By Stephen Anderson
When he was inducted on Dec. 4, 2000, as a justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, Thomas R. Fitzgerald summed up his philosophy of life and law in four words: “Do what is right.”
The inauguration heralded a turning point. As the court entered 2001, four of the seven justices would be serving their first terms.
Justice Fitzgerald was one of three newly elected members, joining Thomas R. Kilbride and Robert R. Thomas. Less than two months later, Benjamin K. Miller resigned, paving the way for the appointment and eventual election of Rita B. Garman.
Next Sept. 6, Fitzgerald will succeed Thomas as chief justice. He was elected unanimously to a three-year term during the May session just concluded.
A 1968 honors graduate of The John Marshall Law School, who received its Freedom Award in 2001, Thomas Fitzgerald began his career as a Cook County prosecutor.
It was there that he adopted the “Do what is right” mantra that had been espoused by principled men who held the office of state’s attorney: Daniel Ward, John Stamos, Edward Egan and Louis Garippo.
After eight years as an assistant state’s attorney, Fitzgerald was elected to the circuit court in 1976. He became supervising judge of Traffic Court in 1987 and presiding judge of the Criminal Division in 1989.
In 1999, the Supreme Court tapped him to chair its Special Committee on Capital Cases, which drafted new rules that included training and certification of lawyers and judges who handle death penalty cases.
Elected to the Supreme Court in November 2000, Fitzgerald holds the seat that Daniel Ward, one of his mentors, held from 1966 to 1990.
A past president of the Illinois Judges Association, Fitzgerald has been honored by the Lawyer’ Assistance Program, the Chicago Inn of Court, the Chicago Crime Commission and Chicago-Kent College of Law.
He has been Celtic Legal Society Man of the Year and Catholic Lawyer of the Year.
Fitzgerald’s position on the Illinois Courts Commission will be filled in September by Thomas Kilbride.