Judge Robert E. Douglas
(From the June 2012 Issue)
The most recent appointment to Associate Judgeship in DuPage County is the Honorable Robert E. Douglas. Growing up, Douglas had a very communal, neighborhood style of living on the South side of Chicago, where he lived until age fourteen. He attended a Catholic grammar school and had a strong family upbringing. As he was entering high school, his family moved to Carol Stream, Illinois and he attended Glenbard North High School. While in high school, he was a good student who also became involved with the theatre and drama programs. Douglas comments that he was an avid reader, a love that continues to this day, as evidenced by his serving on the Carol Stream Board of Library Trustees for 26 years.
After high school, Douglas attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he majored in political science and history. In his sophomore year, he joined the campus ROTC program. When asked why, Douglas explains, “I was visiting a friend at Notre Dame and he let me borrow his field jacket. I thought that was cool.” When he returned from the visit to that little school in South Bend, he signed on for a one-year program, with no further commitment. He also became involved with the Pershing Rifles, a national military fraternal organization on campuses throughout the country. As he became close with a core group of friends, in his junior year, he signed up for the full ROTC program. In 1979, he graduated from Illinois and joined the United States Army Reserve.
However, law school called to Douglas, and he obtained an educational delay to his military service. When asked why he went to law school, he explains, “I like logic problems and I loved to read. I always looked up to attorneys. But I said if I didn’t go to law school, I have to go to graduate school so I can teach.” He enrolled in DePaul University College of Law in 1979. It was in law school where Douglas faced some of his initial challenges. The first year was tough. Through no slacking on his part, Douglas did not fare well in his second-semester Civil Procedure class, nor in his Torts class. He recounts, “I did some soul searching and was discouraged. Had it not been for one of my professors, Don Herman, I might have left law school before my second year began.” Professor Herman told Douglas not to sell himself short, and encouraged him to take Herman’s summer course on Corporations. Douglas did that, and reports that he went on to better academics for the rest of his law school career. Douglas participated in the Moot Court program, which he states that he enjoyed very much. While in his third year, he clerked with a solo personal injury firm headed by Frank J. Mackey. It was also in his last two years of law school that he went full reserve with the Army Reserve.
Upon graduation in 1982, Douglas took the Illinois Bar Examination, but before the scores came back, he had already been shipped to Fort McClellan in Alabama for duty. It was here that his law and military careers joined. He received notice that he passed the bar, but he could not return for the swearing-in ceremony. He did arrange for his swearing in by his commanding officer. With a very strong pleased smile, he recounts, “It was December 7, 1982. My CO had set out a nice spread of food and made a nice ceremony.” However, at the time he passed the bar, there were no positions available in the Judge Advocate General’s (“JAG”) Corps. Douglas feared that the Army Reserve would make him a military police office (“MP”). Though his first term of service was about to end, he did end up in MP courses at Officer Basic Training. However, he had the opportunity to take extended coursework for the JAG basic courses. In February 1983, he extended his term of service.
It was also in February 1983 that he joined the Chicago law firm of French, Rogers, Kezelis & Kominiarek. He worked on personal injury defense matters, including medical malpractice, as well as some toxic tort litigation, including asbestos cases. He later joined Dorothy French (now a Circuit Judge, and Douglas’ judicial mentor) in the Wheaton Office of French & Rogers. In 1987, Douglas embarked on a new path in his legal career. The Illinois Tollway Authority had begun preparing for the creation of Interstate Highway 355, which meant it was in need of real estate attorneys for the land acquisition. Though much of his trial practice involved eminent domain litigation, his work also included real estate contract negotiation, as well as other litigation and appellate practice. In the early 1990s the Authority was rocked by a scandal regarding the sale of Tollway Authority land , which involved an executive director of the Authority. Douglas had cooperated with police investigators, only to essentially be stripped of his authority and eventually terminated from his employment. Later, he returned to the tollway authority, becoming head of the real estate division, and reporting to Chief Counsel George Sotos, who later became an Associate Judge in DuPage County.
In 2001, then First Assistant State’s Attorney John Kinsella, now a Circuit Judge in DuPage County, sought out Douglas to join the DuPage County State’s Attorney’s Office. On September 11, 2001, Douglas became an Assistant State’s Attorney in the Civil Division. In the office, he handled condemnation actions relating to Army Trail Road, as well as various other road and public transportation matters. He also represented the Finance Department for DuPage County and represented the County in defense of personal injury matters. He remained with the State’s Attorney’s Office until his appointment to the bench in 2012.
However, his private legal career is only one small aspect of his legal career. As mentioned earlier, Douglas began his military legal career at the same time as his private career. In September 1983, he joined the JAG Corps. To outline his entire military career would fill an entire issue of the DCBA Brief, but there are many important highlights that add depth to his dedication to the law, and ultimately his ascension to the bench. In November 1997, Douglas was activated and sent to Bosnia-Herzegovina for nine months. While there, he served as the Staff Judge Advocate for the Combined Joint Civil Military Task Force, based in Sarajevo. He had responsibility for the disciplinary and criminal proceedings for soldiers from eighteen nations assigned to this command. While handling these matters, he worked with several governmental and non-governmental organizations to redevelop the rule of law in the Bosnian Federation and the Republic of Serbska (Srpska). And yet, while he handled individual military matters and national legal reconstruction, he found time to author legislation that allowed refugees and displaced persons to gain ownership of housing formerly in the hands of the then communist regime.
In February 2003, Douglas was again called to serve, mobilizing as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom for approximately fifteen months as the Command Judge Advocate for the 308th Civil Affairs Brigrade. While there, he had primary responsibility for reestablishing the court system in the district that included Balad, Dujail, and other cities. This monumental task included the vetting of potential judges, creating a docketing system, and overseeing the first criminal cases there since the regime of Saddam Hussein fell. The 308th also organized and oversaw city and district elections. During this time period, also as part of the 101st Airborne Division, he negotiated and executed business contracts and agreements between the Iraqis and certain American contractors. Lastly, he worked to help establish the district’s Anti-Corruption Ministry and the Iraqi Property Claims Commission.
From 2006 until 2009, when Douglas retired, as required by military code, after 30 years of service, he served as the Staff Judge Advocate for the 84th Training Command (LR). He managed the legal affairs of the office that served 3000 soldiers nationwide, supervised the staff of one full-time attorney and three Reserve attorneys. Over his storied career, Douglas received many honors. He was the honor Graduate from Office Basic Training. In 1998, he was awarded the Joint Meritorious Commendation Medal. In 2003, he was awarded the Bronze Star and a commemorative 101st Airborne Division Operation Iraqi Freedom coin, each awarded to him by Major General David H. Petraeus. Douglas notes, “[General Petraeus] is one of the smartest men I’ve ever met in my life.” Upon retirement at the rank of Colonel in 2009, Douglas received the Legion of Merit.
When asked about why he wanted to become a judge, Douglas comments, “When I went to law school, I envisioned myself on the bench.” Aside from his qualifications in helping three nations recreate their judicial systems, he adds, “I have good skills at finding creative solutions to ending litigation.” This is certainly one of the benchmarks of any good jurist – to find a way to resolve disputes between litigants with minimal animosity using the resources of the parties to achieve an acceptable result. Douglas notes that it will certainly not always be easy being a judge, “The law is the law, even if you do not always like what the law says.” It is his work with reestablishing the rule of law of the war-torn Balkans that colors this view. To Douglas, the law has a purpose and the orderly administration of that purpose is the laudable goal of the judiciary.
With the legal and military career spanning over thirty years, Douglas made time for family and personal enjoyment. He met his wife Mary at a party in law school; she was a librarian, and they married in 1983. They had two children: their son Bill lives in Los Angeles and has recently embarked on a career in the film industry; their daughter Emily studies vocal jazz in college. He states, “Both of my kids are very talented, and none of it comes from me.” He finds time to go on an annual fishing trip in Canada and to cook, where he has become rather proficient at French cooking. But most importantly, Douglas unwinds in the world of movies. He reveals that he really enjoys the Andy Hardy movies, noting that “he really knew what to do.” But more revealing, Douglas acknowledges that he is a big John Wayne fan. When pressed for his favorite John Wayne movie, it isn’t a military movie. With a slight chuckle, he says, “It’s Rio Bravo.”