National Hispanic Heritage Month: Honoring Judicial Trailblazers in Illinois

National Hispanic Heritage MonthEach year, National Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the Latino community’s contributions to American history, heritage and culture.

In 1968, the U.S. Congress authorized and requested that the president issue an annual proclamation designating the week that included September 15 and 16 as National Hispanic Heritage Week.

President Lyndon Johnson issued the first proclamation that year. It stated, in part:

Wishing to pay special tribute to the Hispanic tradition, and having in mind the fact that our five Central American neighbors celebrate their Independence Day on the fifteenth of September and the Republic of Mexico on the sixteenth, the Congress by House Joint Resolution 1299, has requested the President to issue annually a proclamation designating the week including September 15 and 16 as National Hispanic Heritage Week.

In 1988, the U.S. Congress expanded the week-long celebration to a month, beginning September 15 and ending October 15.

In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, the Commission on Professionalism would like to recognize the contributions of the first Latina and Latino judges in Illinois. These leaders have broken barriers and blazed the trail for future generations of judges in Illinois.

Judge Consuelo Bedoya-Witt

Judge Consuelo Bedoya-Witt was the first Latina judge in Illinois. She was born in Lima, Peru, and enrolled in Aurora University in Aurora, Ill., in 1969. After graduating from Aurora, she went on to DePaul University College of Law, where she received a J.D. in 1976. She was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1977.

Following law school, Bedoya-Witt primarily served in the private sector until, in 1988, she was appointed to the Circuit Court of Cook County. She served as an associate judge until her retirement in 2008.

In 2011, Bedoya-Witt was appointed as Glenview, Ill.’s, first administrative law judge. That year, Glenview launched a program to adjudicate local ordinance violation cases before an administrative law judge in the village rather than the Cook County Courthouse in Skokie. In Glenview she “heard more than 350 property cases and ruled on more than 1,000 minor police citations.” She also served the villages of Golf and Northfield, Ill.

Bedoya-Witt retired as an administrative law judge in late 2017. She currently has a private practice in Glenview.

Justice David Cerda

Justice David Cerda was the first Latino judge in Illinois. Born in Chicago to immigrants who fled the Mexican Revolution, Cerda was the first person in his family to graduate from high school. After a brief stint in the U.S. Navy at the end of World War II, Cerda joined three Navy buddies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

He went on to become one of two Latino students in his J.D. class at DePaul. He graduated in 1955 and was admitted to the Illinois bar the same year.

After law school, Cerda worked in private practice before being appointed a magistrate in Cook County in 1965. He was elected to the Circuit Court of Cook County the following year. The Illinois Supreme Court appointed Cerda to the Illinois Appellate Court in 1989. He retired from the bench in 2002.

In an interview, Cerda recalled mentoring Bedoya-Witt, beginning in law school and continuing through her judicial career.

In 2018, Bedoya-Witt and Cerda were honored at the inaugural ceremony of the Illinois Latino Judges Association. The association “aspires to have a diverse judiciary that inspires confidence from the citizenry, that all individuals who present themselves before the court will be treated with dignity, respect, impartiality and indeed, justice.”

Cerda said initial plans to form the Illinois Latino Judges Association were discussed in the early 1990s, but there weren’t enough Latino judges on the bench at the time. Today, there are roughly 40 active Latino judges in Illinois.

For more profiles of leaders who’ve made significant contributions to the Illinois legal community, visit the Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois.

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