry II–the first "circuit courts" were established in New England in 1789 under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Federal Court system. We have come a long way since the 1840s when a young lawyer named Abraham Lincoln navigated his horse-drawn rig through the rustic prairie towns of the Eight Judicial Circuit with his friend, Judge David Davis, at his side who would convene court and dispense justice. Today there are twenty-four Judicial Circuits in Illinois including the Circuit Court of Cook County.

The Illinois Supreme Court was first organized in 1818, with a chief justice and three associate justices appointed by the General Assembly. The early history of this venerable body is tinged with colorful anecdotes and the exploits of the great and near-great men who served.

Chief Justice Joseph Phillips, a Democrat and friend and confidante of President Andrew Jackson, was one of the more interesting and unique figures of his time. A man of enormous weight and considerable political influence, it was necessary for Justice Phillips to be conveyed to chambers in (then the state capitol) Kaskaskia in a specially constructed carriage because of his immense proportions.

In the state's early years (1818-1824; 1827-1835), Illinois Supreme Court Justices were also required to "ride the circuit"–traveling over rough terrain to the four judicial districts where they would perform both circuit and appellate duties. One can only imagine the hardship placed upon Justice Phillips navigating the Illinois frontier.

Associate Justice Theophilus Washington Smith, a pro-slavery advocate from Chicago, suffered impeachment in 1833 on an assortment of corruption charges including judicial misbehavior, but was acquitted on a negative vote of the State Senate. It marked the first time in our state's history an impeachment trial had ever been conducted. Future Illinois Governor Thomas Carlin, an outspoken critic of the decision, stared down the barrel of Justice Smith's drawn gun when an angered Smith sought apology and redress. Whereby, Carlin, refusing to back down, seized the weapon from Smith's hand and struck him in the jaw, inflicting a serious wound and a scar he would carry for the rest of his life.

General James Shields, a remarkable figure in Illinois and American history, possessed a great judicial mind, honesty and character. Shields received appointment to the high court from Governor Thomas Ford on August 16, 1843 and served on the bench until 1845. A hero in the Mexican War and the Civil War, General Shields is the only American political figure to represent three separate states in the U.S. Senate – a stunning achievement that will likely never be duplicated. In 1842, prior to joining the court, he challenged Abraham Lincoln to a duel of honor over a perceived political insult appearing in print in a Springfield newspaper. The notice had actually been written by Lincoln's fiancée Mary Todd, but the future President elected to defend her good name. The duel was set to take place on a small strip of land in the Mississippi River separating Missouri and Illinois. After Lincoln selected the broad sword as his weapon of choice, Shields backed down, realizing his tall and angular rival had an enormous reach and distinct advantage using an edged weapon. By mutual consent Lincoln and Shields called the whole thing off and later became the best of friends.

Stephen A. Douglas, "the Little Giant" of Illinois and national politics, was only twenty-eight years old when he received his appointment to serve as Associate Justice of the State Supreme Court in 1841. As Secretary of State in 1840, he lobbied for passage of an Act to expand the Supreme Court after Douglas (a fierce and determined Democrat) lost in the politically charged People ex rel. McLernand v. Field case because of the Whig majority ruled in favor of the Whig defendant Alexander Field. The next year, the court expanded from four to nine justices, with Douglas, or course, becoming one of the five new members.

Partisanship in politics, exemplified by the unfavorable ruling that motivated Mr. Douglas to effect judicial change in 1840 also factors into judicial slating. As someone who has been a participant in the judicial slating process for a number of years, I can recall that during the twenty-one year mayoralty of the late Richard J. Daley, matters were so much simpler. We would be handed a list of the candidates to approve and that would comprise the slate for the election year. The system of patronage in Chicago has changed markedly since the Daley era. How does it work today?

If a qualified attorney makes the decision to attempt to fill a Circuit Court vacancy, they must declare for one party or the other, and then pro-actively seek their party's support and endorsement. This will require significant fund raising and the submission of applications to the large bar associations to earn a coveted "Recommended" rating (the Chicago Bar Association, the Cook County Bar Association, the Women's Bar Association of Illinois are the most notable and important examples). It is also very useful for the aspiring candidate to appear before circuit judges so they can familiarize themselves with the applicant's qualifications. Circuit judges elect the associate judges.

Politics aside, what it boils down to is this: the successful candidate must possess the necessary drive and motivation; a high degree of professionalism; a reverence for the law and a passion and commitment to serving the best interests of the people of Illinois.

A wise philosopher once observed, "We are not to be judges, but mentors for people."

Thank you for visiting the Illinois Judges 2015 website. I am sure you will find the contents instructive.

Edward M. Burke

Chairman, Committee on Finance
Alderman, 14th Ward, City of Chicago