By Marcia M. Meis, Director, Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts
Over a 12-year period from 2006-2018, the Illinois Supreme Court had only one change to its membership. That change came in 2010 when 1st District Appellate Court Justice Mary Jane Theis ascended to our state’s highest court. Last month, Justice Theis took the reins as Chief Justice and, with Justice Anne Burke’s retirement later today, will become the Court’s longest tenured member.
The Court has seen a nearly complete change in membership over these last four years starting with Justice Charles Freeman’s retirement and Justice P. Scott Neville, Jr.’s appointment in 2018, Justice Lloyd Karmeier’s retirement and Justice David K. Overstreet’s appointment to the Court in 2020, Justice Rita Garman’s retirement and Justice Lisa Holder White’s appointment in July of this year, and now Justice Joy Cunningham’s appointment to Justice Anne Burke’s seat on December 1. Justice-elect Elizabeth Rochford and Justice-elect Mary K. O’Brien will join the Court on December 5.
We send best wishes and a heartfelt goodbye to Justice Michael Burke and Justice Robert Carter as they leave the Court on Sunday. The Illinois courts greatly benefited from their exemplary service and thoughtful leadership, tackling the challenges of COVID-19 and Judicial Redistricting, among other things, during their tenure on the Court.
To lead and navigate our state court through these significant changes, we are extremely fortunate to have Chief Justice Theis’ vast knowledge and experience. Justice Theis has served at every level of the judiciary, beginning as an associate judge in 1983 and becoming a circuit judge in 1988. She joined the 1st District Appellate Court in 1993 and served there for 17 years.
Those who know Chief Justice Theis are very familiar with her longstanding interest and steadfast support of judicial education. She has chaired the Supreme Court Committee on Judicial Education and was instrumental to the creation of the Illinois Judicial College, which was established in 2019 in recognition of the benefit of collaborative multidisciplinary professional education to Judicial Branch professionals.
Another passion of Chief Justice Theis is judicial ethics. She chaired the Committee on Judicial Conduct of the Illinois Judicial Conference and recently completed a three-year term as Chair of the Illinois Courts Commission. She worked tirelessly to achieve funding for the Courts Commission for the first time since its creation in the 1970 Constitution, thereby allowing the hire of its first Executive Director and establishment of a website. These changes allow the Courts Commission to operate as it was intended under the Illinois Constitution.
Chief Justice Theis outlined her priorities in last month’s Court Connect and the Administrative Office looks forward to assisting with development and implementation of these initiatives. We will also be assisting the Chief in welcoming the three new justices to the Supreme Court over the next week.
Justice Joy Cunningham, who began her career as a nurse, became a Cook County associate judge in 1996. She left the bench in 2000 to serve as Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary at Northwestern Memorial Healthcare. She returned to the bench in 2006 as an elected 1st District Appellate Court Justice.
Justice-elect Elizabeth Rochford, who began her career as a teacher, became a Lake County associate judge in 2012. She worked as an Assistant State’s Attorney and in private practice before joining the bench. She is a current member of the Illinois Supreme Court Access to Justice Advisory Committee and the Illinois Judicial Conference Public Relations Task Force.
Justice-elect Mary K. O’Brien served in the Illinois House of Representatives from 1996-2003 before becoming a Justice of the 3rd District Appellate Court. Her judicial activities have included service on the Supreme Court Legislative Committee, the Supreme Court Rules Committee, the Illinois Courts Commission, and the Illinois Lawyers Assistance Program.
These three new Justices, along with Chief Justice Theis and Justice Holder White, will constitute the first female-majority Supreme Court in our state’s 204-year history.
The AOIC looks forward to working in service to Chief Justice Theis and all her colleagues on the Court. We also honor and will continue the great legacies of the outgoing Justices in support of the Court’s administrative and supervisory authority over all courts.