The Journal of The DuPage County Bar Association

Back Issues > Vol. 19 (2006-07)

The Honorable Kenneth L. Popejoy: Athlete, Academic and Family Man
By James F. McCluskey and James P. Marsh

Circuit Judge Ken Popejoy is a product of DuPage County and is no stranger to our legal and non-legal community. He grew up locally, obtained his law degree in Chicago, began his legal career working for his father’s law office here, and then likewise opened his own law office here in DuPage County. And perhaps not universally known is that he was a world-ranked runner in the one mile distance.

Ken Popejoy is a homegrown product of Glen Ellyn. His father, Charley Popejoy, began his practice of law in 1939. Charley was a famous insurance defense attorney who tried hundreds of cases in DuPage County and the surrounding area. And Judge Popejoy’s father was not only an accomplished lawyer, but also received acclaim during his college years at Purdue University as the Big Ten Champion in running the two mile.

Almost literally following in his father’s footsteps, Judge Popejoy graduated from Chicago-Kent College of Law in January of 1977, after having graduating from Michigan State University in 1973. He was an All-American and a premier "miler" at Michigan State. He was the indoor NCAA champion in 1972, and he took the Big Ten Championships in both 1972 and 1973. In 1976, he was a qualifier at the Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon. At that time, he was ranked ninth overall in the world in the mile. Ken Popejoy’s fastest mile time in the 1970s was an amazing 3 minutes, 55.8 seconds. Upon inquiry as to how many times he broke the four minute mile, Judge Popejoy simply acknowledged that he accomplished the event "many times." In fact, he holds the 1973 record for running five consecutive sub-four minute miles.

Ken Popejoy was and is known as a fierce competitor. In 1973, for example, running in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and competing at the NCAA Championships, he tore up the skin on the soles of his feet - yet still managed to complete the mile in 3:58:04. Due to those substantial injuries he suffered for the next year, battling infections and complications in both feet, and he was unable to train effectively. Yet he refused to be overcome by the injuries and he was determined to come back. In 1975 through 1976 he became the ninth-ranked miler in the world. He traveled all over Europe for two years as one of the world’s top milers, and in 1976 was invited to the Olympic trials. Because of all of his running accomplishments and contributions to the sport he was recently inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame.

Besides running, his other passion is the law. Judge Popejoy’s law career began in 1977 when he was hired by his father, Charley, and he worked with his father’s firm until 1982. He describes his father as a tough, cantankerous "son of a gun," who loved to try cases 52 weeks a year. Charley Popejoy loved to try cases so much that he spent most of his time at the office where, at times, he slept on a sofa bed while preparing for trial. Charley Popejoy holds the notable distinction of winning a case against Phil Corboy in Mr. Corboy’s first trial in DuPage County.

Judge Popejoy states that he was honored to work for his father during the five-to-six year period he worked at his father’s firm. His strongest memories of his father are his ethical conduct and his contribution to the profession by volunteering and acting on the ARDC hearing board in order to uphold the integrity of the legal profession. Over the number of years Charlie Popejoy practiced he employed and mentored a number of future judges including Appellate Court Justice John Bowman, Appellate Court Justice George Unverzagt, Circuit Court Judge John Teschner, Associate Judge Richard Lucas, and Associate Judge James Jerz.

After working for his father, from 1982 through 1987, Judge Popejoy practiced with Ed Walsh and Jim Huck, both well known lawyers in DuPage County. In 1987, Judge Popejoy hung his solo practitioner’s shingle. His practice expanded from personal injury defense work to various types of commercial and real estate litigation and also commercial real estate work. Over the years, Judge Popejoy became more involved in the Bar Association, including his service on the DuPage County Bar Association’s Board of Directors. During that time he also kept his hand in competitive running; he dedicated his time to coaching younger runners, including James Spivey, an Olympic miler in the 1980s and 1990’s.

In 1995, after practicing law for 17 years, Judge Popejoy first decided to submit his application for the position of Associate Judge. He recalls John Novak telling him, "You’ll be lucky if you get one vote." By 1997 Ken Popejoy had submitted his fourth application for associate judge. He states that there were 14 circuit court judges at the time and the vote was between him and Brian McKillip. After five weeks of ballots, in a tightly contested deliberation, Ken was appointed as an associate judge to the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit. Brian McKillip congratulated Judge Popejoy that very evening. Remembering the event, Judge Popejoy stated that he was "honored to be in the finals with Brian McKillip." Shortly thereafter, the circuit court judges named Brian McKillip an associate judge.

In 2004, Judge Popejoy decided to throw his hat into a five-way race for a position as a full circuit court judge. The citizens of DuPage County supported him and Ken Popejoy became a circuit court judge. He was initially assigned to Law Division, and has now been sitting in Chancery Division for the past year. Judge Popejoy recently received one of the highest rankings by the Illinois State and DuPage County Bar Associations for his excellence in the judiciary.

Judge Popejoy is married to his lovely wife, Karen, and they have five children. His oldest daughter, Kelly, 27 years old, is an Art Director in Ohio. His second child, Michael, is 21 years old, and is a varsity runner for the University of Notre Dame. His third child, Jon, is a freshman at the University of Illinois as a scholar athlete in track. His fourth child, Nick, is a 13-year-old, who wonders why his Dad ever liked to run "because it hurts." Judge Popejoy’s youngest child is his daughter, Katie, who is now 10 years old. Katie is a forth grader and enjoys cheerleading, dance and gymnastics. Judge Popejoy credits his wife for her ongoing support and devotion. He describes his wife as having a great attitude, and with the best personality he has ever encountered: excited, upbeat and unselfish.

Judge Popejoy has a well-rounded perspective on the practice of law. In the many years he practiced before ascending to the bench, he was responsible for running his own business and well understands the demands upon practicing attorneys. For those of us whom have had the opportunity to practice before him, one can tell that he tries to include common sense and fairness to his rulings. He states that he appreciates the "uniqueness" of the Chancery Division because it allows him to use his discretion and the equitable powers that are granted to him in Chancery to seek to find a reasonable resolution to disputes. And because most cases in Chancery Division are bench trials, he enjoys more participation in the process than he would otherwise be afforded if he were presiding over a jury trial.

Judge Popejoy is certainly one of the many examples of why the Circuit Court of DuPage County is one of the best venues in 102 counties in the State of Illinois. His work history reflects his beliefs in hard work and ethical conduct. And his sense of humor adds to his approachability. Those that have practiced before him identify his ability to grasp an issue and provide common sense suggestions to resolve cases. As a former world ranked runner, mentor, and as a circuit court judge, he is an asset to both our civil and legal communities.

DCBA Brief