Illinois Judges Association

Pro Bono - December 2022

     It is my honor, on behalf of the IJA Pro Bono Committee, to spotlight Justice Rita Garman in December 2022.   If you are not familiar with the career of Justice Garman, I recommend reading her thorough biography, provided by the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission.  Details about her career and many of her well-deserved awards can be found at the following link:

     When Justice Garman retired from the bench in the summer of 2022, she was the longest-serving judge in Illinois and she had held every possible title in the judiciary, including the Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court.  Some of her recent awards since her retirement include the University of Illinois College of Law 2022 Distinguished Bench & Bar Award, the University of Iowa College of Law 2022 Alumni Service Award, the Leadership Illinois 2022 Breaking the Glass Ceiling Award, and the Illinois Judges Association 2022 Emeritus Award.

     I first met Rita Garman in her courtroom in Danville in the summer of 1995.  Justice Garman was in her final weeks as a Circuit Judge in Vermilion County, and I was just beginning to appear in court pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 711 as a student law clerk for Land of Lincoln Legal Aid.  I most recently saw Justice Garman in Urbana last month when we volunteered together with active and retired judges repacking food at the Eastern Illinois Foodbank as a part of the IJA’s Day of Service.   From our first interaction until our last, and during the twenty-seven intervening years, Justice Garman has consistently demonstrated how a judge can promote public service and support pro bono and legal aid programs. 

     When the American Bar Association and the Illinois State Bar Association launched “Pro Bono Week” as an annual celebration of pro bono legal services many years ago, I was a staff attorney with Land of Lincoln Legal Aid.  I wanted to hold an event during Pro Bono Week to encourage pro bono work and to recognize attorneys who were doing pro bono work.   I believed that local attorneys would be more likely to participate in an event if judges attended, and I believed the local judges were more likely to participate if Justice Garman attended, so I reached out to Rita Garman with my idea.  She graciously agreed to attend an event celebrating pro bono.  I sent an invitation to all of the judges and lawyers in two of the counties I served, and because Justice Garman was confirmed as a featured guest, nearly everyone I invited attended.  At the dinner, pro bono volunteers were recognized, and Justice Garman offered remarks about the importance of pro bono and legal aid work.  The event was a great success.  Soon, all five counties of the Fifth Judicial Circuit were gathering each October to celebrate Pro Bono Week and Justice Garman was frequently the keynote speaker.  Building on that first dinner in Marshall, the Fifth Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee was eventually created. 

     That is just one of many stories I could tell about how Rita Garman has generously given of her time to promote public service in the legal profession.  Justice Garman has been a frequent guest and speaker for countless bar associations, educational institutions, and community organizations throughout her judicial career, often using her platform to highlight the critical need for and importance of legal aid and pro bono services.

     Justice Garman recently told me:  “It is said that we make our living by what we do, but we make our life by what we give.  I firmly believe that is applicable to the practice of law.  By sharing our talents, expertise and time with those challenged to obtain legal services, we not only help them but we help ourselves to a better and more satisfying practice and life.  It takes so little to give so much!”

     The Illinois Judges Association recognizes and appreciates Justice Garman’s immeasurable contributions to our profession and to our communities.

Ramona Sullivan

Circuit Judge