Judge Richard Mills: Lessons in Civility from Mr. Lincoln’s Prairie

Judge Richard Mills, U.S. District Judge for the Central District of Illinois, never considered a career as anything other than a lawyer. Growing up in central Illinois, he idolized Abraham Lincoln, who practiced law before being elected to the U.S. presidency. He watched his grandfather, father, and uncle serve as local attorneys, providing legal help to members of the small Illinois communities he loves.

So, after graduating from Mercer University School of Law in Georgia in 1957, he turned down an opportunity to clerk for a federal judge in Alaska to return to Virginia, Illinois, and practice law with his uncle at his grandfather’s firm.

From there, Judge Mills won the 1960 state’s attorney race in Cass County — a position his father had held — before “riding circuit” as an Illinois circuit judge beginning in 1966. In 1985, Judge Mills, a lifelong Republican, was recommended by a Democratic U.S. senator from his district to fill a seat in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois. He was nominated by President Ronald Regan in 1985 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate that same year.

In his interview, Judge Mills discusses the reality of life in politics, the increasing rural access to justice gap, and lessons learned from more than 50 years on the bench. When asked why he still comes to court after assuming senior status in 1997, Judge Mills said, “Because I love it. It’s what I do. It’s all I can do.”

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2Civility is the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism’s communication channel. “2” because we are fostering transformation. “Civility” because it’s the moral code that binds us together as a society, and as the legal profession, encouraging a productive exchange of perspectives and rejecting disrespect for individuals or classes of people. We advance the highest standards of conduct among lawyers to better serve clients and society.
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