SPRINGFIELD--Thomas Fitzgerald will serve as the next chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, but will have little effect on the state's so-called judicial hellholes, a leading tort reformer said.

Fitzgerald, a Chicago Democrat, will serve as the chief courts officer for a state that is ranked as having one of the worst legal climates in the nation, according to studies by the Pacific Research Institute and the American Tort Reform Association, among others.

Despite Fitzgerald being a "fine justice" and having a "distinguished record," he will have little impact on the state's overall legal landscape, said Ed Murnane, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League.

Fitzgerald, as the chief justice, will not shift the high court ideologically, Murnane said in an interview Monday.

"It's not changing the balance of the court," he said of Fitzgerald's leadership.

"It's the same seven justices who are sitting there today (and who) will be sitting there in September when Justice Fitzgerald becomes the chief. They will just switch seats, and he will be in the center chair."

The Illinois Civil Justice League endorsed Fitzgerald in the 2000 Democratic primary and backed him in the general election, when he ran unopposed.

As chief justice, Fitzgerald will oversee the state's high court and set its schedule. Currently on the high court are four Democrats and three Republicans.

Justice Lloyd Karmeier, elected to the high court by voters in the state's southernmost Fifth Judicial District in 2004, is a Republican.

Fitzgerald will replace current Chief Justice Bob Thomas, a Republican, who completes his three-year leadership term in September.

Fitzgerald was part of a Supreme Court committee on capital punishment cases before being elected to the high court in 2000.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo by e-mail at

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