Bench & Bar Section Council year in review 2018-19: Reflections from the chair

As I conclude my term as chair of the Bench & Bar Section Council of the ISBA, it’s time to reflect on the past year, and look forward to the future. This section council strives not only to enhance a spirit of cooperation and collegiality between judges and practicing attorneys, but also to address crucial issues impacting the legal profession. One must conclude when reviewing our efforts over the past year that we have advanced our mission, although much work is needed in the future.

We didn’t shy away from difficult, controversial topics. Indeed, in my forty-four year legal career, I have never witnessed more challenges to judges and lawyers than in the past year. Foremost amongst these was the attack on the Rule of Law over and over again, with a drumbeat that could not help but detrimentally impact the public’s view of our judicial system. Coupled with this concern was a contentious judicial confirmation hearing bringing to our television screens questions of judicial temperament, civility, and potentially cracking the aura of respect our society has held judges at all levels throughout my lifetime. Frankly, the core elements of our profession were being put to the test.

This section council did not shy away from tackling these issues head on, and held a frank, no holes barred brainstorming session with ISBA President Hon. James F. McCluskey. We vowed to move forward with concrete efforts to combat the negativity disseminated from certain circles to regain the public’s trust and confidence in the judicial system. Many thanks to President McCluskey for his inspirational leadership in this area on behalf of the ISBA.

As if the public attacks were not enough, increasingly a private epidemic became more and more alarming. Studies showed the opioid crisis had crept its way into the legal profession. Once again, we focused on the issue and looked at the admirable efforts of LAP, Lawyers’ Assistance Program, to aid troubled members of the bar. Whether it’s drugs, alcohol or mental illness, the increasing level of stress impacting our profession must be addressed now. 

At another section council meeting, we reviewed the potential dangers of for-profit online legal referral services as they attempt to charge into Illinois. The ISBA leadership has closely watched these efforts and thoroughly weighed the advantages of access to justice versus the dangers associated with non-regulated providers. No doubt, the ISBA will continue to scrutinize this issue in the coming year.

Most recently, Bench & Bar explored the increasingly popular philosophy and positive impact of restorative justice. Taking several forms from engaging in peacemaking circles to supplementing juvenile and criminal proceedings, to assisting parties in resolving family disputes in probate, trust, chancery and domestic relations litigation, restorative justice is on the rise in Illinois. One of the long-time chief proponents of this philosophy and its way of life is Cook County Circuit Court Judge Sophia Hall. Judge Hall led us through a thorough examination of the distinctions between a traditional justice model and a restorative justice approach, centered on reintegration, obligation, healing, repair and meeting the needs of all parties. These types of values have endless possibilities both within and beyond the courthouse. To learn more about restorative justice, please see ,, the impressive work of Kay Pranis, and the University of Wisconsin ongoing studies on the topic.

As you can see, we had a very full year of substantive, challenging topics to study and debate. The men and women of the Bench and Bar Section Council are extraordinary ISBA leaders, and the pinnacle of the legal community. It has been an exceptional honor to chair this group for the past year. Special thanks to my vice chair, the Hon. Stephen Pacey, who takes over the chair at the ISBA Annual Meeting in June. Judge Pacey has been a most valuable partner throughout the term and will make an outstanding chair in the coming year. Profound thanks as well to our secretary, Sandy Blake, who so accurately recorded the minutes of our meetings, a thankless task! Much gratitude to our exceptional committee chairs, including professional ethics (Justice Ann Jorgensen), continuing legal education (Judge Michael Chmiel), legislation (Daniel O’Brien), and newsletter (Hon. Edward Schoenbaum, so ably assisted by Evan Bruno and Edward Casmere).

Once again, this section council produced nearly monthly top-notch newsletters for the benefit of ISBA members covering numerous important topics. Any list of thanks must also include my deep appreciation to a most active member of our section council, Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Lloyd Karmeier for his invaluable input. Finally, my sincere thanks to ISBA Staff Liaison Melissa Burkholder, whose characteristics of patience, efficiency, intelligence, and good nature combine to benefit us all. More than anyone else, Melissa is the person most responsible for the excellence of the section council. Thank you, Melissa!

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June 2019Volume 49Number 10PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)