Colleagues, family support new Chief Justice

By Anna Carrera

Published 10/28 2013 05:29PM

Updated 10/29 2013 10:39AM

DANVILLE -- After a ceremony Monday, Rita Garman secured her place at the top of Illinois' top court. She also secured a place in the history books. The Danville woman becomes just the second woman ever to be named Illinois' Chief Justice. Garman started working in Vermilion County.

Before she landed a job as a judge, Justice Garman worked with Vermilion County's legal aid society, making $90 a week. Decades later, she's sitting in the state's top judicial spot. It's a place she's proud to stay for the next three years.

Justice Garman and her staff have been getting ready for Monday's big ceremony for a while now.

"I was taken aback somewhat last week," said Illinois Supreme Court Justice Robert Thomas. "I called Rita's chambers and her assistant Mary answered, 'Good morning. Almost-Chief Justice Garman's chambers.'"

And now that it's official, her fellow justices say she's the perfect person for the job.

"She never treats a case like a stack of papers or a case number," said Illinois Supreme Court Justice Mary Jane Theis. "For her, each case is about one of our neighbors who come to us at difficult times in their lives."

All but one time in the past, the top spot in the state's supreme court has been held by a man. So Justice Garman says she's embracing this opportunity.

"I couldn't have dreamed as a young woman that I would ever end up as a judge," said Garman, "and most certainly not as the Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court."

And the men and women who share a place with her on the bench know her womanly instincts go far beyond the courtroom.

"Rita agreed to trade our walking tours of Springfield for power walks in the mall," said Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke.

Some people who have already put away their black robes say they're behind Justice Garman already.

"I've been a Garman fan for many years and I'm just delighted at this occasion," said former Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Benjamin Miller. "She's going to be a great Chief Justice."

With a room full of supporters, Garman says she's ready to take on whatever comes in the next few years.

She's not the first female Chief Justice and Garman says she expects to see more women doing law in the future. Two other women are already on the Supreme Court with her. And for any other women who want to start, she says follow your dreams and get as much experience as you can.

It's been a steady climb for Justice Garman as she made her way up the judicial ladder. She started as an associate circuit judge in Vermilion County in 1974. Then she became a circuit judge in 1986. She's also served as a presiding circuit judge and was elected to the appellate court in 1996. In 2001, she was appointed to her position on the Illinois Supreme Court. Last year, she was retained for a second ten-year term.

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