Ill. Supreme Court Justice Charles Freeman retiring next month

By Hannah Meisel

* Press release…

Justice Charles E. Freeman, the first African-American to serve on the Illinois Supreme Court and as Chief Justice, has announced he will be retiring effective June 14 after a long and distinguished career as a lawyer and judge. Justice Freeman, 84, is the fifth-longest serving justice in Illinois Supreme Court history at 27 years, six months.

“I have been honored to serve with Justice Freeman for nearly 13½ years. As one of the most senior and experienced members of the Illinois judiciary, Justice Freeman brought to the court not only a wealth of legal knowledge, but also unparalleled insight into the court as an institution,” Chief Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier said. “As the first African-American to sit on the high court, he inspired generations of attorneys of color to pursue careers in public service and positions of leadership. As a colleague, he was the embodiment of collegiality.

“It is impossible to overstate Justice Freeman’s impact on Illinois law. In the course of his long tenure, he has participated in resolution of some of the most difficult and important controversies to come before the courts of Illinois. Research nearly any point of Illinois law and you will find controlling precedent that he authored. While Justice Freeman may be retiring from office, the extraordinary body of legal decisions he helped craft will serve as an enduring legacy of his commitment to justice and to the people of Illinois.”

* The court has already appointed First District Appellate Justice P. Scott Neville, Jr. to fill Freeman’s seat, effective June 15 through Dec. 7, 2020.

* Freeman has had an interesting and varied career in the law. He was born in Richmond, Virginia and was descended from slaves freed by Quakers before the American Civil War. He came to Chicago to pursue a law degree from the John Marshall Law School in 1962, and remained in Illinois ever since.

After serving as an Illinois assistant attorney general, Cook County assistant state’s attorney, he was appointed by various governors (Otto Kerner, Dan Walker) to state administrative law positions.

Justice Freeman won election to the Cook County Circuit Court in 1976 and served for 10 years, during which time he swore in longtime friend Harold Washington as Mayor in 1983. The two had shared an office in Chicago as attorneys.

Freeman was elected to the First District Appellate Court in 1986, and then was elected to the Illinois Supreme Court in 1990, defeating his opponent Robert Chapman Buckley 62 percent to 38 percent.

In 1997, Freeman was chosen by his colleagues to serve as Chief Justice, a role he served in for three years, making him the first African-American to lead a branch of Illinois government.

Asked about the significance of being the first African-American Chief Justice, Freeman responded, “I’m an African American who now has become chief judge; I’m not an AfricanAmerican chief justice. I have no different perception on what course I would take because of my heritage.”

* Freeman is known for his opinions upholding defendants’ rights, including a 1994 case in which the court ultimately overturned a wrongful conviction and saved the man from death row.

Article source: Supreme Court

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