Ahead of Justice Rita B. Garman’s retirement on July 7, 2022 after 48 and a half years, a few of her clerks wrote about what their time with her meant to them.
I had the privilege of clerking for Justice Garman for twenty years – two years on the appellate court and eighteen years on the supreme court. One of the many things I admire about her is her commitment to mentoring young attorneys. Most of our appellate and supreme court justices hire permanent law clerks, so openings for these positions are rare. Justice Garman, on the other hand, hired a new law clerk every year for a two-year term. She invested a great deal of time in interviewing, hiring, and training these law clerks and, as a result, helped launch the careers of dozens of young attorneys.
On a more personal note, Justice Garman is one of the kindest, most gracious people I have ever known. When out in public in Danville, perhaps when she and the staff would go out for lunch, she was frequently approached by individuals who had been in her courtroom years before and were grateful to her for the way she had treated them or their family member. Often, she remembered them. In every case, she was willing to spend the time to hear their stories. It came as no surprise, then, when the Vermilion County Board, in 2017, renamed the county courthouse in her honor.
Her willingness to be accessible to the public extended to her speaking engagements. She rarely turned down an invitation to speak to the public – whether to a group of eighth graders, a civic group, a college graduation, or a group of newly-admitted U.S. citizens. Her message was always one of civic duty, the value of fairness in our justice system, and devotion to family, community, and country.
I am grateful for the opportunity to work with Justice Garman and for the trust and confidence she placed in me, and I wish her a long, happy, and healthy retirement. It is well deserved.
Professor Janice Farrell Pea
University of Illinois
College of Law
“Do the right thing”
“Are you just here to find a husband? Don’t you know you’re taking some nice young man’s place?”
Those words—spoken to Justice Rita B. Garman by law school professors when she was a law student—came back to me as I looked at the pink attorney registration card held up by the Supreme Court Clerk in 2016. In those early days, then-Clerk Carolyn Grosboll explained, women’s attorney registrations were filed on pink notecards. That bureau of historical attorney registration notecards—pink for the women, standard white for the men—still remains in the basement of the Illinois Supreme Court building.
The card was a sharp visual reminder of the situation Justice Garman faced at the start of her career. There was promising opportunity in private practice in Danville for a young, male attorney—her husband, Gill. But a woman attorney was something of a novelty nobody quite knew what to do with. Justice Garman had to knock on many doors, politely but firmly, to make her way in the law.
Twelve years as an associate judge led to nine years as a circuit judge, leading to five years on the appellate court before her appointment and election to the supreme court. Now at the pinnacle of Illinois’s legal profession, what did Justice Garman do? Through her clerkship hiring and professional mentoring, Justice Garman devoted herself to the work of ensuring that the next generations of lawyers—and especially the faces not yet well represented in the practice of law—would find their way. As I have told later additions to the Garman family of clerks, the only downside to a term clerkship in Justice Garman’s chambers is that you leave knowing you’ve already had the best boss you’ll ever have.
The very first case I worked on for Justice Garman was a thoroughly complex tax case. As I collected the briefs and record for (many hours of) intensive review, Justice Garman gave one piece of guidance: “Do the right thing.” I feel that phrase has always embodied Justice Garman’s approach to the cases, as well as to her staff: a willingness to listen with patience and warmth, a diligent consideration of every perspective, and always making sure that door is open. To everyone.
Reporter of Decisions
Illinois Supreme Court
I had the privilege of being one of Justice Garman’s first supreme court law clerks in 2001 and, after an 18-year stint with the Fourth District Appellate Court, one of her last clerks when I became her senior law clerk in 2019. From the first year to the last days, she has remained the same—a sharp legal mind devoted to protecting the rule of law and preserving the dignity of the Illinois Supreme Court.
In her speeches, Justice Garman regularly speaks of the Latin phrase—Audi Alteram Partem—carved above the door in the supreme court courtroom. Meaning “hear the other side,” she has always taken the phrase to heart, whether it be listening to the attorneys arguing the cases before the court or the justices debating the issues in the conference room. Thereafter, her decision making was calm and thoughtful, always decisive and always seeking what justice requires.
Having known her for over 20 years, I have often heard people describe her as “classy.” It is an apt description, evidenced by the way she treats her staff or a stranger on the street or through a note of thanks or letter of congratulations. She has been the shining example of dignity and excellence that Justices on the Illinois Supreme Court should strive to be, and I am thankful for the opportunities to work for her.
Senior Law Clerk
Illinois Supreme Court