Restoring Civility: It’s On Us
The Illinois Judges Foundation Annual Reception was held on September 25, 2019, at the ISBA offices in Chicago. This event attracted a mixture of lawyers and judges. Some judges, who also serve on the Foundation’s Board, traveled across the state to be present. Judge Debra Walker, the Foundation’s current President, began the ceremony by expressing gratitude to those who have contributed to the Foundation. This continuing generosity has allowed the Foundation to award law school scholarships as well as fund educational initiatives offered throughout Illinois schools.
The event focused on promoting civility and professionalism in the courtroom and legal community. True to theme, the Reception’s three honorees—Illinois Supreme Court Justice Robert Thomas, Federal Judge Virginia Kendall, and Cook County Circuit Court Judge LaGuina Clay-Herron—have all meaningfully contributed to educating and inspiring professionalism-oriented lawyers and judges.
The evening’s first honoree was Illinois Supreme Court Justice Robert Thomas. In addition to his outstanding legal and judicial career, he played in the National Football League for twelve years, including ten for the Chicago Bears, where he became the fourth leading scorer in Bears history. Justice Thomas opened his speech with a Bears story and seemed especially thrilled to share this special evening with former teammate Bruce Herron, the husband of honoree Judge Clay-Herron. In 2001, Justice Thomas created the Supreme Court Committee on Civility, and in 2005, he created the permanent Commission on Professionalism. Justice Thomas’ speech focused on the importance for lawyers and judges to lead by example and exhibit professionalism at all times. Justice Thomas has truly dedicated the past two decades of his career to improving professionalism and civility among lawyers and judges throughout Illinois.
The evening’s second honoree was Federal Judge Virginia Kendall. Prior to Judge Kendall’s judicial appointment in 2006, she was a federal prosecutor in Chicago serving both the Public Corruption Unit and as the Child Exploitation Coordinator. While a federal prosecutor, Judge Kendall was appointed to the U.S. Attorney General’s Advisory Panel which reviewed all multi-jurisdictional child exploitation and trafficking cases. Judge Kendall has become a world-renowned educator and has dedicated her career to eradicating human trafficking. In fact, Judge Kendall accepted her award on behalf of all the survivors of human trafficking. In her speech, Judge Kendall recalled the strong emotions that overcame her as she sat across from a victim of human trafficking for the first time. This emotional experience has been the driving force behind Judge Kendall’s work lecturing and educating lawyers, judges, and law enforcement officers. Domestically, Judge Kendall has created a human trafficking training module for task forces and judges that has been implemented throughout the United States. Internationally, she has led workshops and lectured in 30 countries. It is Judge Kendall’s hope that her lectures raise awareness of the severity of human trafficking and give these professionals a greater understanding of how the law can respond. Every lawyer and judge should endeavor to act with as much passion and dedication as Judge Kendall has throughout her career.
The evening’s final honoree was Cook County Circuit Court Judge LaGuina Clay-Herron. Judge Clay-Herron sits in the County Division. Prior to joining the bench and as a sole practitioner, Judge Clay-Herron unselfishly volunteered 7 years of pro bono service for The Center for Disability and Elder Law, and 3 years pro bono for First Defense Legal Aid. Additionally, she served as a Commissioner of the Illinois Court of Claims for seven years. Judge Clay-Herron taught full-time in Chicago Public Schools for a number of years before attending John Marshall Law School in the evenings. Even after she set up her own law practice, she continued to teach. When Judge Clay-Herron made the decision to fully give up teaching for law, she was afraid that she would lose her first love. However, as a judge, she has found the opposite to be true. Shortly after her appointment, Chief Judge Evans asked Judge Clay-Herron to train and educate new judges. In addition, she has worked tirelessly to teach judges in the Illinois Judges Association how to best present educational trainings in classrooms, most notably “Your Future ~ Your Choice.” Judge Clay-Herron is the ultimate educator and continues to be a role model for judges and attorneys throughout Illinois.
The ceremony concluded with Judge Janet Brosnahan—the Foundation’s Harold Sullivan Scholarship Chair—introducing the 2019 scholarship winners and the Deans of their respective law schools. The Harold Sullivan scholarship, established in the name of, and to honor, Judge Harold W. Sullivan, is awarded annually to one or more students attending an Illinois law school. The Scholarship was established as a permanent way of transmitting ethical values to new generations of law students. One scholarship was presented by Dean Jennifer Rosato Perea, Dean of DePaul University College of Law, to third year law student Nike Roman. Nike is a member of the DePaul Public Interest Law Association and also serves as a mentor to 1L students. Nike has spent her time in law school volunteering with organizations that provide services to marginalized communities in Chicago, including Chicago Volunteer Legal Services, Life Span, the Domestic Violence Legal Clinic, and Erie Neighborhood House on their DACA Renewal Project. Another scholarship was presented by Dean Virginia Vermillion, the Dean of Students at the University of Illinois College of Law, to second year law student Brian Smith. Brian is extremely involved in global health and is interested in how neuroscience intersects with law and policy. Brian is the Senior Associate for the Antibiotic Resistance Project, and plans to apply his biomedical research and policy analysis background towards creating laws and policies that can lead to healthier communities. The law student scholarship winners are truly admirable for all they have already accomplished in their communities.
The Reception’s honorees have dedicated their careers to furthering civility and professionalism through education. As a third year law student, it was inspiring to meet each honoree and learn about their strong commitment to the Illinois bench and bar.
Rachel Gewurz is a judicial extern for Judge Debra Walker. She is currently a 3L at Washington University in St. Louis.