I recall talking to my father after I was appointed as an Associate Judge. He asked me about my future. I said I didn’t know, but someday I would like to sit on the Appellate Court. Since then, I have had the opportunity to serve as a Circuit Court Judge, Presiding Judge of the Domestic Relations and Law Divisions, Chief Judge and the Appellate Court. Each position has a unique aspect and a gratifying reward.
As a trial judge, especially in domestic relations, where I was told I sat for over eight years, I had a great amount of latitude that could be used to fashion remedies that fit the needs of the case. That was done by extensive pretrial conferences that include (where appropriate) the presence of the parties, jointly and separately. I didn’t realize it at the time, 1984, but I was engaging in what is now referred to as the new era - MEDIATION.
I was somewhat successful because the matrimonial lawyers appeared to respect the fact that I knew the law, wasn’t afraid to tackle a problem and, of equal importance, recently came from their ranks. We worked together toward a common goal, the peaceful resolution of the conflict, and I didn’t forget they were entitled to be reasonably compensated for their efforts.
In the years to come, it became apparent there were problems that required the assistance of mental health specialists. We developed many new programs, including education and assessment programs, which have been discussed ad nauseum, but they are still here in some form today. The goal hasn’t changed, the peaceful resolution of a family conflict.
I am often asked about my most memorable case in domestic relations. There were many. There was one however that I can recall. The names of the parties are unimportant. I awarded custody to the father. It just so happened that the mother had an open lesbian relationship. That was a factor I considered just as if dad had an open sexual relationship in front of a 7-year-old child. The media and gay groups reported that I refused to give custody to a gay. Lesbianism was not the issue, the issue was how the open sexual relationship, whether lesbian or not, would affect a 7 year old child. That, along with other issues, was the basis of my decision. I think the case went to the Supreme Court and, as I recall, the final result was that I was affirmed.
I spent a couple of years in the law division. They were somewhat uneventful because the skills I acquired in domestic relations were easily transferred. In law, it was the pot of gold. Was it half full or half empty? Very few issues were emotionally charged. Compromise, structured settlements and the known reluctance of DuPage jurors to award substantial damages were the major issues in most of the pretrial conferences.
In the law division there were also many memorable cases, but the one that I think I will never forget was a simple slip and fall at a grocery store. The injured plaintiff was a very unpleasant woman with an attitude that suggested that everybody was at fault for her problems but herself. She had a very compassionate, caring and sympathetic looking husband. The husband had a loss of consortium count. The wife’s out of pocket damages were approximately $60,000. The jury came back with a verdict in favor of the plaintiff wife and awarded her approximately half of the damages she sustained; about $30,000, and then they awarded the husband the sum of $150,000 for loss of consortium. It was a clear signal that the jurors of DuPage County can understand a compassionate and sympathetic person in the courtroom, who in fact was injured.
In 1995 I became Chief Judge. As Jack Donohue once told me, "Be careful what you wish for, it may come true." I felt like a battalion chief for a fire department. Before the fire is out in one arena, the alarm sounds in another. With the ingenious assistance of our court administrator, Bob Fiscella, and the Chief Judge’s administrative assistant Lois Doerr, the smoke and flames didn’t consume us.
We presided over the introduction of Court Smart, the unionized probation department, the expansion of the juvenile detention facility, family court, and drug court. The most difficult task was to administer the assignment of our judges.
One year I reassigned a good friend. The reassignment was not what the judge wanted or expected. I was faced with either making a new assignment or accepting the resignation of a respected and well-qualified judge. My personal opinion was to make a new assignment, but the system to which I was duty bound dictated otherwise. I did my duty but I lost a good judge and strained our friendship. I still agonize over that decision.
As a release from the pressure, and in an effort to keep my sanity, I tried a case or two and covered some of the court calls.
In January 1999 I was asked to serve on the Appellate Court. To some extent, it was the fulfillment of my plan. All of the Justices, especially Presiding Judge John Bowman, were very helpful. The most difficult aspect of the Appellate bench is to keep focused on the fact that you are not there to retry the case. As with many legal issues, there are differing opinions, however, the trial court’s opinion regarding the credibility and weight to be given to the evidence is given great deference. Accordingly, unless there is a clear abuse of discretion, we would not substitute our different opinion for that of the trial court.
My colleagues and I would at times disagree about whether or not abuse of discretion occurred, about a point of law, or about the interpretation of a statute, but we always respected each other’s position. I found the words "I respectfully dissent" do truly represent the dissenters’ sentiment.
My term on the Appellate Court ended December 4, 2000. I had the opportunity to extend my term by running for the office in the March 2000 primary election. For many reasons, my family and I decided not to run. Of all the decisions I have made in my career, there is no doubt that my decision not to run was correct.
It has now been a month or so since my retirement. After completing some interviews with a few clients, I knew immediately that I made the right decision. In my capacity as a lawyer, I can talk to people and help them in what is most often the darkest time of their life. I have been reminded that competent, compassionate lawyers can reduce the stress and trauma that divorce creates for the parties and the children.
It is a privilege to have the opportunity to join three old friends, Harold Field, Don Schiller and Charles Fleck. They have made the transition a memorable and pleasant event.
I will be kept busy with the work of my office, commitments to the DuPage County Health Department, the DuPage Federation on Human Services and the Illinois Judges Association. I will continue to serve the Illinois Judges Association as a co-chair of the Legislative Committee. As in the past, I thank my colleagues on the bench and in the bar for making my career a truly rewarding experience.
Hon. Michael R. Galasso recently retired from the Illinois Appellate Court. He is now with the Law Firm of Schiller, DuCanto & Fleck in Wheaton, Illinois. He received his Undergraduate Degree from Elmhurst College. He recieved his Law Degree from I.I.T. Chicago Kent College of Law.