Spotlight: Appellate Justice Carl Anthony Walker
Justice Carl Anthony Walker was sworn in as a Justice of the First District Illinois Appellate Court on June 15, 2018, after serving for 12 years as a Cook County judge. Justice Walker was appointed to his new position by the Illinois Supreme Court. He is a native Chicagoan who grew up in Englewood and attended Chicago Vocational High School. Justice Walker credits his mother for his success in life, mostly because she was always involved in every aspect of his life and schooling, and kept him on the straight and narrow path.
There are no other lawyers in this justice’s family, but his interest in law began in high school, when he and a classmate took a business law class and started joking around about the name of the law firm they would one day have. Justice Walker wanted his name to be first, and the classmate, of course, disagreed. Justice Walker told his family that he was going to be a lawyer and informed them of the name that he wanted for his firm. After that, his family always reminded him of that goal. His family would tell him, “Don’t forget, you said you were going to be a lawyer,” and those words resonated with him. Due in part to his family’s expectations, Justice Walker attended law school at the University of Iowa College of Law, after graduating from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana with a degree in accounting and working for a few years as a CPA.
Justice Walker did, in fact, fulfill his dream of starting his own practice, and he was at the helm of that practice for 14 years before finally accepting an appointment to the Cook County bench. He had been approached previously about becoming a judge, but enjoyed the practice of law and his interaction with clients so much that he had previously preferred to continue his private practice. He had a general practice, which encompassed both criminal and civil law, where he practiced in such diverse areas as real estate law, insurance law and even personal injury. While running his own law practice, Justice Walker also worked part time as a hearing officer for the City of Chicago. In fact, he credits that experience with giving him an easy transition to being a member of the judiciary. From the first day that Justice Walker was a sitting judge, he was on his own, running a call and hearing cases that afternoon. His previous experience as a hearing officer gave him the knowledge and the confidence he needed to succeed as a jurist. In fact, Justice Walker heard a myriad of cases as a judge, with as much variety as when he was a private attorney. Because he had legal knowledge encompassing so many areas, during his tenure as a Cook County Judge he handled cases in the Law Division, the Juvenile Justice Division, felony preliminary hearings, criminal misdemeanors, domestic violence, and even traffic court.
Knowledge in various areas of the law has also helped Justice Walker transition to the appellate court. What he enjoys most about his new role as an Appellate Justice is the ability to talk about the cases with the other justices before making a final decision. As a trial judge, Justice Walker would make his rulings on his own while in the courtroom, but as an Appellate Justice he is required to discuss the cases with the other justices in his division and hear their different points of view before rendering a final decision. His biggest challenge as an appellate justice is the heavy work load, since he always attends every meeting and every oral argument prepared; he takes the time to read all the briefs and case law presented by the parties and does his own legal research when necessary.
Justice Walker believes that lawyers who have judicial aspirations must, first of all, be kind and courteous to everyone they encounter. Since attorneys tend to work in an adversarial system, the tendency may be to do otherwise, especially if the client expects their attorney to be tough on opposing counsel or resents their attorney being friendly with opposing counsel. Justice Walker cautions young lawyers not to fall into that kind of reasoning, but instead be courteous to opposing counsel and explain to a client who may resent that type of behavior that both parties have to work together to resolve the issues in the case, be it criminal or civil.
Justice Walker believes that racism, which can be found in all the different levels of our legal system, can be an obstacle for minority attorneys with judicial aspirations. Such racism may be covert, or there may be some level of implicit bias at play. Justice Walker believes that members of minority groups should continue to work hard and always be prepared, and hope that this will help to eliminate people’s racist views of minority attorneys. He strongly believes in bar associations and their role in promoting diversity in our profession, which will hopefully lead to more diversity on the bench. He would like to see the bar associations reaching out to the underrepresented communities and encouraging more young people of a minority background to go to law school and become attorneys. He strongly believes that we need lawyers and judges with different viewpoints and life experiences to make our profession even stronger.
Justice Walker is a wonderful example of how hard work and determination can allow someone to reach their goals. He would read book after book on all areas of law when he practiced. His desire to learn everything that he can about every aspect of the law has helped him to forge a stellar career, and I am sure he will have a long and illustrious career on the appellate bench.