The Journal of The DuPage County Bar Association

Back Issues > Vol. 19 (2006-07)

Judicial Profile: An Interview With Supreme Court Justice Louis Rathje
"You cannot look good in a black robe without some help." -S. Louis Rathje
Interview on October 24, 2006, at the DCBA offices in Wheaton by Attorney David R. Bryant.


S. Louis Rathje wasn’t just born into legal royalty, he earned it the old-fashioned way. In 1895, Louis’ grandfather had founded a solo law practice. Next, Louis’ father also became an attorney. And at the time of Louis’ birth in 1939, his father established a law partnership with John S. Woodward. After attending Holmes Grammar School and Longfellow Junior High, Louis attended Wheaton Community High School and joined other soon to be eminent fellow classmates such as Bob Woodward, John Belushi, and Bill Rathje, the founder of garbology (and cousin to Louis). Some of Louis’ other classmates at Wheaton College included Denny Hastert, Bob VanKampen and Bill Pollard.

Other notable include that during the ’62 snow storm, while attending Northwestern University Law School, Louis substituted for Vic Rosenblum in the professor’s Administrative Law class. In addition, Louis formed the panel that competed in the finals at Northwestern law school moot court competition. These are some of the educational experiences that contributed to Louis’ personal and professional growth.

The professional life of an attorney is shaped by mentors and colleagues able to teach by example. During Louis’ 28 years of law practice in various areas of law, including contract and chancery matters, Louis was exposed to some of the best legal minds of the time. In addition to his father, Louis identifies Alfred E. Woodward and William Bauer as his main mentors.

Louis’ judicial career began in 1992, when he was elected to the bench as a Circuit Judge in DuPage County. In 1994, with Judge Woodward as a mentor and model for his tenure on the Bench, Louis was elected to the Appellate Court, Second District. In 1999, Louis was unanimously selected to fill the unexpired term of Justice John Nickels on the Illinois Supreme Court, where he served until December 2000.

Some of the cases decided during Louis’ tenure on the Supreme Court are well known. After the decision which denied grandparents visitation rights with their grandchildren without parental permission, Louis recalls receiving a phone call from his wife, who had heard on National Public Radio that Justice Rathje had delivered a "mortal blow" to Illinois grandmothers. Aside from the repercussions had from this last decision on the home front, Louis believes that another legal decision made during his tenure on the Illinois Supreme Court will have the most lasting legal impact: the reversal of some death penalty cases based on procedural and substantive grounds. He is of the opinion that the State of Illinois will eventually abolish the death penalty.

Retirement from the Bench propelled Louis into new and important activities. As the Chairman of the DuPage Water Commission, Louis is in the very midst of debates relative to water allocation, financing and providing water service to all the residents of DuPage County. At this time in his career, Louis also enjoys accompanying his wife, a world-renowned cardiologist, in her travels around the world giving lectures in the areas of heart failure and heart transplantation.

Louis has strong personal views on the issues which face the legal profession in the coming years, including Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE), Malpractice Insurance, advertising, and marketing of the legal profession- just to name a few.

What follows is the interview of Louis.

Question: The DuPage Bar Association, other local Bar groups, and the State Bar have long evaluated candidates for judicial positions. For example, I was a member of the State Bar which evaluated the individuals, including you, who ran for the Illinois Supreme Court in 2000. I had to disqualify myself from voting on your qualifications. Many people believe that this process is a waste of time and money. Do you think that the organized Bar should continue to evaluate judicial candidates?

Justice Rathje: "Yes. But don’t look to the judicial branch to help. The appointment of Judges under the Missouri Plan (the old 2B Constitutional Amendment) should be seriously reconsidered. The likelihood of the adoption of the Missouri Plan in today’s political climate is probably remote. A related concern is the mushrooming of sub circuit election of judges. Even though the jury is still "out" on how this will proceed, some of the candidates for these positions seem to be less than qualified on paper. The politics of this situation can raise legitimate concerns, such as non-residents running in these sub circuits."

Question: Recently adopted MCLE rules have created a scramble by the DuPage County Bar Association and other legal education providers to get "qualified" to sponsor accredited programs. Big deal. I can sit through a day-long program, read some advance sheets, do the SUDOKU column, check my email and dash off some replies and still get credit. MAYBE I might get one or two tidbits from these so-called experts who are nothing more than marketing gurus that want your referrals. MAYBE I’ll see one or two attorneys and settle a case or get a referral. On top of that, I’m losing the revenue from a day at the office and $350 for registration. This is an academic boondoggle, according to some attorneys from states which require MCLE. Do you agree with my statements?

Justice Rathje: "No. Evolution in the law in every area must be brought to the attention of the practicing attorneys. I believe that attorneys will select MCLE programs most likely to benefit their practice. The MCLE programs which fail to attract attorneys will eventually disappear. I also believe that MCLE programs are especially beneficial for the attorneys admitted to the Bar."

Question: What is your position on Multi Disciplinary Practice and Multi Jurisdictional Practice?

Justice Rathje: "I believe Multi Disciplinary Practice is not a viable business model at this time. It is difficult to change the mindset of attorneys who frown on the movement to allow attorneys and others, such as accountants or real estate brokers to combine businesses. The issue of attorneys acting as Title Insurance Co-agents is still alive but is usually dealt with by disclosure of their joint roles to the various clients.

The issue of Multi Jurisdictional Practice is more complicated since there are so many levels of government involved – international (i.e. WTO – GATS), federal (SOX) and State. For example, Illinois is home to many companies that are global in nature – such as McDonald’s, Motorola, Walgreens, Abbott Labs, Allstate, Caterpillar and others. These companies have law firms that engage in a global practice to meet their clients’ demands. I am in favor of each state having control of the attorney who practices in their jurisdiction. Admission pro hac vice allows foreign attorneys to represent clients in other jurisdictions under various rules (704, 712, 713, 715, 777). This will be a changing area involving many players."

Question: I know you are very involved in your Church and the PADS program for the homeless as well as other charitable concerns such as the Cancer Foundation. What is your take on the mandated reporting requirements for pro bono activities by practicing lawyers?

Justice Rathje: "Actually, this has been on the Illinois Supreme Court’s agenda since 1973 and this provides an avenue to start getting information about the many good things that attorneys do in their communities."

Question: According to some critics of the recent Illinois Supreme Court requirement to include information about malpractice insurance coverage in the annual ARDC registration, mandatory malpractice insurance is just around the corner. Is it?

Justice Rathje: "Attorneys have a greater financial impact on any balance sheet of clients than doctors and other professionals. Personally, I favor a minimum (i.e. $100K min with $5K max deductible) malpractice policy for all licensed practicing attorneys. The public needs to be protected from the occasional misdeed of any attorney that impacts a client’s life. During my tenure, the Illinois Supreme Court increased the fines and penalties for attorneys brought before the ARDC and pushed for stronger enforcement of suspension and disbarment proceedings as another way to protect the public. A quick glance at recent disciplinary reports indicates that such increased enforcement has become a reality."

Question: The reader and I may never get to the rarified atmosphere of the Supreme Court, so I asked Louis "what’s it like"?

Justice Rathje: "About a third of our time is devoted to administrative issues including ARDC, Rules Committees (i.e. Rule 23), licensing & admission; personnel. The remainder of the time is devoted to reading, listening, reviewing documents, drafting or reviewing draft decisions – a lot of sitting."

Question: So, besides being politically active, how do you get to be a judge in the first place?

Justice Rathje: "My advice is to get some solid legal practice experience for at least ten years. That includes both writing skills and courtroom experience. I recommend to join bar and public associations that provide the opportunity to interact with sitting judges. Let it be known that you are keenly interested in a judicial position after seven or eight years of legal practice. Obtain copies of the forms required by local and State Bar Associations that do judicial evaluations. Keep good records. I believe that these are the prerequisites for consideration. On a substantive basis, know the law and keep up with the latest developments in the law. Cultivate a few trusted friends who are seasoned lawyers and/or judges whose advice you can trust. Be able to listen to people and respect them. Keep an open mind and be able to articulate, both orally and in writing, the reasons for your decisions."

Question: What judges did you admire?

Justice Rathje: "In the civil division, I could always turn to retired Judge Bill Black for help; on the Appellate Bench, Justice John Bowman was a mentor and friend; also Bob McLaren; practical advisors on the Circuit Bench were Associate Judge Dick Lucas and Circuit Judge Ted Duncan; last, but not least, Mike Galasso. On the Illinois Supreme Court, I could count on Justice John Nickels, Moses Harrison and Jim Heiple. All good judges amongst many good judges that helped me on the judicial path. You cannot look good in a black robe without some help."

— S. Louis Rathje

Editor’s Note: Justice Louis Rathje and Attorney Dave Bryant go back in their friendship to their days at Northwestern University Law class of 1964 and since then they have had many personal and professional encounters, in-cluding this interview. We thank them both for letting us listen in on their thoughts and conversation.

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