The Journal of The DuPage County Bar Association

Back Issues > Vol. 12 (1999-00)

History of the Chief Judges of the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit
By Hon. Kenneth L. Popejoy

INTRODUCTION

In 1957 the Illinois Revised Statutes had something new and in retrospect quite exciting located within Chapter 37, Section 72.1. That statutory reference read "the County of Cook shall be one judicial circuit and the State of Illinois, exclusive of the County of Cook, shall be and is divided into judicial circuits as follows:... 18th Judicial - the County of DuPage."

So began a rich and exciting history of jurisprudence within our county. There are other articles located within this issue which speak of the transition from the old county judge system to the 18th Judicial Circuit. Some of those articles are in a narrative story telling form, others are very factual in nature. Our County of DuPage, the second most populated county in the State of Illinois, has been a pillar of judicial leadership. That leadership is evidenced by our present Supreme Court Justice S. Louis Rathje. That leadership is further evidenced by the influence and effect of the 18th Judicial Circuit within the Second Appellate District of the State of Illinois ... "The Mighty Second". Justices Robert McLaren, Robert Thomas and Michael Galasso came from the heart of our 18th Judicial Circuit and serve with distinction as members of our judiciary.

Yet, no retrospective look of the 18th Judicial Circuit, nor any present day assessment of the state of our Circuit would be complete without a look back at the judicial leadership for this Circuit ... a look back at those individuals who have attained the honor of being Chief Judge of the 18th Judicial Circuit.

The Chief Judgeship is a position of extreme distinction, but more importantly, overwhelming respect. Each chief judge is elected by the circuit judges from among the circuit court judges. I don’t believe the voting populous of the County of DuPage have any idea that the chief judge is elected. And yet, the Chief Judge is the figurehead for our Circuit. Whether it be political or community functions, matters affecting the judiciary, litigation matters within the county, negotiations with the County Board or other entities having direct or indirect involvement with our Circuit, it is the Chief Judge, who is our leader and representative.

The Chief Judge has many duties, obligations, and activities to oversee. He is separated from the courtroom activities of a judge. The remaining judges are fortunate to have an individual involved in those administrative duties. Presently, a court administrator and other staff assist the Chief Judge. Yet it was not always that way. The growth of this county and of the judiciary has been astounding. In 1957, three judges served our circuit: the Honorable William C. Atten, the Honorable Bert E. Rathje and the Honorable Melvin F. Abrahamson. In 1973, the Chief Judge issued the first annual report. The number of circuit court judges had increased to seven and there were fourteen associate judges on the bench. Today there are 15 circuit court judges and 26 associate judges.

It is the leadership of the 18th Judicial Circuit that has shaped the reputation and quality of the judiciary since that 1957 statutory provision. Those individuals who have served as Chief Judge have left their unique and distinct mark on our Circuit. Each of those Chief Judges have distinguished themselves. This article will make a humble attempt to convey the personality of each as well as the impact they made upon our circuit.

HONORABLE MELVIN F. ABRAHAMSON

Judge Abrahamson began his distinguished law career in a Downers Grove law firm in 1931 and joined Judge Win Knoch in private law practice in Naperville the following year. Originally Judge Knoch’s firm consisted of three young lawyers, Chauncey Reed, Win Knoch and Russell Keeney. Reed and Keeney became State’s Attorneys, and were elected to the U.S. Congress. Traveling the judicial route, Knoch rose from a judge of DuPage County, to the 16th Judicial Circuit, to Federal District Court, reaching to the level of a judge of the Federal Appellate Court. Judge Abrahamson once recalled "Win had his office upstairs in the old Knoch building on the southeast corner of Main and Jefferson. Clients were scarce since those were depression days. We kept the office open every night and I went across the street for a sandwich to Hesterman’s at supper time. When we heard someone coming up the steps, we always hoped it would be a client but, more often than not, it was just someone who came up to talk". After Judge Knoch discontinued his law practice to spend all of his time with judicial duties, he then turned over his entire practice to his younger partner, Melvin Abrahamson.

Abrahamson’s first political office was justice of the peace. He also served as a master of Chancery under Judge Knoch. After World War II, he was joined in his law practice by attorney Leroy L. Rechenmacher (later to become the 3rd Chief Judge of the 18th Judicial Circuit). After Judge Knoch’s appointment to the Federal District Court bench in 1953 there was an opening for a new judge to be elected in the 16th Judicial Circuit Court. At that time, there were still four counties in the 16th Judicial Circuit: DuPage, Kane, Kendall and DeKalb. The judge once said he "rode the circuit" sitting alternately in courthouses in the county seat in each of those counties. DuPage County’s spiraling population accounted for its being separated from the other three counties in 1957 to become the 18th Judicial Circuit. Judge Abrahamson was elected to that Circuit the same year and became its first Chief Judge.

Passage of the judicial amendment to the State Constitution required a redistricting of the Illinois Appellate Courts. The Second Appellate District was established to include 13 northern Illinois counties, exclusive of Cook County. Judge Abrahamson was appointed to sit as Presiding Justice of that court on January 1, 1964. In November of that year, he ran for election to the appellate bench and won. "For two years from 1964 to 1966 we held court in Ottawa, until we could get our new courthouse in Elgin for the Second District Appellate Court", Mel once said in an article in the Naperville Sun on September 13, 1973. "It required a lot of planning, and was erected in the same mall as Elgin’s other public buildings. Since we justices came together from considerable distances, we usually held court in Ottawa for one solid week out of each month. When we were able to occupy our courthouse in Elgin, we usually sat one day of each week." In November of 1972 Judge Abrahamson’s eight year term was nearing completion. He ran for retention to the Appellate bench and was elected. He retired from his distinguished career in the Judiciary on September 30, 1973, and died at the age of 76, in March of 1983.

 HONORABLE BERT E. RATHJE

Upon Judge Abrahamson’s appointment to the Appellate Court in 1964 the Honorable Bert E. Rathje, son of County Judge and lawyer S.L. Rathje, was named as the second Chief Judge of the 18th Judicial Circuit. Elsewhere in this issue, United States Circuit Court of Appeals Court Judge William J. Bauer has authored a feature article specifically about Bert E. Rathje. Judge Rathje held the post of Chief Judge until his death. His peers elected him every three years.

Judge Rathje was the consummate "boss". I remember visiting his chambers when I was still in junior high, and finding him sitting at the desk, with his black robe on, smoking the largest cigar I had ever seen in my life! His robe was filled with holes from the ash burns cascading off the tip of that massive cigar. Rathje was a judge of power, authority, as well as compassion and good humor. I remember shaking his hand and being excited and impressed not only with his position, but with the man. His level of power and control mixed well with his people skills. His personality made him an outstanding leader during the infancy of the 18th Judicial Circuit. Al Woodward, later to become Circuit Court Judge, Chief Judge and Appellate Court Justice from DuPage, was a law partner of Bert Rathje. Of Judge Rathje, Al Woodward had this to say, "Let’s say the greatest example to me was that he did get along with people. He could convince the clients what they are to do, and he did it very well and simply. His clients liked his advice and had total confidence in it." At his untimely death, stability and continuity were needed to shape the development of the 18th Judicial Circuit.

HONORABLE LEROY L. RECHENMACHER

Judge Rechenmacher was elected Chief Judge in 1972. His path to Chief Judge followed a unique and fascinating trail. It was the dark and gloomy years of the late 20’s and 30’s when few jobs were available. What jobs were available were mostly part-time with no future. Leroy’s graduation from St. Patrick’s Academy in the fall of 1929 was frightening and without great hope.

After working a summer job as a teller trainee in the old Naperville National Bank, "Rex", as he was nicknamed, began studying for a law degree. He talked his way into football and wrestling scholarships at Iowa State Teacher’s College in Cedar Falls, Iowa. After two years at the college he thought his pace was too slow. He came home and contacted Fred Kohler who was then promoting professional wrestling. An undergraduate degree was not required to attend law school at that time and he enrolled in John Marshall Law School. He continued his professional wrestling exploits in the evening. Rechenmacher was said to have a hand that could envelope any other grown man’s and a grip like a vice.

Legal studies were interrupted when war broke out and he enlisted in the Coast Guard. He was commissioned as a Lieutenant in charge of an ammunition depot. He was awarded a law degree in 1946 and joined the law firm of Judge Win Knoch and Mel Abrahamson. He continued to practice within that firm until 1964 when he was elected to the DuPage County Circuit Court. He was elected Chief Judge in 1972. He was assigned to the Appellate Count in 1973 and elected to that court the next year. He served there until his retirement in 1979.

Justice Rechenmacher died on May 9, 1996 in Ft. Myers, Florida at the age of 83.

HONORABLE ALFRED E. WOODWARD

Justice S. Louis Rathje wrote an outstanding article chronicling in detail Alfred Woodward - "A Life in the Law" which was published in the February, 1998 DCBA Brief. Judge Woodward graduated from Northwestern University School of Law in 1938. He was very fortunate at that time to have a job waiting for him with his brother, John, who had recently formed a law firm with another attorney, Bert Rathje. In 1950, Al Woodward became a partner in the firm of Rathje and Woodward. Judge Woodward served as President of the DuPage County Bar Association in 1956. At that time, the Bar Association had approximately 75 members.

As DuPage County grew in population so did the number of Circuit Court judges. By 1970 there were at least 4 circuit court positions in the 18th Judicial Circuit, two of which were vacant. Judge Woodward realized that "it was pretty much now or never". At that time, the County’s 85 Republican Precinct Committeemen chose the parties nominees to the Circuit Court. Thus, anyone seeking the nomination had to go through the cumbersome process of pleading his cause to the precinct committeemen. Judge Woodward had a separate telephone line put into his home for the exclusive purpose of talking his way into the nomination. He was successful in 1970. That was the last year in which precinct committeemen had such authority.

Appellate Court Justice Michael R. Galasso fondly recalled Judge Woodward’s demeanor on the bench, as very polite to everyone. Justice Galasso stated, "He dripped with kindness even when sentencing a defendant. Even when you had just gotten your brains beaten in, you felt you had gotten a fair trial." Judge Woodward felt "there is no reason for a judge to be brusque. After all, you are sitting there as the virtual ruler of that courtroom. You’d better know what you are doing and be fair about it."

In 1973 Judge Woodward was elected as the fourth Chief Judge of the 18th Judicial Circuit. Four of the most notable accomplishments of his tenure was the adoption of the Annual Report of the Circuit Judges of the 18th Judicial Circuit of DuPage County, Illinois. The purpose was to advise interested individuals, groups and the community as to the business of the courts of this circuit, the types and number of cases filed and the effect of the rapid population increase on the volume of work. During that year, there were a number of remodeled courtrooms in the old Wheaton Courthouse. As Judge Woodward said at that time "completion of these courtrooms will enable some of the associate judges, for the first time, to hear cases in a regular courtroom rather than in chambers or in a conference room." Judge Woodward was prophetic in his further comments. He stated, "although our present court facilities are adequate for the time being, planning for the future should start now and should include field courts designed for that purpose and owned by the county".

Judge Woodward’s philosophy for his role in the judiciary was stated at the end of that first report, "the operation of our judicial system should be measured and evaluated on the basis of the quality of the finished product. A fair and just decision is the desired goal, but to be fair and just, it must be obtained in an expeditious manner and without undue delay. Such a result can only be attained with qualified personnel equipped with adequate and proper facilities."

In 1977 Judge Woodward was selected by the Illinois Supreme Court to fill a vacancy in the 2nd District Appellate Court. He ran for the office in the March of 1978 primary and stayed on the appellate bench until January of 1981. In 1986 the Supreme Court recalled Judge Woodward to the appellate bench where he served with distinction until December of 1994. Judge Alfred E. Woodward retired from the bench at 81 years of age and as Justice Rathje stated in his article of February 1998, "it was indeed the end of an era. Few. if any, DuPage County attorneys have ever had such a wide ranging career and have done it so well."

HONORABLE GEORGE W. UNVERZAGT

I can fondly recall of George W. Unverzagt due to my personal recollections of him. He engaged in the practice of law with my father, Charley Popejoy in the firm of "Popejoy, Bowman, Unverzagt and Nelson" from 1961 until 1968. He grew up in Elmhurst playing football, basketball and golf at York High School and continued those sports through his graduation from Elmhurst College. He was involved in politics early holding the record as the youngest alderman to serve on the Elmhurst City Council, serving as Republican Precinct Committeeman for a number of years while residing in Elmhurst and being a campaign manager for James "Pate" Philip when Pate was first elected President of the Illinois State Young Republicans. After 1968, George, John Bowman and John Teschner engaged in a general practice of law as Bowman, Unverzagt and Teschner until 1970 when George was elected a circuit court judge upon adoption of the 1970 Illinois Constitution. Judicial candidates for the circuit court were then nominated by political parties. James "Pate" Philip, who was County Chairman of the Republican party played an instrumental part in helping George become the party candidate for circuit judge in the November general election.

There was an outstanding article written by Lester E. Munson Jr., past president of DuPage County Association, in the DuPage County Brief in December of 1993. A particular recollection of practicing law in front of Judge Unverzagt was shared by Lester in this quote from his article: "As the 9:00 hour approached each morning during the 70’s in the old courthouse downtown, a large man, ramrod straight and robed, would stand in a doorway between courtroom 203 and his adjacent chambers. He’d wait there for as long as a minute until it was exactly the right time. It would have been hard for anyone else to get through the doorway. No one tried. When the bailiff, Stu Sullivan, rang down the gavel to open court, George W. Unverzagt left the doorway and stepped up to the raised bench. A punctual and powerful presence. If the lawyers for the cases at the top of the call had not arrived, he would sit and wait. The clerk and the court reporter and the bailiff all poised and ready". As Justice Bowman related, "many a surprised attorney entered George’s courtroom after 9:00 a.m. only to see and hear George tapping his fingers on the oaken bench or hear a terse remark about the attributes of being on time." His term of Chief Judge ran from 1975 until his appointment to the appellate court bench in 1979.

As Chief Judge, George Unverzagt prepared four annual reports of the circuit court judges of the 18th Judicial Circuit. In the 1974-75 report he stated "the new and remodeled courtrooms started in 1973 have been completed, furnished and equipped. We now have 15 courtrooms in the Wheaton courthouse and 1 across the street in the Probation Department Building at 222 E. Willow Street. This represents adequate courtroom space for the present, but the absence of any space for growth is obvious and will have to be considered immediately."

The 1976 report saw two newly elected circuit judges taking their places on the bench as a result of the general election. Judge John J. Bowman was elected to a newly created circuit judgeship and in the November election Judge Helen C. Kinney of Hinsdale elevated to the circuit bench. Judge Kinney had been previously appointed as the first female associate judge of the Circuit Court in 1972 and was now the first female circuit court judge to serve in the 18th Judicial Circuit. In his annual report of 1976 Judge Unverzagt sated "during the latter part of the year the circuit judges had numerous meetings and as a result thereof decided to adopt the individual calendar system of case assignment and discard the previous master jury calendar system. Under this system each case in the general division will be assigned random to a circuit judge at the time of filing. The only cases excluded are Domestic Relations cases which will continue to be heard in the Domestic Relations Division. Only time will tell if this is the most effective method of handling an increasing case volume in a court such as this."

In the 1977 annual report Judge Unverzagt related "during 1977 additional space for this court’s use was obtained by the remodeling of the Recorder’s Office. Three new chambers and two non-jury courtrooms were created. The facility was dedicated as the Win G. Knoch Court Annex on April 29, 1977. This is a tribute to the senior DuPage County Circuit Judge Win G. Knoch, known throughout the state and legal circles as the dominate judicial figure in this area for a generation. Finally, within that report it was noted "the general division underwent significant change in 1977 when the Federal System of case assignment was adopted. All lawsuits that were $15,000, eminent domain cases and felony indictments and informations were randomly assigned to the seven judges assigned to this division. A separate Chancery Division was created with one circuit judge presiding. The Probate and County division was augmented by assignment of all miscellaneous remedy (MR) cases being assigned to the circuit judge presiding in this division. Under these arrangements the assigned judge hears all motions, pre-trials and trials of the assigned cases. It is felt this is the most efficient use of judicial manpower."

Both Justice Bowman and Lester Munson in their notes, recollections in the article previously mentioned, referenced the firm hand and the stern control that Judge Unverzagt displayed during his tenure as Chief Judge. As Lester Munson stated, "Whether he was presiding over a misdemeanor trial or running the entire court system, when he was around things went well. When he ran meetings, they went swiftly and smoothly. Everything came out right. As he was making sure that things went well, Unverzagt could be intimidating. He once spent five minutes dressing down a lawyer who had failed to dress up for court. As the verbal thrashing went on, every lawyer in the courtroom was straightening his tie and buffing his shoes on the back of his pants. When Judge William E. Black came to the bench as an associate judge, Unverzagt assigned him to courtroom 301 and told him to wait there for cases to try. When no cases arrived for two days, Black took a misdemeanor trial from a busy courtroom downstairs. The next day, Unverzagt was on the phone reminding Black that only Unverzagt, the Chief Judge, was to assign him cases."

Judge Unverzagt served as a DuPage County Circuit Judge until 1979 when he was appointed to the 2nd Appellate District Court. He was elected to the appellate court in 1980 and served as a justice on the 2nd Appellate District Court until his death. As Lester Munson summarized "Unverzagt liked to say ‘there are two kinds of people - preachy dancers and long ball hitters’. The preachy dancers did things for show, the long ball hitters do the important things, and they do them well. George Unverzagt was not just a long ball hitter. He was The Long Ball Hitter. There will not be another one like him!"

HONORABLE WILLIAM V. "DOC" HOPF

Upon Judge Unverzagt’s appointment to the 2nd District Appellate Court the circuit court judges of the 18th Judicial Circuit elected Judge William V. Hopf as the sixth Chief Judge. An excellent article about Judge "Doc" Hopf was written by Candace Purdom in the February, 1991 DCBA Brief. "Doc" Hopf started his legal career in what Candace Purdom called "those glory days at the State’s Attorney’s Office that Hopf and his peers - William Bauer, Anthony Peccarelli, Carl Henninger and others - were in their heyday as prosecutors. "Doc" stated "when I came to the State’s Attorney’s Office under William Guild (in the fall of 1957), there were only seven of us." By the end of 1959 Guild had become a judge and Bauer was sworn in as the new DuPage County State’s Attorney. "Doc" was named First Assistant by his friend and colleague, Bauer. Hopf did so well in the position that Bauer still raves about his competence to this day "I have had two tremendous first assistants where I could leave town and now worry about the store." said Bauer, "One was ‘Doc’ Hopf and the other was James R. Thompson". (Gov. Thompson was Bauer’s first assistant at the U.S. Attorney’s Office).

"Doc" Hopf served as State’s Attorney himself from 1964 to 1973 at which time he became a circuit court judge and then, in 1979, Chief Judge. His nephew, Wheaton attorney Bill Scott of Mirabella & Kincaid, recalls the qualities of his uncle. He states, "I always admired his style. He wore jeans and sweatshirts. He had a ‘gee golly’ attitude, but he was very bright." Judge Hopf’s approach always remained low key despite the trappings of being DuPage County’s State’s Attorney, circuit court judge and its sixth Chief Judge. On becoming Chief Judge in 1979 "Doc" Hopf was quoted as saying "some people think its a position of power but its the same basic thing, you get to hear all the complaints and a lot more headaches."

Obviously "Doc" Hopf was a very special person. Wheaton attorney Joe Laraia said, "He was always so good to people." Former Chief Judge Anthony Peccarelli called Hopf a man "admired almost unanimously." Finally, his former boss and mentor, Judge Bauer summarized "Doc’s" attributes succinctly and completely when he stated, "Doc was such a sweet man, so talented, so decent."

"Doc" remained Chief Judge until 1981 when he joined the 2nd District Appellate Court and retired from the judiciary in 1988.

HONORABLE BRUCE R. FAWELL

Judge Fawell was elected Chief Judge in 1980. By that time, Fawell had a long and distinguished history within the 18th Judicial Circuit. Both he and his brother, former United State’s Congressman Harris Fawell, graduated from Chicago-Kent Law School in 1951 and set up law practice together in West Chicago. Bruce first ran for judicial post in 1959 when he ran for justice of the peace. As his son, Wheaton attorney Jeffrey B. Fawell, relates "In those days the justice of the peace was a local town magistrate. It was a part time job. You didn’t even need to have a law degree to be a justice of the peace." In 1959 Bruce’s opponent was Smokey Lange a veteran West Chicago Police Officer. Smokey didn’t have a law degree, but he beat young Bruce easily. Fawell learned the art of campaigning from this election. In 1961 he ran again for justice of the peace and won. Bruce worked as an adjuster for Allstate and with a local personal injury law firm until 1964 when Chief Judge Bert E. Rathje offered Fawell a position as a magistrate judge. Fawell took that position in 1964 and began a twenty year career as a full time judicial officer. Fawell became a full circuit judge in 1970. Fawell gained a reputation as being a judge who moved his cases. He especially excelled in conducting settlement conferences in personal injury cases. In criminal law, Fawell developed a reputation as being a tough sentencer on repeat offenders. He was also respected for holding the State rigorously to the standard of proof, and did not hesitant to enter a directed verdict for the defense. Fawell was the first judge in DuPage County’s history to allow note taking by his jurors during a trial.

During Fawell’s tenure as Chief Judge, he instituted three major changes to make the court system work more efficiently. As Jeff relates, "First, he ended the practice of circuit judges in the law division hearing both criminal and civil cases. He split criminal and civil into separate divisions. Not only did this change make it easier for judges to concentrate on a particular field of law, it also freed the civil lawyers from having their trials forever continued whenever speedy trial problems arose. Second, Bruce passed a local rule that attorney cases would be called first in traffic court. Third, he revised the jury service by instituting a one day/one trial system in September of 1982. Before that, jury duty in DuPage meant a week in the courthouse, which could mean two trials for a juror during that week!

Jeff goes on to relate that perhaps his father is best known as the Chief Judge who seized the cafeteria in the county complex for more courtroom space. The Chief Judge had been negotiating, pleading and cajoling the County Board to obtain more space for courtrooms. The County would study the problem, agree to do something and then retreat into excuses on why it could not be done at that time. When Fawell became Chief Judge, he thought it was time to move beyond talk. His attempts at negotiations with the County Board yielded no change. He issued a civil directive to the County Board: find space by a certain date or he was going to send the bailiff’s over to seize the DuPage County Complex’s lunch room cafeteria and convert it into five courtrooms. The Illinois Supreme Court sent Justice Moran to informally mediate the situation. Finally, the County Board announced that it was calling the Chief Judge’s bluff. As Jeff goes on to relate, "A contingent of bailiff’s and DuPage County Sheriff’s Officers converged on the County Complex cafeteria to evict its patrons and declared a seizure of it for DuPage County’s 18th Judicial Circuit. Ultimately the case ended up in the Illinois Supreme Court. Although the Supreme Court voided the seizure, they did validate the Chief Judge’s power to do so if all else failed. In the end, new temporary space for courtrooms was found and an agreement was forged on the necessity of a new courthouse."

Judge Fawell retired in December, 1984 after serving a full twenty years as a judge. He is now practicing personal injury law in partnership with his wife, Terry Fawell, who practices family law.

HONORABLE CARL F. J. HENNINGER

Carl began his legal career as an Assistant DuPage County State’s Attorney and "moonlighted" in the practice of law with "Doc" Hopf, a fellow prosecutor. In 1964, he joined Hartman Stime and Roy Peregrine as partner in the law firm of Peregrine, Stime and Henninger. Carl continued within that firm until 1975 when he was appointed associate circuit court judge. As Roy Peregrine relates, "He always conducted himself perfectly and naturally for the environment in which he found himself. As a lawyer, Carl appeared youthful and energetic, with coal-black hair. No sooner than he put on the judge’s robe that he became deliberate, mature, and reserved with distinguished gray hair. One wondered whether the sudden change was the result of pressure from the bench or abstinence from the use of Grecian Hair Formula! I knew Carl Henninger for 39 years. I found that he was a person who never deviated from his loyalty to his church and family first, to his friends and to the law. He was courageous, reliable, proud, independent, fair, honest, intelligent, a teacher and a leader, blending all of this with a sense of humor and the ability to get people to work together."

Upon Judge Henninger’s election to the position of Chief Judge in 1984, he was in the forefront for the planning and designing of the DuPage County Courthouse which as Roy Peregrine summarizes, "now stands as a monument to his hard work and perseverance." A review of the annual for 1984 through 1988 show the tireless efforts and campaigning that Carl Henninger engaged in to provide the present day courthouse facility. As Judge Henninger noted, "Between 1970 and 1980 the circuit’s population increased by 171,000, the largest absolute gain reported for any county outside the sun belt. Between 1970 and 1980 while the population expanded by 35%, employment within the county grew 144% truly making this circuit one of rapidly expanding economic opportunity. During these growth years, the increased number of cases filed in the circuit court has also grown in geometric proportion. The 1970 case filing stood at close to 71,000. In 1984 over 185,000 cases were submitted to our court for adjudication." Carl summarized succinctly when he said, "What is needed is a unified court system located in a new building to be built at the DuPage County Complex on County Farm Road." The following year, Judge Henninger noted "1986 marked 90 years since the County undertook construction of its own courthouse. It has served the citizens of DuPage County well. This year the quest for new facilities moved forward. Our aim is to meet our future needs with adequate facilities. This has been a priority item of Chief Judges ever since I have been a member of the judiciary which goes back to 1975. Fortunately at this time, what I have referred to as a ‘window of opportunity’ opened, with the support of our County Board Chairman Jack Knuepfer, and a number of members of the County Board, we began planning." It was Judge Henninger’s opinion that the new courthouse would "Allow us to improve the efficient operation of the courts and the adjunct offices by the greater use of technology. In order to make the transition as smooth as possible, it is my plan over the next three years to begin installing in the ‘old’ courthouse and within our current system, technological advances and data processing equipment." In a final prophetic statement during 1986 Judge Henninger stated, "Eventually the day will come when we will be exploring other areas of filing computer generated pleadings, discovery, and briefs from computer terminals outside to terminals inside the courthouse. I believe nothing should deter us from going forward in these areas and using technology to improve efficiency in the administration of the courts. An efficient and well administered court system works to the benefit of all and especially the public we serve."

Chief Judge Henninger began the 1988 annual report of the circuit judges of the 18th Judicial Circuit with the excitement of a young child on Christmas morning. "Lights! Camera! Action! The excitement level was high on the chilly fall day. The onlookers huddled together under the tent anxiously awaiting the big moment. The script was set, the lights in place and the cast was ready. And then, the scene opened... the cameras flashed... and the silver shovels dug in... and the first clumps of fresh dirt were tossed aside... with a sigh of relief and a smile on our faces we broke ground on October 18, 1988 for our new courthouse and construction began in full force. With the vision of our new courthouse now clearly etched in our minds, we have turned our sights and plans for the scheduled completion date in the spring of 1991."

Judge Henninger died on March 14, 1999. All of us who had the privilege of practicing with and in front of Judge Henninger agree with Roy Peregrine’s summarization: "Everyone who was touched by Carl Henninger’s life is richer for it."

HONORABLE ANTHONY M. PECCARELLI

Tony Peccarelli arrived in a roundabout way to the practice of law in DuPage County. As related by his former law partner and good friend, Junie L. Sinson, "Tony was raised on the east coast and went straight from his hometown in New Jersey to the United States Marine Corp. His initial venture to the midwest was when he enrolled in Beloit College and stood out as a ‘hard nosed’ guard who gave offensive linemen trouble when they tried to move him out of his defensive area." He later gravitated to the campus radio station where he performed nightly as a disc jockey. Following a short career in business with the Gulf Oil Company he entered law school at night and after graduation interrupted his law career by earning a slot as a delegate to the Illinois Constitutional Convention. He had a continuing interest in law enforcement and on three occasions served with distinction in the DuPage County State’s Attorney’s Office where he served as prosecutor, first assistant and State’s Attorney. He was also one of the first judges of our circuit to earn his Master in Judicial Studies degree from the University of Nevada/Reno. Junie Sinson related what most of us know from our association with Judge Peccarelli "most importantly, his loyalty to his friends is second to no one".

Anthony Peccarelli joined the judiciary of the 18th Judicial Circuit as an associate judge in 1979, was elected circuit judge in 1982 and retained as a circuit judge in 1988. He was elected to a two year term as Chief Judge in November 1989 and re-elected in 1991. As Chief Judge he was responsible for 19 judges and approximately 225 non-judicial personnel. A review of four years of annual reports from 1989 to 1992 reflected the following comments which helped bring this circuit through his four year tenure as Chief Judge.

In 1989 Chief Judge Peccarelli stated, "Modern technology and imagination by the administrator working with the Domestic Relations Division and the Circuit Clerk created an innovative program for the direct entry of oral or written request for hearing dates on motions for the four courtrooms assigned to the Domestic Relations Division." He concluded that year by stating "the coming decade will test our resolve to improve a very effective court system. We are waiting for 1991 to have an adequate facility. I believe if you analyze the data you will also conclude that the 18th Judicial Circuit Court, DuPage County will be able to meet the challenges of the 90’s". 1990 reflected the last annual report from the historic courthouse at 201 Reber Street, Wheaton. As Judge Peccarelli noted "Although the distance will be only 2 miles west of the present location the court facilities in the Judicial and Office facility will be light years ahead of what presently exists. In 1991, working in conjunction with attorney Jack Donahue, DuPage County Bar Association Vice President, Judge Peccarelli created a committee to work on a bench/bar symposium.

Judge Peccarelli noted that "The 18th Judicial Circuit is the first court wide system to utilize optical disc imaging. In conjunction with Joel Kagann, the Chief Judge’s Office created a court wide optical disc imaging system for court documents so that every document filed with the Circuit Clerk in 1992 and in the future will be scanned and available to any user at an ‘image work station’."

Chief Judge Peccarelli’s final annual report in 1992 summarized those past twelve months as a "memorable year". The DuPage County Judicial system experienced symptoms usually associated with the phenomenon called "sick building syndrome". Judge Peccarelli related that "In the latter part of 1991, shortly after we relocated and moved into the $53 million dollar DuPage County Judicial Center, there were several brief episodes of discomfort by some of the approximate 700 employees of the Judicial Center. On September 28, 1992 the Circuit Clerk, Sheriff, State’s Attorney and all personnel of the 18th Judicial Circuit vacated the building and relocated to temporary quarters in several different buildings. There were, in fact temporary quarters in six separate locations with limited facilities in September of 1992". It was through the thoughtful and hard working efforts of the Chief Judge’s Office as well as all courthouse personnel that our Circuit continued to function in an effective manner during that difficult time. I personally remember walking onto the cement floors of the DuPage County Fair Grounds and appearing before judges whose bench was a fold out table with sheets draped over the front of it and whose courtroom consisted of curtained partitions 3 or 4 in number within one large room. It amazed me then, and it amazes me even more now, how effectively the judiciary functioned and performed their duties in such trying circumstances. We owe a debt of gratitude to Chief Judge Peccarelli and his leadership in this difficult time.

Judge Peccarelli is currently of Counsel with the Law Firm of Ottosen, Trevarthen, Britz, Dooley & Kelly, Ltd., as well as President of Dispute Resolutions Ltd.

HONORABLE EDWARD W. KOWAL

When Ed Kowal first arrived in DuPage County, he became Chief of the criminal division at the DuPage County State’s Attorney. He was first assistant state’s attorney to William "Doc" Hopf and was appointed associate judge and circuit court judge. As Joe Laraia related, "As an assistant state’s attorney and as a judge he was always known for his fair, friendly, considerate and scholarly approach to the problems and cases presented to him. He was always current on the law, being an avid reader of the advance sheets. He was always a store house of information and as a judge carried the same knowledge and helpful assistance to litigants whose cases he heard. His quick wit and imagination served him well." Joe Laraia relates one particular story which bears repeating "As a prosecutor he was confronted with a pre-trial motion which called for his testimony on a limited issue. The well known, but cantankerous, defense attorney objected to Kowal putting his testimony in as a narrative, even though it would be subject to cross examination, and required that this direct examination be conducted on a question and answer basis. Without batting an eye, Judge Kowal called himself to the stand, despite the fact that there were other assistants in the courtroom, and conducted an examination of himself getting on and off the stand, and posing questions in a humorous and entertaining fashion. After about a dozen exchanges, the defense attorney finally agreed to the narration and the hearing proceeded."

In Judge Kowal’s annual report of the 18th Judicial Circuit he noted, "On April 5th, 1993 the court system made its 3rd movement in a short period of time by returning to the new courthouse. Before April and for a period of 6 ½ months, the court system had to operate out of make shift courtrooms. Courts were located in meeting rooms at the Administration Building; hallways in the Youth Home and Sheriff’s Department; areas were designated at the DuPage County Fair Grounds and space provided for the grand jury, the State’s Attorney’s staff and the Public Defender’s Office, at or near the old courthouse." Judge Kowal commended Joel Kagann and the entire Circuit Court Clerk’s Office by recalling "I can still visualize the constant parade of clerks, through and in all sorts of weather, going to and from the new courthouse to all of the temporary locations. During all these changes, there may have been delays but there were not reports of missing court files! All the courts remained in session." The 1994 report reflected that the year was indeed a remarkable one in that it was the first year since 1990 that the court facilities did not have to be moved in whole or in part.

Judge Kowal retired from the bench as Chief Judge and resides in Glen Ellyn, Illinois

HONORABLE MICHAEL R. GALASSO

As related to me by Jack Donahue "Mike Galasso was raised in a tough neighborhood on the northwest side of Chicago. His family moved to Villa Park where he transferred to York High School. Our now respected jurist, under the nom de plume Mademoiselle Felicity, wrote an advice-2-the-lovelorn column for the high school newspaper! Mike attended St. Procopius College and later Elmhurst College. His business law professor at Elmhurst, the now Federal Court of Appeals Judge William Bauer, recognized Mike’s great qualities and assisted his entrance to Chicago-Kent College of Law. He first practiced in Chicago and in 1973 moved his office to Villa Park handling divorce, criminal and personal injury cases."

My own recollection of my initial impression of Mike Galasso came from his extensive involvement within the DuPage County Bar Association. I had the privilege of being co-chairman of the Continuing Legal Education Committee with him in the 1979-1980 fiscal year for the Bar Association. As Jack Donahue relates, "One of his little known accomplishments was his work with legal aid. Today the DuPage Bar is nationally recognized as an association at the forefront of legal assistance to the poor. Those of us who were active in the Bar Association in the 70’s and 80’s realize that if it were not for the tireless efforts of Mike Galasso, our legal aid program would not be what it is today."

Notwithstanding a lucrative law practice, Mike Galasso sought an appointment as associate judge and was honored with that in 1984. Jack Donahue states, "He sought the appointment to make a difference from within and he immediately did. Not surprisingly he received accolades for his judicial temperament, integrity and wisdom. Based on a wealth of experience in family law he was placed in the Domestic Relations Division. When selected as a circuit judge in January of 1988, instead of opting for Law or Chancery he remained as the Presiding Judge of the Domestic Relations Division. Why? Because he knew he could make a difference... and he did." Judge Galasso was instrumental in 1986 in establishing the Care, Coping and Children Program, a conciliatory service involving psychological testing in custody and visitation issues. In 1992 Mike became Presiding Judge of the Civil Division and in 1995 his fellow circuits elected him Chief Judge. He held that position until 1999 when he was appointed to the 2nd District Appellate Bench.

In a review of the last two annual reports prepared by this circuit in 1995 and 1996 Chief Judge Galasso’s contributions are obvious. As he noted, "We have, through the tireless efforts of Irene Bahr and Angela Imbierowicz, opened our Safe Harbor Room. A place for children to visit and be watched while their parents are going through the stress of our court system. Furthermore, 1996 saw the start of a new era for our Mandatory Arbitration Program. DuPage County was selected by the Illinois Supreme Court to implement a pilot program. Five counties made the request and only DuPage County was selected. Under the new procedures, the limits for cases that will be sent to arbitration are those cases that have a minimum claim of $5,000 and a maximum of $50,000. In addition, we have developed a Boy Scout Juvenile Diversion Program. The DuPage County Bar Association under the direction of Brian McKillip, the County Board under the leadership of Board Member Patricia Carr, and the Juvenile Division of the Probation Department under the direction of Elvin Gonzalez, have worked with the Three Fires Council of the Boy Scouts to establish this innovative and needed program. With this program, juveniles will be diverted to a special scout program and if successfully completed will not be brought into the court system. This is the first of its kind in the Midwest and I’m sure it will be used as a model for all of Illinois and it’s sister states." During Judge Galasso’s term, there was a refining and adoption of local rules creating Court Annexed Mediation Programs relieving the work load of the Law and Domestic Relations Divisions. Judge Galasso also adopted the DuPage County Family Court Pilot Program in January, 1998 also the first of its kind in Illinois. It was developed for families who have cases in the Divorce, Domestic Violence and Juvenile Division and puts all their cases in one courtroom, in front of one judge, in order to help the entire family unit.

As Jack Donahue accurately summarized, "All of us who call Mike our friend are truly honored. As a friend he is the best. As a man who can build bridges and bring people together, there is no better."

HONORABLE THOMAS E. CALLUM

Judge Callum first came to DuPage County as the new Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division of the DuPage County State’s Attorney’s Office. Approximately two years thereafter he joined Stephen Deitsch and Robert Anderson in the law firm of Callum, Anderson and Deitsch which practiced together for six years. As Bob Anderson stated, "Steve and I always knew that Tom wanted to be a judge. He made no secret of that." Bob went on to state, "I have come to know Tom very well. I tried to think of all the bad things to say and even consulted with Steve Deitsch to come up with bad things to say. Between us we really could not come up with anything bad to say about Tom!" Not only has Judge Callum proven himself as a hard working State’s Attorney, private attorney, and member of the judiciary, he has also shown amazing fortitude and discipline in regard to his good health. As Judge Anderson relates "Tom loves to exercise. In fact, one year after his surgery for cancer he participated in a triathlon! I have always been impressed with how hard he works at any task he is assigned. This admirable trait continues now that he is Chief Judge."

Bob Anderson goes on to relate a story which may sound familiar. "It is easy to tell when Tom thinks a meeting or conversation might be over. He has one consistent trait that those of us who know him well have seen over many years. At the appropriate time, when there was a pause and Tom thinks the conversation should end, he will say ‘Okay’. So if you hear him say this at any meeting, you know that from his perspective the meeting or conversation is over. Tom will be annoyed at me for revealing this trait!"

As a final tribute and statement of the qualities of our current Chief Judge, Bob Anderson tells a story of one of the clients that Tom represented. The client gave Tom a gift after he had successfully concluded his case. It was a pen and pencil holder which contained an inscription that stated "A fine lawyer, a fine man." As Bob states, "Those words were true then and they are true today. Tom is a great judge, a tremendous tribute to someone who has heard divorce and criminal cases throughout his extensive judicial career. He is a great friend and a wonderful judge. I know that he will forgive me for all the things I have related. That’s how good of a friend and how fine a man he is....’OKAY!"

SUMMATION

We are very fortunate to have had such a fine set of unique and talented individuals leading our circuit through the latter part of the 20th Century. As we move into the new millennium, we should utilize the lessons learned and the resources provided by our predecessors. If we do that our future will be bright, filled with promise, and will not only maintain, but surpass, the levels of quality, excellence and ethics that have been the benchmark of the 18th Judicial Circuit of DuPage County!

I wish to acknowledge the great assistance and help that I received in regard to the factual information and anecdotal input on each chief judge. Without the following individuals this article would not have had nearly the content or personal touch that I hope it ended up having:

ABRAHAMSON
Carleton Nadelhoffer, Esq. and Betsy L. Abrahamson, Mel’s daughter

RATHJE
Judge William J. Bauer

RECHENMACHER
Carleton Nadelhoffer and Bernard J. Rechenmacher, Rex’s son

WOODWARD
Justice S. Louis Rathje

UNVERZAGT
Justice John J. Bowman

HOPF
William J. Scott, Esq.

FAWELL
Jeffrey B. Fawell, Esq.

HENNINGER
Roy I. Peregrine, Esq.

PECCARELLI
Junie L. Sinson, Esq.

KOWAL
Joseph M. Laraia, Esq.

GALASSO
John M. Donahue, Esq.

CALLUM
Honorable Robert J. Anderson

Honorable Kenneth L. Popejoy is an Associate Judge in the Domestic Relations Division and this issue’s guest editor.


 
 
DCBA Brief