Editor’s note: The following is one in what we hope will be a recurring, occasional series of interviews with sitting judges in our circuit. We welcome suggestions regarding which judges our readers would like see interviewed and questions you might like answered. Simply contact the editor or Mr. Gaffney.
On December 5, 2005, Judge Ann B. Jorgensen commenced her three-year term as Chief Circuit Judge. Judge Jorgensen was appointed an Associate Judge in 1989 and elected Circuit Judge in 1994. She was recently the Presiding Judge of the Criminal Felony Division and remains the Presiding Judge of Drug Court. Judge Jorgensen was Supervising Judge of the DuPage County Mandatory Arbitration Program from 1990 through 1994 and has had prior assignments in the Civil Division as well as the Criminal Misdemeanor/Traffic Division.
Judge Jorgensen is the Past Chair of the ISBA Alternate Dispute Resolution Section Council and also Past Chair of the Criminal Justice Section Council. In 1999, she received the DuPage County Bar Association Lawyer of the Year Award and in 2003 the DuPage Association of Women Lawyers Glass Ceiling Busters Award. Judge Jorgensen was President of the Illinois Judges Association from 2002 to 2004. She has also served on the Advisory Board of the Center for Analysis of Alternate Dispute Resolution Systems (CAADRS), the Illinois Supreme Court Committee on Judicial Conduct and ISBA Special Committee on Ethics.
Judge Jorgensen was an Assistant DuPage County State’s Attorney from 1980 through 1984 before joining the law practice of John F. Donahue and becoming partner in the firm of Donahue, Jorgensen, Sowa, and Bugos.
She is a graduate of Loyola University and DePaul University College of Law graduating in 1980.
Question: What brought you to DePaul University School of Law?
Answer: I attended Ladywood High School (an all-girls Catholic high school) in Indianapolis, Indiana. When my family moved to Arlington Heights, I attended John Hersey High School for one year — graduating from high school in 3 years at age 17. I made a deal with my father that I could go away to college but had to stay in the Chicago area. Loyola University was an obvious undergraduate choice and DePaul University College of Law was an easy transition since it is only 7 "el" stops down from Loyola.
Question: How did you join the State’s Attorneys office in the early 1980s? Describe that experience?
Answer: During my last semester at DePaul, I received a 7/11 license and applied for an internship at the DuPage County State’s Attorneys office. I wanted to earn 3 hours credit without having to take a final exam. At the end of the semester, then State’s Attorney
J. Michael Fitzsimmons hired me. For the early 1980s there were quite a few women in the office, including myself, Mary Beth O’Connor Shillerstrom, Blanche Hill Fawell, Nancy Wolfe, Cindy Williams and Vickie Rossetti who is now a Judge in Lake County. Working for the State’s Attorney was a terrific experience. I had a chance to work with many young, bright and enthusiastic prosecutors and some of the best criminal defense lawyers in the county. Many of those in the State’s Attorney’s Office have gone on to successful careers in private practice, other branches of government, the bench and even the ARDC.
The State’s Attorney’s office was much smaller back then and Assistant State’s Attorneys had greater discretion. The legal community was smaller then, especially small among those who did criminal work, and as a result we all knew each other. There was camaraderie. You knew who you could trust, who was fair and who you could not believe.
Question: You were in private practice from 1984 through 1989. In retrospect how rewarding was that experience?
Answer: Working for Jack Donahue was the best. He was one of the first to hire a woman to work in a criminal defense firm. He always treated me as an equal. The work was rewarding and the opportunity to share practice with Jack Donahue and Glenn Sowa and Joe Bugos was wonderful.
Question: How does your experience as Past President of the Illinois Judges Association parley into your new role?
Answer: The lasting impression from my term as president is that there is no obstacle that cannot be overcome. Restoring the judges’ cost of living adjustment (COLA) became an all-consuming issue. We successfully passed legislation in the face of difficult odds. Governor Blagojevich subsequently vetoed the bill, which resulted in a class action against the governor, Jorgensen vs. Blagojevich. We had some of the best and brightest lawyers working on our behalf, we prevailed in the trial court and ultimately we succeeded before the Illinois Supreme Court. That experience gave me a chance to meet and learn from judges throughout the State and share common issues and concerns. It also was a rare opportunity to see a courtroom from the other side of the bench, something I had not done for a long time.
Question: You have strong ties with the Illinois State Bar Association having been chair of two committees. Do you anticipate continuing your relationship with that association?
Answer: Absolutely. I have been active with the Illinois State Bar Association as well as the Illinois Judges Association. I anticipate staying involved with both of those organizations.
Question: How is the DuPage County legal system different now than when you were first appointed to the bench in 1989?
Answer: Take a look out my window at our expanding judicial center. Everywhere you look there is more and bigger. Look at the courthouse we’re sitting in…a long way from the courtrooms on Reber Street. More population, more arrests, more cases, more lawyers more everything, this is a different county from what it was in 1989.
Question: Having been a Supervisory Judge of Mandatory Arbitration and also involved in CAADRS, do you see any potential for expanded ADR opportunities in DuPage County?
Answer: We all have to accept the fact that litigation is far too expensive and takes too long. Certain cases mediate well and others don’t. We need to discern the type of cases that are best suited for mediation or arbitration, and use ADR where it affords the greatest benefit. Successful mediation starts with knowledgeable and credible mediators that are able to gain the trust of the attorneys and litigants. With the right participants I would support a mediation program for the Civil Law Division.
Question: Does it matter that you are the first female Chief Judge of DuPage County?
Answer: Not any more. Twenty-five years ago it would have mattered, but today just look at the number of female attorneys practicing today. It is not a big deal anymore. Women are joining the bench in greater numbers through out the state; they sit on the Appellate Court and Supreme Court. Justice Maryanne McMorrow was the Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court. There are no limits for women lawyers anymore.
Question: How can the members of the Bar Association further participate in providing the Circuit Court Judges with helpful information as to what is occurring in the courtrooms?
Answer: Information from the Bar Association regarding conduct in the courtroom is welcome. We appreciate information that is reliable, credible and consistent for the evaluation process for Associate Judges. When a Judge takes the bench, he or she represents the entire judiciary of DuPage County. The public judges all of us by what they observe in the courtroom. Innate characteristics such as appropriate demeanor, the ability to listen and communicate clearly are crucial. The law can be learned with study, but the people skills so necessary for a good judge are more difficult to master. Information given to us would be used to help our judges improve their skills. We all want the judges sitting in DuPage County to be the best they can possibly be.
Question: What do you foresee as your role in relation to the issue of pro se litigation?
Answer: I remember the time I spent in Small Claims Court. The goal there is to make the process as simple and direct as possible for the pro se. We try to move pro se litigants to a final disposition, whether that is an agreement or a trial, as with as few court appearances as possible. In other courtrooms, we all must appreciate that the legal system must be equally available to all litigants regardless of wealth, status or legal representation.
Question: If you were an Associate Judge now what would you ask of yourself as Chief Judge?
Answer: First and foremost I would ask the Chief Judge to be fair in assignments. I would also ask the Chief Judge help me do the best job I can. I would ask, "How can you and the circuit, support me and train me to be the best judge possible? We have a wonderful program for our new judges. We have a mentor program and encourage continuing judicial education.
Question: As President of the Illinois Judges Association you supported the concept of public speaking for judges. Will you still advocate that as Chief Judge of DuPage County?
Answer: Yes. Judges should be available to the public through the speaker’s bureau, television programs and other venues, which offer opportunities to explain how the legal system works. Additionally, judges should make themselves available to teach at continuing education seminars for both judges and lawyers.
Question: What motivates you as a judge?
Answer: Simply to do the very best job possible with the resources I have available.
Question: Can you share any general agenda items or goals you may have as Chief Judge?
Answer: The agenda is to provide the highest quality of judicial services we possibly can. We may encounter occasional short falls in funding, but we will continue to do the best we can with what we have. As the volume of litigation continues to expand, we may reallocate some of our resources to different divisions to continue to provide the best services.
I met a lot of judges through out the state during my tenure as President of the Illinois Judges Association, and concluded that the people of DuPage County are very fortunate. I sincerely believe that we have the one of the very best judiciaries in the State of Illinois. The best is yet to come.
Question: What, if any, fears or trepidations do you have as the new Chief Judge?
Answer: I don’t have any. We have the best and the brightest judges and nothing can come our way which the 18th Judicial Circuit could not handle.
Question: What role can the Bar Association play in assisting the judiciary in achieving its goals?
Answer: We are both part of the legal system. Each of us should be aware of the activities of the other and create opportunities to share common concerns, propose solutions and chart goals. Together will can each achieve far more for the system, our clients and our profession. Just as important, I hope the bench and bar will continue to join as partners to celebrate our achievements and successes.
Questions: What is the best part of being a judge?
Answer: Being a judge is the best job in the world and I am truly grateful. As a judge, you have the opportunity to deeply impact people’s lives. That is an awesome responsibility. When I see the positive effect of a decision or sentence, for example, when someone is now clean and sober because of the treatment they received, or someone is now living independently or someone has regained trust of their family that is the very best part of being a judge.
Question: What do you foresee as being the best part of being Chief Judge?
Answer: I’m not sure yet. Stay tuned.
Question: Thank you very much for this interview and taking time away from your busy schedule.
Answer: You’re very welcome.