Friday, November 19, 2010


At the White House with
Judge Dorothy Kinnaird (left)
This morning Presiding Judge Dorothy Kinnaird of the Circuit Court of Cook County and I attended a special White House briefing on initiatives to increase access to justice coordinated by the Department of Justice’s Access to Justice Task Force and Vice President Joe Biden’s Middle Class Task Force. The CBA was invited to participate in the briefing because of our participation in a new lawyer referral program coordinated by the American Bar Association to provide referrals to lawyers qualified to represent workers in wage disputes under the FLSA. Judge Kinnaird, who was accompanied by Carina Segalini, administrator of the Circuit Court’s foreclosure mediation program, was invited because of the Court’s pioneering foreclosure mediation program. The Chicago Bar Foundation (CBF) was a key partner in the development of the mediation program and coordinates the program's legal assistance and mediation aspects.
Professor Laurence Tribe, Special Counsel on Access to Justice issues, kicked off the event, telling us that we must see access to justice “not only as a snapshot that we view from 35,000 feet, but as it is lived day to day.” He stressed the need to form new innovative, community-based initiatives, like the mediation foreclosure program and the lawyer referral program, to increase real access to justice not only to the indigent, but to Americans who need affordable legal services. 

Vice President Joseph Biden

Vice President Biden followed Professor Tribe, and declared that all individuals should be treated the same in the eyes of the law, which means that we have to ensure that every American has real access to justice. This is increasingly a problem for middle income Americans – 60% of judges responding to a recent study reported that they have more pro se litigants in their courtrooms this year than last year. The Vice President announced three initiatives developed jointly by his office, the DOJ, the Department of Labor, the Office of Veterans’ Affairs and the Federal Trade Commission:
 - Providing referrals to affordable legal services to protect workers’ rights

- Helping veterans get access to their benefits

- Assisting homeowners at risk of losing their homes in foreclosure

From left, American Bar Association President-Elect Bill
Robinson, me, Judge Kinnaird, and Jack Rives

As the Vice President put it, “you have to know what you need to know,” and that is difficult for most Americans without the help of a lawyer.

Panel presentations followed on each of those initiatives, with speakers including Secretary of Labor Solis, ABA President-Elect Bill Robinson, and the CBA’s own John Levi of Sidley & Austin, Chairman of the Board of the Legal Services Corporation, who spoke about the LSC’s new veterans’ rights initiative. During the presentations, the Cook County foreclosure mediation program, the CBA Lawyer Referral System for Wage Claims, and the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago program on veterans' rights (a CBF grantee) were mentioned as leading programs in improving access to justice.

U.S. Attroney General Eric Holder

Attorney General Eric Holder wrapped up the event with a call to action to the private Bar, community organizations, the government and legal services organizations to work on these and other initiatives.

We all should be very proud of the efforts of the organized Bar, the Courts and the public interest community in Chicago for all we are doing to improve access to justice – and we must resolve to do even more!

For more about the programs visit the White House web site at

or read an article about the program at Legal Times web site.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

November 4th Address to New Members of the Bar

I had the honor today to address the new lawyers being admitted to the Illinois Bar at their swearing in ceremony at McCormick Place, Chicago. Here are my remarks.

To commemorate your admission to the Bar today, you will receive a beautiful certificate, bearing the signatures of the Justices of the Illinois Supreme Court.  That certificate is not just a license to start billing clients.

It is the badge of admission to a noble profession, and with membership in this profession come some obligations.  In the United States, only two professions are commonly referred to as “callings”: ministers are “called” to a church, and lawyers are “called” to the Bar. That similarity is not mere coincidence, because both professions are service professions.

I believe that to be “called” to the Bar means that we are called to serve the public. Our democracy is a nation of laws, and lawyers are entrusted with enabling the public to negotiate their way through those laws. You took an oath today to protect and defend the constitution. Those are not just empty words.

As members of the profession, we are called to work to establish good laws and, when needed, to change the law for the better of society. We are called to represent those who can’t afford to hire a lawyer, to take on positions of public service and to work for the improvement of the profession through the organized Bar.

Listen for your call. Maybe your call will come from a homeowner who risks losing his home in foreclosure. Maybe your call will come from a battered woman who needs a lawyer to help her get an order of protection. Maybe your call will come from a young boy or girl who has been charged with a crime.  Maybe it will come from a charity that needs help to set up a not-for-profit corporation.  But the call will come, and it is your professional obligation to respond.

We members and leaders of the organized Bar are here to help you. We will be your mentors, your teachers, your friends. We will help you respond to the call.

As Winston Churchill said: We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.

Listen for your call, give freely, and you will have made for yourself a good life.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Retirement Celebration for Chief Justice Thomas R. Fitzgerald

At the November 3rd luncheon to honor recently retired Chief Justice
Thomas R. Fitzgerald are, from left, me, Justice Lloyd Karmeir, Justice Rita
Garman, Chief Justice Fitzgerald, Justice Mary Jane Theis, Justice Robert
Thomas, Mark Hassakis, President of the Illinois State Bar Association.
On November 3, 2010, over 500 lawyers, judges and public officials gathered for lunch in the International Ballroom of the Chicago Hilton and Towers to pay tribute to Illinois Chief Justice Thomas R. Fitzgerald upon his retirement from public office. The event, sponsored by several Bar Associations and co-hosted by the Chicago Bar Association, the Illinois State Bar Association and John Marshall Law School, was a moving celebration of Chief Justice Fitzgerald’s career of service to the people of the State of Illinois.

Four sitting Illinois Supreme Court Justices -- Justice Mary Jane Theis, Justice Rita B. Garman, Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier and Justice Robert R. Thomas -- appeared and spoke about their friendship with and admiration for Chief Justice Fitzgerald. In addition, Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride, unable to attend the luncheon, sent remarks honoring his friend and colleague.

The Justice and me.
The Justices described Chief Justice Fitzgerald as a wonderful mentor, friend, story-teller and “judge’s judge” who always asks the probing question that gets right to the heart of a case. They described how Chief Justice Fitzgerald worked to achieve compromise on the Court, and how he led in the development of the new Illinois Rules of Evidence. Several speakers mentioned also the critical leadership role that Chief Justice Fitzgerald played on the Circuit Court of Cook County, taking the helm of a troubled Traffic Court reeling from the disclosures of corruption ferreted out during the Operation Greylord investigation in the 1980s.

Chief Justice Fitzgerald spoke of his sadness in leaving the bench and the work that he has loved, and quoted from Lou Gherig who famously said, “I am the luckiest man in the world.” He also joked that he did not understand why everyone was being so nice to him, as he no longer has the authority to appoint judges.

A standing ovation greeted the introduction of the guest of
honor. Appaluding the Justice are Judge William J. Bauer,
U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, and Justice Mary
Jane Theis, Illinois Supreme Court.
The luncheon was a fitting tribute to Chief Justice Fitzgerald for his many years of public service. My thanks to ISBA President Mark Hassakis, who served as my co-emcee for the luncheon, to the CBA Scales of Justice and CBA musicians Frank Cargill and Steve Thomas for performing, and to the following Bar Associations for sponsoring this wonderful event: Advocates Society; Arab-American Bar Association of Illinois; Asian American Bar Association; Black Women Lawyers Association; Chinese American Bar Association; Cook County Bar Association; Decalogue Society of Lawyers; Filipino-American Bar Association; Hellenic Bar Association; Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois; Illinois Native American Bar Association; Indian American Bar Association; Justinian Society of Lawyers; Korean American Bar Association; Lesbian & Bay Bar Association of Chicago; Muslim Bar Association of Chicago; Pakistani American Bar Association; Puerto Rican Bar Association and Women’s Bar Association of Illinois.