As new president of the Illinois Judges Associations, or IJA, DuPage County Circuit Judge Robert J. Anderson aims to strengthen the state’s Lawyers Assistance Program without resorting to universal drug testing for Illinois judges.
He will begin his new position following IJA’s annual meeting on Friday at Loyola University of Chicago School of Law.
IJA is a voluntary organization with roughly 1,250 members representing both active and retired judges.
As new president, Anderson said he hopes to continue doing the “wonderful things” the association currently does while also setting new priorities for the organization.
Anderson said one of his goals as president is to let the community know about the good things judges and lawyers do.
“The only time people pay attention is when people disagree with something a judge may have done,” Anderson said.
He hopes to see that change by promoting the positive programs IJA offers and the service lawyers provide to their communities, such as pro bono work. In fact, he said lawyers donated more than $2 million hours of time in pro bono work in 2014.
Anderson also hopes to strengthen the Lawyers Assistance Program, which offers help to judges, lawyers and law students with alcohol and drug problems “without having their lives and careers destroyed.”
He explained that the program intervenes before the alcohol and drug abuse spirals out of control. Because the program provides confidential help, judges and lawyers who seek out help will be able to do so privately without repercussions.
However, he said that while the program won’t report cases of addiction, chief judges could still hold judges accountable for drug and alcohol abuses in situations where the issue has become public or known.
Locally, former St. Clair County judge Michael Cook was sentenced to two years in prison after he was charged on May 24, 2013, with possession of heroin and being an unlawful user of controlled substance in possession of firearms.
Anderson said that if someone had been aware of Cook’s addiction problem early enough, it would be “the perfect example” of an appropriate case for the Lawyers Assistance Program.
When asked if drug testing was a good idea to help curb alcohol and drug abuse in Illinois courtrooms, he suggested it would not be an appropriate way to approach the issue. He said resources in Illinois are already scarce, and it would be a poor use of those resources to require costly testing for every judge when there are just a handful of abusers.
“The idea that because of [one judge’s drug addiction] every single judge should take a drug test, I don’t believe that that logically follows,” Anderson said.
“There’s probably about 850 judges in Illinois and just two have a problem, the cost would be enormous,” he continued.
He said a better method is to focus on strengthening intervention methods by getting more judges actively involved in the program.
Currently, assistance is minimal. For example, he said DuPage County is a county of roughly 1 million people, but only one trained intervener is available for the Lawyers Assistance Program.
Another program Anderson plans to continue with IJA is Seven Reasons to Leave a Party, which is designed to help educate teens about issues involving drugs and alcohol.
Anderson said this program is “very personal” to him because his niece was killed by a drunk driver about 17 years ago.
Anderson also hopes to continue is Courtroom in the Classroom, which seeks to bring judges into classrooms to talk to students about what judges do and the challenges they face.
Judges also visit younger classrooms to read and have story time with grade-school students.
“There are a lot of wonderful things the association does, and I hope to continue that,” he said.
Anderson was appointed an associate judge in DuPage County in 1992. He was later appointed a resident circuit judge in 1995 and was appointed to the position in 1996.
He was retained as circuit judge by voters in DuPage County in 2002, 2008 and 2014.
Anderson is a member of the Assembly of the Illinois State Bar Association, co-chair of the Illinois Supreme Court Committee on Child Custody, a member of the Illinois Supreme Court Committee on Education and served as chair of the DuPage Family Violence Coordinating Council from 2010 to 2014.
Anderson is an adjunct faculty member at Loyola University School of Law, where he teaches family law.
Anderson also speaks at judicial and legal programs, as well as to community groups.
Anderson is married to Irene F. Bahr, a former president of the Illinois State Bar Association. They have three adult children: sons Robert and Sean are both admitted to practice law in the State of Illinois and daughter, Erin, recently received her Master’s Degree in public health.
IJA was founded in 1972 to provide services, support and education to its member judges and raise public understanding of the Illinois judicial system.
IJA will also appoint Cook County Judge Israel Desierto as 1st Vice President, retired Taylorville Judge John P. Coady as 2nd Vice President, Cook County Judge James E. Snyder as 3rd Vice President, Lake County Judge Margaret J. Mullen as Secretary and Cook County Judge Diane M. Shelley as Treasurer.