Pioneers and prosecutor honored at the Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois Gala 2015

On May 14, 2015, the Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois (HLAI) held its 2015 Spring Gala at Prairie Production in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood. The long-awaited event was a tremendous success for the organization, providing the perfect setting for new friends to be made and for old ones to reconnect, strengthen bonds, and reflect upon HLAI’s past accomplishments and future challenges. The joyous event honored trailblazers within the Hispanic bar and judiciary, including pioneer attorneys Leo J. Aubel, Honorable David Cerda, and Honorable Saul Anthony Perdomo. HLAI also presented Cook County State’s Attorney Mercedes Luque-Rosales with the Aguila Award.

Illinois Senate President John J. Cullerton provided the Keynote Address and highlighted his proposed Senate Bill 23, which will amend the Attorney Act to provide that no person shall be prohibited from receiving a law license solely because he or she is not a citizen of the United States. Senate President Cullerton, and Senators Antonio Munoz and Iris Y. Martinez are the Chief Co-Sponsors of this Bill. Currently, Illinois law prohibits non-citizens from being granted a professional license to practice law. If passed, this law would affect students who fall within the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Honorable Mark J. Lopez shared the vibrant history of HLAI and introduced the HLAI Pioneers. Each of the honorees had a unique story about their pathway to the practice of law and vision for the future.

Pioneer Honoree: Leo J. Aubel

One of three Pioneer’s honored was Leo J. Aubel, a Chicago patent attorney for nearly 60 years, who was one of the founding members of the Mexican American Lawyer’s Association, one of the HLAI’s predecessor organizations. Aubel, who is 88 and a Navy veteran of WWII, could not be at the presentation. His son, attorney Leo G. Aubel, a partner at Howard & Howard in Chicago and a member of the HLAI, accepted the award on behalf of his father. The presenter, Judge Lopez, said that he had read some of the titles of the technically complex patent applications filed by Aubel, Sr. on his own behalf, as well as those of his business partners and clients, joking that he could not often pronounce them.

Aubel was born and raised in Alamogordo, New Mexico, where he was the valedictorian of his high school class. Later a graduate of the University of Nebraska, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and New York Law School, his education was sometimes interrupted by his Naval service on the USS Allegheny and the USS Mellette. He was admitted to the New York Bar in 1956, after which he worked in-house at IBM, and was subsequently admitted to the Illinois Bar in 1963, and remained in private practice until his retirement in 2013, most recently with Wallenstein, Wagner, Hattis, Strampel & Aubel. In brief heartfelt remarks, his son noted Aubel’s commitment to the highest legal, ethical and scientific standards and his devotion to his family.

Pioneer Honoree: Honorable David Cerda

Honorable David Cerda was the first Latino Illinois Appellate Court Justice to serve on the Appellate Court when he was assigned to the review court in 1982. He retired from the Judiciary in December 2002. He is a founding member of the Mexican American Lawyers Association, a member of the Illinois State Bar Association, the Chicago Bar Association, and also a member of the Illinois Judicial Council.

Justice Cerda was born on June 17, 1927 in Chicago, the oldest of two sons born to a father from Angamacutiro, Michoacán, and a mother from the State of Guanajuato in Mexico, who settled in Chicago in 1917. He was reared on the west side of Chicago at 1810 South Trumbull and graduated from Farragut High School in Lawndale in 1945. He then enlisted in the U.S. Navy at age 17, is a WWII Navy veteran—Seamen-1st class (‘4546). After his honorable discharge, he received his college education on the G.I. Bill, earning a Business Administration degree from the University of Illinois in 1948. He then attended one year of law school at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in 1950. Thereafter he earned his law degree from DePaul University, College of Law in 1955. He was admitted to the Illinois Bar on November 29, 1955. Justice Cerda began his legal career with the firm of Panarese & Cerda. He was a solo practitioner in Chicago’s South Chicago community at 9223 S. Commercial Ave., until he was appointed a Magistrate of the Circuit Court of Cook County in 1965. He was elected an Associate Judge in 1966 and elevated to Circuit Court Judge in 1971 by operation of law by virtue of Article XIV, Section 4 of the 1970 Illinois Constitution becoming the first Latino Circuit Court judge in Cook County and the State of Illinois.

Early in his career, together with Honoratus Lopez, Manuel Reyes and Mario Perez, he organized many chapters of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) throughout Illinois, Michigan, Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin, encouraging Latino voter registration and raising scholarship funds for college bound Latinos. He has served as a role model and mentor to young Latino lawyers throughout his career and he continues to mentor in his retirement.

Pioneer Honoree: Honorable Saul Anthony Perdomo

Honorable Saul Anthony Perdomo was born in Havana, Cuba, on July 2, 1936. He was an only child who was raised in the tiny town of San Antonio de las Vegas in the Province of Havana. His parents were Cuban- born, but his maternal ancestors came from Corsica, Italy, and his paternal ancestors were Sephardic Jews from Turkey and the Canary Islands. His family emigrated to the U.S. in 1949 when the future judge was 13 years old. His father was a medical doctor and his mother a homemaker. His paternal grandfather, Octavio Perdomo, was a Judge in the Cuban Province of Villa Clara’s capital of Santa Clara, located near the geographic center of the island. His family first settled in Miami where Perdomo attended Miami Edison High School before his family relocated to Tampa and he graduated from H.B. Plant High School. He attended one summer semester at DePaul University in Chicago before transferring to the University of Miami, Florida, where he earned a degree in Government Studies. He became a U.S. citizen in 1958 and served in the U.S. Air Force reserves from 1959 to 1964. He attended Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, where he earned his law degree in 1962. He also attended one summer semester of law school at Northwestern University Law School. He gained admission to the Illinois Bar on November 15, 1962, and was admitted to the District of Columbia Bar in 1980.

He began his legal career as an Assistant States Attorney for Cook County, both at the trial and appellate levels (‘64-‘66) before beginning his solo career in private practice concentrating in criminal defense (‘67-‘79). He represented clients in both state and federal courts in Illinois, as well as federal cases in New York and Florida. While in private practice he also served as legal counsel for the 9th Congressional District Delegation and co-moderated the City of Chicago’s investigation into the civil disorder occurring on the West Side in 1966. He also served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1972, 1974 and 1976. He was elected as an Associate Judge for the Circuit Court of Cook County in 1979 where he spent his entire judicial career in the Municipal division until his retirement in 1996. He was a member of the Latin American Bar Association, the Chicago Bar Association, and the American Bar Association where he served on the Criminal Law committee.

Aguila Award Honoree: Mercedes Luque-Rosales

Mercedes Luque-Rosales grew up in the Humboldt Park Community on the west side of Chicago and attended grammar school in the Chicago Public School system. In fact, many people are surprised to learn that Mercy, as everyone calls her, only spoke Spanish when she started school, and that English is her second language. At a young age, Luque-Rosales’s parents taught her that education was the key to everything in life. Armed with this advice, Luque-Rosales worked hard and received a scholarship to attend Loyola University in Chicago. As a student she worked with Loyola’s Upper Bound Program, helping to encourage inner city students to attend college. Due to her commitment to public service and social justice Luque-Rosales was awarded a Patricia Roberts Harris Fellowship to attend Creighton University School of Law in Omaha, Nebraska.

Upon her return to Chicago, Luque-Rosales continued her dedication to public service. A 25-year veteran of the Cook County States Attorney’s Office, she is currently a Felony Trial Specialist at the Leighton Criminal Courts Building at 26th and California. In addition, Luque-Rosales has spent her entire career trying to improve the legal profession by making it more reflective of the Latino/a community at- large. She has accomplished this goal by being one of the founders of two bar associations--the Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois and the National Hispanic Prosecutors Association. Luque-Rosales was elected President of HLAI in 2005, the first prosecutor to be elected to lead the organization, and in 2011 was elected the National President of the National Hispanic Prosecutors Association.



Hon. Mark J. Lopez is an Associate Judge in the Circuit Court of Cook County. Pioneer Honoree biographies are included herein with his permission. Unpublished work © 2015 Mark J. Lopez.

Emily N. Masalski is Counsel at Rooney Rippie & Ratnaswamy LLP (R3) and a member of the firm’s environmental and natural resources, health and safety, and litigation practice groups. Emily can be reached at

Spiridoula (Litza) Mavrothalasitis is an Assistant Inspector General with the Office of Executive Inspector General for the Agencies of the Illinois Governor. She is the current President of the Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois and can be reached at

For additional information about HLAI’s Immigration and Legislative Committees, visit

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June 2015Volume 8Number 1PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)