Reimagining Law: Celebrating the Commission’s 15th Anniversary

In this episode of Reimagining Law, we talk to retired Illinois Supreme Court Justice Robert R. Thomas and Circuit Court of Cook County Judge Debra B. Walker. Thomas and Walker discuss the early years of the Commission on Professionalism, including why it was founded and what it has accomplished.

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  • 0:54 – Justice Thomas, why did you establish the Commission on Professionalism? What were the challenges you were trying to address?
  • 2:14 – Judge Walker, you were a member of the Committee on Civility in 2002. What was your perspective on the issues back then?
  • 3:41 – Judge Walker, why did the Commission recommend the Rules be changed to require attorney education in diversity & inclusion and mental health & substance abuse?
  • 6:00 – Justice Thomas, why did the Illinois Supreme Court accept this recommendation?
  • 7:00 – Justice Thomas, what has been the most significant accomplishment of the Commission on Professionalism?
  • 8:54 – Judge Walker, what has been the most significant accomplishment from your perspective?

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Robert R. Thomas

Justice Robert R. Thomas (Ret.) was elected to the Illinois Supreme Court in 2000 and retired in 2020. Justice Thomas served as Chief Justice from 2005 until 2008, the first time a justice from DuPage County had held the role. He currently serves as a Partner at Power Rogers in Chicago.

As Chief Justice, Justice Thomas established the Commission on Professionalism in 2005 to promote integrity, civility, and inclusion in the legal and judicial professions. During his time as Chief Justice, the Supreme Court also implemented mandatory continuing legal education (CLE) for all active Illinois lawyers and judges.

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.

Judge Debra B. Walker

Hon. Debra Walker was elected judge for the Circuit Court of Cook County in November 2008. After three months in Traffic Court, she was assigned to the Domestic Relations Division where she is currently a Team Lead. In 2012, Judge Walker was appointed to the Access to Justice Commission by the Illinois Supreme Court. She was elected to the Illinois Judges Foundation Board of Directors and has served on the Board of the National Conference of Bar Foundations since 2013. She is a past president of the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois, the Illinois Bar Foundation, and the North Michigan Avenue Business & Professional Women’s Network and is an active member of the Illinois State Bar Association, the Illinois Judges Association, and the Economic Club of Chicago.

In 2001, Judge Walker was appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court to serve on the Special Supreme Court Committee on Civility, which recommended the establishment of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism in 2005. Judge Walker served on the Commission on Professionalism from 2005 to 2020. She was Commission Chair from 2012-2018.

About Reimagining Law

The Reimagining Law video series explores how legal and judicial professionals are adapting the delivery of services to meet the unique needs of today’s consumers. Reimagining Law is produced by the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism.

This episode was recorded on January 8, 2021.

Check out more episodes of Reimagining Law here.

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