Thomas R. Fitzgerald
The son of a Circuit Court judge, Chief Justice Fitzgerald began his own career in the law as a prosecutor in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office. When first elected to the bench in 1976, he was, at that time, the youngest elected Circuit Judge in Cook County. He served as a trial judge in the Criminal Court form 1976 to 1987 when he was assigned Supervising Judge of Traffic Court. In 1989, he returned to the Criminal Division as Presiding Judge. He also was appointed to serve as presiding judge of Illinois’ first statewide grand jury.
In April 1999, he was appointed by the Supreme Court to be a member and chairperson of the court’s newly-formed Special Supreme Court Committee on Capital Cases to assess and improve the administration of justice in Illinois death penalty cases. The Committee, under Judge Fitzgerald’s leadership, drafted innovative rules which were approved by the Supreme Court to improve the quality of justice in the trial of capital cases.
Chief Justice Fitzgerald was elected to the Supreme Court of Illinois for the First Judicial District in 2000.
His accomplishments on the Supreme Court include a recommendation to his fellow justices that the Court find a way to improve the delivery of free legal services to veterans in obtaining disability and educational benefits. The Court assigned the task to its Commission on Professionalism; and in September 2007, Justice Fitzgerald joined Director L. Tammy Duckworth of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, officials of The John Marshall Law School, the Illinois State Bar Association and the Commission in announcing a broad initiative to help Illinois veterans with free legal services. With the support of the Illinois State Bar Association, the initiative was expanded to include legal help for the families of Illinois service members scheduled for deployment.
Since becoming Chief Justice in September 2008, Justice Fitzgerald announced a new Special Committee on Illinois Evidence, composed of a blue-ribbon roster of judges, practitioners, law professors and state legislators. On September 27, 2010, the Illinois Supreme Court approved the Illinois Rules of Evidence in its codified form aimed at expediting the trial process and improving the administration of justice in Illinois courts.
Also as Chief, Justice Fitzgerald announced an expansive and broad series of initiatives to improve the judiciary and public confidence in the state’s courts. Those initiatives include mandatory participation for the more than 900 Illinois Circuit and Associate judges in a Judicial Performance Evaluation Program, improvement to the New Judge Mentoring Program and New Judge Seminar; and a Statement of Expectations that was issued to all Illinois judges in December 2009.
Chief Justice Fitzgerald presided over the Illinois Senate's impeachment trial of former Governor Rod Blagojevich.
Chief Justice Fitzgerald is the recipient of numerous awards and honors.
On September 11, 2008, he received the prestigious John Paul Stevens Award. The John Paul Stevens Award, given by the Chicago Bar Association and the Chicago Bar Foundation, celebrates Illinois attorneys and judges who have demonstrated extraordinary integrity and service to the community throughout their careers.
Other awards and accolades Justice Fitzgerald has received include the Outstanding Judicial Performance Award by the Chicago Crime Commission; Celtic Man of the Year by the Celtic Legal Society; the Herman Kogan Media Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism. The Lawyers’ Assistance Program honored him in 2000 with the Hon. John Powers Crowley Award. He is the 2001 recipient of The John Marshall Law School Freedom Award. In 2003, Justice Fitzgerald was awarded the Joel Flaum Award by the Chicago Inn of Court, and the Chicago Kent College of Law Professional Achievement Award. In 2005, Justice Fitzgerald was named Catholic Lawyer of the Year by the Catholic Lawyers Guild of Chicago. He is a member of the Leo High School Hall of Fame.
Justice Fitzgerald has taught at The John Marshall Law School and Chicago-Kent College of Law, where he was assistant coordinator of the trial advocacy program from 1986 to 1996. He also has taught at the Einstein Institute for Science, Health and the Courts.
Justice Fitzgerald has served as president of the Illinois Judges Association, was a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Crime and Corrections, chairman of several committees of the Illinois Judicial Conference, member of the Chicago Bar Association’s Board of Managers and past chairman of the Chicago Bar Association’s committees on constitutional law and long-range planning.
Justice Fitzgerald passed away on November 1, 2015, at his home in La Grange, Illinois.