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Gordon Pruett

Three new justices are on the state's high court

The Illinois Supreme Court became more Democratic last month after three new justices were installed in separate ceremonies in Moline, Springfield and Chicago.

Thomas Kilbride, a Democrat, replaced retiring Republican Justice James Heiple in the 3rd District. That district encompasses a band of counties stretching from Will County at its northeast corner to Hancock County at its southwest corner. Kilbride defeated Republican state Sen. Carl Hawkinson of Galesburg. Kilbride has practiced law for 20 years in the Rock Island area. He was born in LaSalle and grew up in Kankakee. He took his J.D. in 1981 from Antioch School of Law in Washington, D.C.

Justice Bob Thomas, a Republican, was a gridiron hero for the 1973 national champion Notre Dame Fighting Irish and a kicker for the Chicago Bears before being elected a DuPage County circuit judge in 1988. He graduated from the Loyola University School of Law in 1981, after taking classes at night and during NFL off-seasons. Thomas, who replaced Republican Justice S. Louis Rathje, was elected to the Illinois appellate court in 1994. He represents the 2nd District, which includes all of the state's northernmost counties except Cook County.

Native Chicagoan Thomas Fitzgerald took the seat of retiring Michael Bilandic Both justices are Democrats. Fitzgerald graduated from John Marshall Law School. He served as a prosecutor in the Cook County state's attorney's office before being elected to the circuit court in 1976. In 1999, the Supreme Court picked him to a head a committee to review procedures in capital cases. Fitzgerald is one of three justices from the 1st District, which encompasses Cook County.

The partisan breakdown on the court is now five Democrats and two Republicans.


Little town, big history

The 100-year history of Herrin is now a multimedia event.

As part of last year's centennial celebration, Gordon Pruett produced One Hundred Years of Herrin, Illinois, a pictorial history of the southern Illinois coal town. He used more than 120 photos from the Herrin News, French Studio Ltd., the Herrin High School library and his own collection of picture postcards. Pruett then teamed up with Southern Illinois University film professor Mike Covell to produce a 41-minute videotape, A History of Herrin, Illinois.

The 80-page booklet contains short essays about the town's cultural and industrial heritage, ranging from a memoir of the 1957 Herrin Tigers boy's basketball state championship game to the Herrin Massacre of 1922, in which more than 20 strikebreaking miners were killed in a mob action for which no one was ever convicted. The video uses photos from the booklet and interviews with prominent residents of Herrin. Included is footage of such events as Harry Truman's 1948 campaign stop and a visit by baseball greats Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola.

Pruett says that landmark anniversaries often inspire histories such as these. "Birthdays and anniversaries are a time of reflecting, and it's true of towns as well as individuals," he says. "I suggested a video because we could recoup our costs by selling it." The booklet and video are available through the city chamber's Web site at www.herrinillinois.com.


Justice sets up screening process for circuit bench appointees

Newly sworn state Supreme Court Justice Thomas Fitzgerald has formed a 10-person committee to screen candidates for judgeships he will be responsible for appointing.

Under the Illinois Constitution, the entire Supreme Court fills judicial vacancies, but in practice each justice makes recommendations for open judgeships in his or her district. Appointed judges serve until the next general or judicial election.That appointment process came under fire when federal authorities looked into appointments to the Cook County Circuit Court bench (see Illinois Issues,July/August, page 36).

Justice Fitzgerald, one of the three justices from Cook County, will have his potential appointees evaluated by the bar association before forwarding the nominations to the screening committee. The other high court justices except Justice Ben Miller screen their candidates through the bar association. Miller, from Springfield, uses a committee similar to the one Fitzgerald has set up.

Retired Illinois Appellate Judge Gino DiVito will chair Fitzgerald's screening committee, which is composed of eight lawyers and two nonlawyers.

Lawyers on the committee are: William Conlon, former chairman of the Judicial Inquiry Board; John DeLeon, private practitioner with an emphasis in criminal law; Eileen Letts, past chairwoman of the Young Lawyers Section of the Chicago Bar Association; Dawn Clark Netsch, former state comptroller, state senator and member of the 1970 Constitutional Convention; retired Circuit Court Judge Earl Strayhorn; Anton Valukas, former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; and James Wascher, a former president of the Chicago Council of Lawyers.

Nonlawyers are Elzie Higginbottom, chairwoman and CEO of a real estate management company, and Suzie Jones, former chairwoman of Cook County Judicial Watch.

Gwendolyn Brooks


Does man love Art? Man visits Art,
    but squirms.
Art hurts. Art urges voyages 
But we must cook ourselves and style
    ourselves for Art, who
is a requiring courtesan.

from "The Chicago Picasso"

Gwendolyn Brooks
Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks, Illinois poet laureate since 1968, died of cancer in her Chicago home last month. She was diagnosed only a week before her death.

Brooks wrote 22 books, including volumes of poetry, children's verse, writing manuals and a novel. In Birmingham, her newest work, will be published this year. During her lifetime, Brooks received 90 honorary doctorates. She was the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize, awarded in 1950 for her second book, Annie Allen. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy invited her to read at the Library of Congress' poetry festival. In 1985, she became a poetry consultant for that library. The Poetry Society of America awarded her its highest honor, the Frost Medal, and she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1988. In 1994, the National Endowment for the Humanities selected Brooks as a Jefferson Lecturer, the federal government's highest humanities award.

Brooks considered getting people excited about poetry her primary duty as poet laureate. She performed readings in prisons and hospitals, as well as schools and colleges. She set up and personally funded the Poet Laureate Award geared toward state elementary and high school students. She believed poetry was for everyone to enjoy, not directed to an isolated, select group. In her own words, her way of living strove "to be clean of heart, clear of mind, and claiming of what is right and just."


QUOTABLE"There is no doubt in my mind that we will have to evaluate the criteria again to justify any new construction by the corps."

U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois to Washington, D.C., Copley News Service reporter Dori Meinert regarding an army investigator's finding that the Army Corps of Engineers fudged economic data in order to push forward plans to expand lock systems on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers.

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