Judge Kenton Skarin Profile
By James L. Ryan
In February, Kenton Skarin was appointed as associate judge of the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit. He is presently assigned to Courtroom 1001, where he handles primarily traffic matters.
Judge Skarin is a Wheaton native who stayed in DuPage County after high school and attended North Central College where he majored in History and graduated summa cum laude. After graduation from North Central, Judge Skarin spent two and a half years working as a bond trader. He then enrolled at Northwestern University School of Law, on a full tuition academic scholarship. At Northwestern, Judge Skarin excelled. He graduated first in his class and served as an associate editor of the law review.
After law school, Judge Skarin moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, where he worked as a law clerk to the Hon. J. Harvie Wilkinson of the United States Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears all appeals from federal courts in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North and South Carolina. While working with Judge Wilkinson, Judge Skarin gained a trusted mentor and saw firsthand what it meant to be a judge. After his clerkship with Judge Wilkinson, Judge Skarin returned to DuPage County and worked in the appellate and banking and finance groups at Mayer Brown, LLP. During that time, Judge Skarin was offered what he described as “the opportunity of a lifetime” to work as a law clerk for United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Working for the United States Supreme Court made an impression on Judge Skarin. During our interview, Judge Skarin recalled that he was most impressed with the Justices’ intensity to get each decision right and the collegiality that the Justices maintained between each other and those who appeared before them. Judge Skarin also mentioned that during his time at the Supreme Court there was an exhibit in the public area of the Court with the actual certiorari petition from the landmark case of Gideon v. Wainwright, which held that states are constitutionally required to provide indigent defendants attorneys in criminal cases. The Gideon petition was written in pencil on Florida penitentiary stationery by an inmate. During our interview, Judge Skarin rhetorically asked how many people thought the inmate’s case was a “small case” before the Supreme Court used it to make one of the key rulings of the twentieth century. Walking past the Gideon petition cemented Judge Skarin’s belief that there is no such thing as a small case, particularly for the individual litigants.
After Judge Skarin’s Supreme Court clerkship, he again returned home to DuPage County and spent several years in private practice at Jones Day, where he practiced appellate and large corporate litigation. He then took an opportunity to serve as Deputy General Counsel for Governor Bruce Rauner, where he worked for a year. Judge Skarin then returned to Jones Day where he again practiced until his appointment as associate judge.
For those who may find themselves appearing before him, Judge Skarin noted that the single most important skill that a lawyer must have is organization. As someone who wrote briefs filed in courts across the country, he encouraged young lawyers to focus on understanding their arguments fully before trying to put them down on paper, rather than rushing to put something on a blank screen before understanding what matters. To explain an argument in a succinct, nuanced way, the lawyer must know the law and facts of his case better than anyone else in the courtroom. Only then can the lawyer select the facts that really matter based on the law, discard the rest, and craft an effective argument.
When not in the courthouse, Judge Skarin enjoys reading history and literature and especially enjoys running, a hobby that he picked up from his clerkship days with Judge Wilkinson, who took the time to bond with his law clerks on lunchtime runs in the Charlottesville area.