By John Anderson
As a young lawyer, I served as a law clerk for Illinois Supreme Court Justice Tom Kilbride. As he completes a successful term, I am thankful for all I learned from him. He set an example on how to be a good lawyer, a good judge, and a good person.
Some people attend law school because they want to make a difference in the world. For various reasons, usually economic pressure, these young attorneys eventually focus on more lucrative opportunities instead. But Tom Kilbride followed his passion and delivered on the change he set out to make.
Tom began his legal career providing pro bono, or free, legal services to those most in need of help accessing and working within the court system. He was a charter member of the Illinois Pro Bono Center and volunteered his time at the Community Caring Conference. He also supported faith-based and humanitarian projects such as the Quad Cities Interfaith Sponsoring committee, Quad City Harvest, Inc., and the Rock Island Human Relations Commission.
On December 4, 2000, Justice Kilbride was sworn to the Illinois Supreme Court. In 2010, his colleagues elected him to a three-year term as Chief Justice. During his term as Chief, the court was renowned for its collegiality and unity. Indeed, despite its political and geographical diversity, the court routinely stood unanimously in its disposition of cases.
Under Chief Justice Kilbride’s leadership, the Illinois Supreme Court made a number of key changes to benefit the judiciary and assist Illinoisans in gaining access to the legal system. It created the Access to Justice Commission, which works to ensure that the Illinois legal system is available to everyone, regardless of financial status, language, or other barriers. The court also initiated a pilot program to bring cameras into courtrooms, increasing transparency and creating a more open judicial process.
While Chief, Justice Kilbride remained dedicated to the ideals that originally brought him to law school. During his term as Chief Justice, he spearheaded an effort to increase the amount of pro bono legal services available. Funding was distributed through an administrative arm of the Illinois Supreme Court known as the Lawyers’ Trust Fund. LTF donates money to organizations providing free or low-cost legal services to various groups throughout Illinois. Recipients include Prairie State Legal Services and Illinois Legal Aid Online. Chief Justice Kilbride’s efforts and leadership directly led to tens of millions of dollars being available for legal representation that otherwise would not have been possible. His successes continue today.
Serving on the Illinois Supreme Court is a rare accomplishment. As Justice Kilbride completes his term, I commend him for his contributions to our community and congratulate him on setting a wonderful example as an ambassador to the legal profession. He has earned the respect of judges throughout Illinois, as well as prosecutors, plaintiffs’ lawyers, defense lawyers, the business sector, law enforcement, and the community at large. Thank you, Justice Kilbride.