In Madison County Circuit Judge Lola Maddox's final days on the bench she took a few moments to reflect on her experience over the past nine months.
Question: You came out of retirement to return to work in a challenging environment. Why did you do it?
Answer: I considered it a great honor to be asked by Justice Lloyd Karmeier and the Supreme Court to serve during this nine month vacancy.
I had retired only fifteen months earlier in November of 2004, knew all of the Circuit and Associate Judges, and looked forward to the chance to be working with them at a time when the Court faced so many challenges.
During my retirement I worked part time as an unpaid volunteer for Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation in Alton providing free legal services to the poor. That was a very rewarding experience, and I received an award from the Illinois State Bar Association for providing that service.
Question: Having served as an associate judge in family how did you prepare for assignment to the Civil Division?
Answer: Family is only a small part of my experience as an Associate Judge. I have had every conceivable assignment as an Associate Judge over the twenty five years of my "first" term of office.
I have been the Judge in traffic and misdemeanor, juvenile, probate, orders of protection, and family. I also served in the LM division for more than six years on two different occasions, including my last eighteen months as an Associate when I was supervising judge of the LM division, where civil jury and non-jury lawsuits up to $50,000 are heard along with miscellaneous remedy, chancery, and eminent domain cases.
I also have some felony experience and also handled some Law division cases as an Associate Judge including a number of asbestos cases. As far as preparation, I was only retired for fifteen months, and the case law is constantly changing especially in areas like venue and forum and class actions so a Judge always has to read cases to rule on issues that come up.
Question: When you returned you inherited a large caseload. Can you summarize what's taken place with all those cases?
Answer: The largest part of effective case management for a Judge is to make sure that every case always has a future setting of some kind; and if it doesn't, set it for case management or status. Once a case has a trial date chosen, you then just set any motions that are filed in the meantime and periodically review a list of cases that have no setting and get them back on track.
Many of the motions in the Law division are so complex they need special settings, and I would set them for scheduling conference so the attorneys could work out a brief schedule in advance of their oral arguments.
When I took over this docket on March 1, 2006, there were 604 pending cases. There were 426 pending cases as of October 16, 2006, a reduction of thirty percent.
Question: Did you have specific goals in mind in terms of expediting your caseload knowing that your assignment was temporary?
Answer: I considered this term of office as sort of a "stewardship" for the new Circuit Judge who would be elected in November.
I wanted to get the docket in the best shape possible by the end of my term, and also wanted the state of the docket as I leave office to reflect on my own work ethic and legal abilities. I hope that the legal community and the incoming Judge and the community conclude that I have done a good job with this docket.
Question: You've dismissed a number of cases and made some rulings that have captivated the attention of our reporters. Are some decisions more clear cut than others, or does the rule of law always make things crystal clear?
Answer: Some decisions are much easier to arrive at than others. In many cases you have two or more very able attorneys arguing positions that are remarkably different.
Deciding a case is sort of a process and sometimes the right decision comes to you somewhere down the line in that process as you try out various things in your mind after reading the file and cases and doing your own research.
A lot of reading is required for complex motions, and I always compose at the keyboard by typing my own orders, trying to be as logical and understandable as I can in my reasoning in my orders. I will watch my orders that have been appealed with interest over the upcoming months and years.
Question: Did any attorney ever overtly or otherwise suggest that you were biased in any way?
Answer: In the last nine months there were only a very few substitutions of Judge filed from me.
I took none of them personally as the parties had the right to ask for another Judge as a matter of right. Throughout my legal career, I have tried not to take insult where none is intended.
When I was in law school, an older law student (retired military) once wisely advised me not to get in a shooting match with a skunk, and I sometimes remind myself not to perpetuate any problem that may arise.
Many situations can be defused by a question or comment or even a little humor. Lawyers are advocates and sometimes their tempers flare and they can get a bit testy, but no one treated me so rudely that I felt any need to reprimand an attorney in the courtroom.
Question: Do you detect any attitudinal changes in the Third Circuit since Chief Judge Ann Callis implemented a number of reforms? Have the reforms been embraced?
Answer: Anyone who practices law here or works in the legal system in any capacity here had to be eager for improvement in the image and reputation of the Third Circuit.
All of the Judges in this Circuit are honest and honorable men and women and do their jobs with dedication and to the best of their abilities. There is always room for difference of opinion as to the outcome of a given case, but the Appellate Courts are the means to correct any legal errors.
I believe that the reforms that have been implemented since Judge Callis became Chief Judge have helped improve the image of the judiciary in the Third Circuit and lessen our ill-deserved image as a judicial "hellhole."
Question: Now that it's about to be over, what kind of impact do you think you've had on the court, the second time around?
Answer: I don't think I am the right person to answer that question, but I can say that I was welcomed back by the Circuit Judges and the Associate Judges who were my friends and colleagues and by literally hundreds of attorneys and court staff.
Attorneys often do not feel comfortable telling a Judge that they admire their work for fear they will appear to be fawning over the Judge. I have had some tell me they were pleased to get orders that carefully considered the issues in their cases and explained the reasoning that was used.
It has truly been a wonderful nine months and the highlight of my legal career to serve as a Circuit Judge in the Third Judicial Circuit.
I will look back on this last nine months as a Circuit Judge with pride and gratitude for the opportunity to serve.