Garman was chosen unanimously by her fellow justices to succeed
Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride, who will leave a notable legacy of
achievement when his term as chief concludes Oct. 25. Garman will
become the 119th chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court when
she assumes the position, beginning a three-year term on Oct. 26.
Garman will become the second woman in Illinois to be chief justice
and the second woman to head one of the three branches of government
in Illinois. Her selection as chief justice on the seven-member
court culminates her long service to the people of Illinois. There
are more than 950 judges in Illinois, and Garman has served in the
judiciary longer than all of them except one.
She first wore the judicial robe in 1974 as an associate judge in
Danville in the 5th Judicial Circuit and will mark her 40th
anniversary as an Illinois judge on Jan. 7.
"I am honored and humbled to have been chosen by my colleagues to
serve as chief justice," Garman said. "This office has been held by
many great jurists, several of whom I have served with and count
among my friends. I welcome the challenges and the responsibility
that go with the role of chief justice because I know that I can
count on the support of my colleagues at all levels of the judiciary
and the members of the Illinois bar."
Garman has served on the Supreme Court since Feb. 1, 2001, about
two months after Chief Justice Kilbride and former Chief Justice
Robert R. Thomas were sworn in as justices following their election.
"I have served with Rita Garman for nearly my entire tenure on
the Illinois Supreme Court," said Kilbride. "We have not only worked
together as colleagues, but she has become a dear friend. She has an
extraordinary combination of intellect, temperament and experience
that will serve well our court, our judiciary and our state.
"It is my privilege to turn over the office of chief justice to
her, and I look forward to following her in the years ahead."
Justice Thomas said: "Rita will make an outstanding chief
justice. She is smart, she is passionate about the cause of justice,
and she is a natural leader. This court will thrive under her
During Kilbride's tenure as chief, the court approved several key
initiatives. They include enhancing the use of technology in all
Illinois courts by encouraging electronic filing and other digital
means of doing court business; establishing a pilot project allowing
cameras in Illinois trial courtrooms; and creating the Commission on
Access to Justice to make it easier for all parties, including the
poor and those with limited English proficiency, to navigate the
Illinois court system.
Garman said: "I have served with and learned from those who have
been chief justice -- not only Tom Kilbride and Bob Thomas, but from
my colleague Charles Freeman; from retired Justice Tom Fitzgerald;
from Mary Ann McMorrow, the first woman on the Supreme Court and the
first woman chief justice; and from Moses Harrison -- both of whom
we mourned this year on their passing. I owe a special debt to
retired Chief Justice Ben Miller. All have been friends. I have
learned much, and will take much, from their example as I assume
this new role, and ensure that the court truly serves the people of
the state of Illinois."
Garman said she will work to ensure prompt judicial
decision-making at all levels of the court system "because justice
delayed is justice denied."
"I will support the increased use of technology in our
courthouses and courtrooms -- initiatives advanced by the Supreme
Court under Chief Justice Kilbride -- so that the public may be
better informed about the work of our courts," Garman said. "I will place
particular emphasis on judicial education because the public is best
served by judges whose knowledge is current and wide-ranging.
"And I will do all that I can to encourage civility and ethical
conduct among the members of the bench and bar because we all serve
the public best when we put our egos aside and concentrate on doing
the work of the people."
Garman was raised in Oswego in Kendall County and exhibited
scholarship throughout her academic career.
She was class valedictorian at Oswego High School and accumulated
several honors at the University of Illinois, where she enrolled in
a six-year commerce and law program. One of a handful of women in
the College of Commerce, she received her bachelor's degree in
economics with highest honors, was a top 10 graduate and was named
to the Bronze Tablet.
She received her J.D. degree with distinction from the University
of Iowa College of Law.
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She grew up always wanting to be a lawyer, and she continually
had the encouragement of her late parents -- Dr. Sheldon and Ellen
Bel, but that could not be said of all of her law school professors.
She was one of five women in her law school class of 100, and it
wasn't uncommon for her to hear admonishments from her professors
for what they described as taking up the law school space of a man.
"I was told: 'You know you'll never practice law. You're just
here to catch a husband," she recalls.
She began her legal career with the Vermilion County Legal Aid
Society at a salary of $90 a week. She later served as an assistant
state's attorney for Vermilion County, trying criminal and juvenile
cases. She also engaged in private practice in Danville.
Her judicial career began at the age of 30 as an associate judge
in Vermilion County in 1974. She was elected a circuit judge in the
5th Judicial Circuit in 1986 and served as presiding circuit judge
in Vermilion County from 1987 to 1998, when she was assigned to the
Illinois Appellate Court, 4th District. She was elected to the
appellate court the following year.
Garman was appointed to the Illinois Supreme Court effective Feb.
1, 2001, to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of former
Chief Justice Ben Miller. She was elected to the Supreme Court for a
10-year term in 2002 and retained for a second term in 2012. When
she began serving on the Supreme Court, she joined the late Chief
Justice Mary Ann McMorrow, who was the first woman to serve on the
Supreme Court and the first woman to serve as its chief.
In addition to being the longest-serving woman judge in Illinois,
Garman will be the first chief justice to have served in virtually
every judicial capacity: associate judge, circuit judge, presiding
circuit judge, appellate justice, presiding appellate justice,
Supreme Court justice and soon-to-be chief justice.
Since she has been on the Supreme Court, Garman has written and
participated in hundreds of opinions and has been an active
participant in the court's many administrative functions.
She recommended that the Supreme Court establish a Special
Committee on Child Custody Issues to ensure that the best interests
of children are the prime focus of all custody cases and that all
child custody proceedings are scheduled and heard on an expedited
basis. Garman still serves as Supreme Court liaison to the special
She also serves as Supreme Court liaison to the Conference of
Chief Circuit Judges, the Committee on Judicial Performance
Evaluation and the Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission.
Garman is a member of the Vermilion County Bar Association, the
Illinois State Bar Association, the Iowa State Bar Association, the
East Central Illinois Women's Bar Association, the Central Illinois
Women's Bar Association and the Lincoln-Douglas Inn of Court.
She also is a member of the Illinois Judges Association, which
awarded her a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007 and the inaugural
Harold Sullivan Award for Judicial Excellence in 2011.
Garman is an active member of her community. She is a member of
the Danville Rotary Club, a director emeritus of the Danville
Symphony Orchestra and the 708 Mental Health Board. She also is a
member of the board of directors of the University of Illinois
She has earned numerous other awards and honors and has been a
frequent speaker at a wide variety of events and before diverse
audiences, including schoolchildren and service organizations.
She and her husband, Gill, a Danville attorney, have two children
and three grandchildren.
In a related order, the Supreme Court appointed Justice Lloyd A.
Karmeier to be a member of the Illinois Courts Commission to replace
Garman on that body when she becomes chief justice. The Illinois
Courts Commission is a constitutionally established tribunal that
sits as a court in the discipline of judges.
[Text from file received from the
Illinois Supreme Court]