The new chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court said Monday she plans to use her three-year term to continue the court’s emphasis on civility and professionalism, work to ensure prompt decision-making, support the increased use of technology and focus on judicial education.
Chief Justice Rita Garman shared her objectives for her new role after her predecessor, Justice Thomas Kilbride, swore her in and handed her the reins of the high court at a ceremony that took place at the Vermilion County courthouse in Danville, where Garman began her judicial career four decades ago.
“I hope my legacy will be one of competence, clarity and cooperation so the people of Illinois receive the justice they deserve,” Garman said.
Before she made her brief remarks at the ceremony, which was live-streamed over the Internet, Garman’s colleagues on the state high court shared stories about their new leader, as well as their confidence in her ability to take on the responsibilities that come along with being chief justice.
Saying that Garman has been called “your honor” and “has served with honor” for nearly 40 years, Justice Mary Jane Theis said “there is no one more prepared in our state to be chief justice.”
Garman is the first chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court who has served in every judicial capacity. She also is the second-longest serving judge in the state and the second woman in Illinois history to serve as chief justice.
Theis said Garman’s time on the Vermillion County bench, which she was appointed to as an associate judge in 1974, continues to shape her career, which also included a stint on the Fourth District Appellate Court before she was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2001.
“She never treats a case like a stack of papers or a case number,” Theis said, noting that for Garman, each case is “about one of neighbors” and that her “closeness to the human story in each case” began in the courthouse that served as the site of today's ceremony.
During the time the two have sat behind the high court bench, Theis said she has noticed that Garman is “always so well-prepared” and asks questions that go right to the heart of each case, something she said often makes her shake her head and wonder “How does she do it?”
In addition to her ability to get to the crux of each case before the court, Theis said Garman has a “strong and eloquent” writing style and uses a “disciplined analysis” that respects all of the parties, lawyers and her colleagues.
“She does all those things as her authentic self: warm, gracious and in beautiful clothes and fabulous shoes,” Theis said, drawing laughter from the audience.
Theis wasn’t the only justice who brought up Garman’s shopping habits.
Justice Ann Burke said she and Garman used to go for walks through Springfield when the court was in session, which gave them the opportunity to share their lives and swap stories.
But, Burke said, she couldn’t keep up with Garman so the two agreed to trade their walks through the park for power walks in the mall. Once Theis joined the court, Burke said she and Garman learned they weren’t as seasoned as they thought when it came to their shopping excursions.
On top of being a great shopping partner and accomplished justice, Burke said Garman is “a woman of faith with strong family ties.”
Burke said Garman’s daughter told her that her mother never misses a family gathering, always remembers to send birthday cards and encouraged her and her brother “to reach for the stars” while they were growing up.
Garman’s husband, Gill, a Danville attorney, describes her as “the engine that runs the family,” Burke said.
Burke said the same attributes that make Garman such a good mother and wife carry over to her professional career, Burke said, adding that the new chief justice shows her “court family” the same care and concern.
Justice Robert Thomas added on to his colleagues’ praises of Garman, saying he wanted to share some of his insights to help “paint a more complete picture of the person behind the judge.”
Garman, he said, as a sharp and quick wit, and that the two routinely exchange “good-natured” barbs. Noting that Garman is now his boss, Thomas jokingly apologized to her for anything he said in the past that may have offended her.
Like Theis and Burke, Thomas also mentioned Garman’s “greatest claim to fame … Rita is a one of a kind, world-class, Olympic-level, gold medal-winning shopper.”
Thomas said he looks forward to watching Garman take her shopping game to the next level now that the court meets in Chicago for term.
Jokes aside, Thomas said he Garman “is simply one of the best judges I have ever had the privilege to work with.”
Garman, he said, is “fiercely intellectual,” attentive, prepared and “knows what she believes and she is never afraid to assert her position even when it is unpopular,” but at the same time, is always willing to hear the other side, keep her mind open and change her position if necessary.
After raising her right hand and taking the oath, Garman told the ceremony's attendants that today marked one of the “most gratifying and uplifting moments of my life.”
She said everything she has achieved in life is only because of all of the help, support and encouragement she has received from her family, friends and the state’s legal community.
Garman also said that she has benefited from those before her who helped pave the way for women in the legal profession, such as the late Mary Ann McMorrow, the first woman to be chief justice in Illinois.
She also cited a quote from Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female U.S. Supreme Court justice, about how no one accomplishes anything alone and that whatever happens is the result of individual threads that weave together to form a tapestry of one’s life.
Saying that each person who attended today’s ceremony is an individual thread, Garman said she is “grateful for the part you have and are playing in helping me create the tapestry of my life.”