Four law organizations came together to honor public and private sector leaders with the "Award of Exemplary Professional Service," including Illinois Chief Justice Rita Garman.
A dinner was held Feb. 25 at the Standard Club in Chicago and about 180 people attended. It was hosted by the John Marshall Law School, Illinois State Bar Association, Illinois Judges Association, and the Justinian Society of Lawyers.
Others honored were Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and senior advisor to the University of Chicago president and former assistant to President Obama and chief of staff to First Lady Michelle Obama, Susan Sher.
“The idea was to honor people who have provided distinguished service over the course of their careers to both the legal system and to the public,” Bob Anderson, 18th Judicial Circuit Court Judge in DuPage County and current president of the Illinois Judges Association told the Record.
Garman was chosen as one of the honorees due to both the length and the content of her career, he said. She has served in the judicial system for more than 40 years. Anderson, who said he knows Garman both personally and professionally, gave a speech about her accomplishments and presented her with the award.
In his speech, Anderson described Garman as “a woman of many firsts and a couple of seconds.”
Garman was valedictorian of Oswego High School in 1961, graduated from the University of Illinois with a bachelor of science in economics and highest honors in 1965, and earned her juris doctor degree with distinction from the University of Iowa College of Law in 1968.
Despite her academic success, her professional ambitions were met with incredulity by her male counterparts. For instance, some of her professors told her that she was only at school to "catch" a husband, Anderson said in his speech.
After graduation, she had trouble finding a job, but eventually became assistant State’s Attorney in Vermilion County, where she served from 1969 to 1973. She entered private practice as a partner with Sebat, Swanson, Banks, Lessen and Garman and served as an associate circuit judge for 12 years.
She was the first woman ever selected as an associate judge in the 5th circuit and went on to become the first presiding circuit judge in 1987. In July of 1995 she became the first woman to serve on the district appellate court for the Fourth District.
After her appointment to the Illinois Supreme Court in 2001, as the second woman ever to hold the role, Garman targeted her focus on children and families. She set out to make divorces less acrimonious and less traumatic for children.
She served on the committee on child custody for the Supreme Court which developed the 900 series rules that govern custody cases.
“The result of these rules have caused there to be fewer contested custody trials,” Anderson said. This makes life easier for the children of divorcing parents.
Garman is the longest serving woman judge in the state of Illinois and the only one to hold positions at every possible level.
“Chief Justice Garman exemplifies the best that the Illinois judiciary has and we are extremely proud of her efforts on behalf of the Illinois citizens, Illinois lawyers and the Illinois judiciary,” ISBA President Umberto S. Davi told the Record. “Her advancements and accomplishments since she first studied law are something that all of us should be proud of and should strive to emulate.”