On September 17, 2014 the Circuit Court of the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit appointed Robert W. Rohm as associate judge to fill the vacancy created by Judge Thomas C. Dudgeon. Having spent the last two decades defending insurance companies and their insureds in personal injury matters primarily in DuPage County, Judge Rohm is about as familiar a face as one can find at the DuPage County Courthouse. Now, instead of the second floor of 505 N. County Farm Road, Judge Rohm spends his days presiding over traffic matters in the Downers Grove Field Court housed in the American Legion Post #80.
Judge Rohm spent his formative years in Orland Park, attended Brother Rice High School, and spent weekends and summers turning the parking lot of commercial property owned by his family into a profitable parking operation for fellow Cubs fans. Asked if he thought this year would be the year for the Cubs he replied, “Yes…but I think every year will be the year.” Growing up, he often found himself on the devil’s advocate side of debates and enjoyed the sport of argument. While Judge Rohm always wanted to be a lawyer, he doubted that he possessed the requisite wherewithal and initially considered a career as an auto mechanic.
It was his father, who passed away in 2007, that convinced him to attend a four year university and eventually law school. The first in his family to earn a four-year college degree, Judge Rohm earned a B.S. in Marketing from Drake University, graduated with honors from Drake University Law School and was admitted to practice in Illinois in 1990.
Within a few months of his admission to the bar, attorney Frank Stevens hired Judge Rohm as an associate with Taylor Miller, LLC and showed him the ropes of insurance defense. Early on, he handled a lot of insurance coverage cases and declaratory judgment matters, later focusing his caseload to almost exclusively injury defense. In 1996, Judge Rohm was made a partner of Taylor Miller, LLC and defended more than 1000 cases through litigation.
He represented defendants in more than 100 trials, many of which were in front of the very judges who voted for his appointment to the bench. Judge Rohm prides himself on having conducted himself as a tenacious advocate for his clients without sacrificing professionalism or civility in the process. “I like to think, or at least I hope that I am seen as someone who does what they say they’re going to do and keeps his word.”
The most difficult adjustment for Judge Rohm has been shifting his role as an advocate to that of a judge. Having pursued a career in law because of his passion for debate and skill in argument, it is an internal struggle to confine his role to ruling on arguments made by the attorneys on the other side of the bench without engaging in the discussion too much himself. He sometimes feels compelled to jump in and try to prevent pro se defendants from making incompetent decisions that may have very real consequences (like suspension of one’s license to drive), but bites his tongue more often than not while he works out where that line should be drawn.
Judge Rohm’s experience in private practice made him a seasoned civil litigator, but he humbly admits his experience as a civil defense attorney afforded him limited exposure to other areas of law. From the time he was appointed to the time he put the robe on, he observed as many traffic calls as he could. He met with Judge Telander, Judge MacKay and Judge Coco to ask questions and learn every bit he could from them. He also obsessively studied and researched to prepare to preside over a courtroom he was otherwise unfamiliar with. Judge Rohm said that he could ultimately see himself ending up in the civil division, but stresses that between now and then he welcomes the challenge of tackling the courtrooms less familiar to him, diplomatically insisting that he would be happy to be moved to any courtroom where he is needed. “No matter which courtroom I am assigned to, I am going put in the time and hard work to do the best job I can. Civil litigation is all I did for the past twenty years. I’m excited to do something different, to learn new things.”
For those attorneys who may find themselves in front of Judge Rohm, his expectations are simple. He expects attorneys in his courtroom to come prepared and act in a professional manner.
He admits to getting frustrated when attorneys send their clients to court to get multiple continuances. Aside from the fact that untimely or absent attorneys can delay an already long court call, Judge Rohm regrets any negative impression that kind of behavior might leave with the public regarding our legal system and profession. Lastly, he attributes his smooth transition to the bench, at least in part, to Deputy “Shack” Shackleton, his assigned courtroom deputy and to the clerks who rotate through his courtroom. His deputy and clerks have a great knowledge of traffic court proceedings and are “instrumental in running a smooth call,” so it should come as no surprise that Judge Rohm expects they be treated with the utmost respect.
Judge Rohm enjoys hunting water fowl and pheasant, fishing, golfing, and spending time with family. During our interview, he sat behind his desk with a heater running at his feet. Above my head, a plastic goose decoy sat on a shelf. Although they were installed many years ago, the wood paneled walls which adorn American Legion Post #80 from the main room all the way to his chambers seem to have been selected and installed in anticipation of Judge Rohm’s arrival. “I’m an outdoors kind of guy. I’ll probably drag a charcoal grill into the parking lot and barbeque after work on nice days.”