Justice Robert R. Thomas has announced his retirement from the Illinois Supreme Court effective Feb. 29, 2020. Justice Thomas established the Special Supreme Court Committee on Civility in 2001, which went on to become the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism. He currently serves as the Supreme Court Liaison to the Commission.
After retiring from the Supreme Court, Justice Thomas will join the Power Rogers law firm where he will practice with his son. The Court has appointed Second District Appellate Court Justice Michael J. Burke to fill Justice Thomas’ seat effective March 1, 2020, through Dec. 5, 2022.
“On behalf of the Commission, I congratulate Justice Thomas on his retirement and thank him for his invaluable contributions to our organization, as a founder and our Supreme Court liaison,” said Martin Sinclair, Chair of the Commission on Professionalism. “Justice Thomas has been a leader in addressing incivility and promoting professionalism, realigning lawyers and judges with the core values of our profession. Not only has he been a wonderful steward and mentor to the Commission, but he has set an example of integrity and professionalism for lawyers and judges across the state.”
Justice Thomas was elected to the Illinois Supreme Court in 2000. He served as chief justice from 2005 until 2008, the first time a justice from DuPage County had held the role. As chief justice, Justice Thomas established the Commission on Professionalism in 2005 to promote integrity, civility, and inclusion in the legal and judicial professions, in order to enable equitable, effective, and efficient resolution of problems for the people of Illinois.
During his time as chief justice, the Supreme Court also implemented mandatory continuing legal education (CLE) for all active Illinois lawyers and judges. This includes required professional responsibility CLE hours, which the Commission administers internally, and reviews and approves externally.
“Under Justice Thomas’ guidance, the Commission on Professionalism has crisscrossed the state, instilling the principles of civility and ethics in our lawyers and judges,” said Jayne Reardon, Executive Director of the Commission on Professionalism. “As the Commission continues to grow, Justice Thomas’ impact will be lasting. It has been a privilege to work with him.”
Justice Thomas’ tenure as chief justice also saw an increased focus on the use of technology to improve the services of the Illinois courts. Among the most visible improvements was the streaming of the Supreme Court’s oral arguments in video and audio format on its website.
Prior to being elected to the Supreme Court, Justice Thomas served on the Illinois Appellate Court for the Second Judicial District from 1994 to 2000, and on the 18th Judicial Circuit from 1988 to 1994. He was appointed acting chief judge for the 18th Judicial Circuit from 1989 to 1994. Justice Thomas was admitted to the Illinois Bar in 1981. He spent the first seven years of his legal career in private civil practice.
Justice Thomas holds a J.D. from Loyola University School of Law and a B.A. from the University of Notre Dame. At Notre Dame, he kicked the winning field goal in the 1973 AP National Championship game. Following graduation, he was an NFL kicker for 12 years, 10 of them with the Chicago Bears.
About the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism
The Illinois Supreme Court established the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism under Supreme Court Rule 799(c) to foster increased civility, professionalism, and inclusiveness among lawyers and judges in Illinois. By advancing the highest standards of conduct among lawyers and judges, the Commission on Professionalism works to better serve clients and society alike. For more information, please visit 2Civility.org and follow us on Twitter @2CivilityOrg.
Laura Bagby, Communications Director