Illinois Judges Association 

Pro Bono Spotlight - May 2024

This month, the Illinois Judges Association is honored to highlight the Honorable Bonnie Wheaton, recently elected Chief Judge of the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit Court.

Chief Judge Wheaton received her Bachelor of Arts degree, cum laude, from Carleton College in 1966. She earned a Masters in Social Work from the University of Michigan, before pursuing her J.D. at Lewis University (now the Northern Illinois University College of Law). While raising her two children, Ralph IV and Anne, Judge Wheaton graduated first in her class in 1978, magna cum laude. Her first job after graduation was at Wylie & Mulherin, a firm she had clerked at while in law school. There, she handled general litigation matters for ten years, by which point it had become known as Wylie, Wheaton & Associates.

Judge Wheaton was appointed an associate judge for the DuPage County Circuit Court in 1988, before becoming a circuit judge in 1990. Since 1991, she had been assigned to the court’s Chancery Division and served there for a record breaking 32 years. Judge Wheaton has been actively involved in helping to educate people who find themselves defending against foreclosure actions. Under her leadership, the division introduced a number of resources to help address the effect of the foreclosure crisis on people living in DuPage County. Her recent election as Chief Judge marks just the third time a woman has served as Chief Judge of the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit.

In an article for the DCBA by Azam Nizamuddin, it was noted “Chief Judge Wheaton believes that the judicial system operates most effectively when all of its moving parts work together to produce justice and treats everyone with fairness and dignity. For her, justice includes not only the judges, but also the clerk of the circuit court, the DCBA community, the sheriff’s office including deputies and probation officers, and the court administrative staff.” In the same article, Judge Wheaton noted several challenges that she perceives as the incoming chief judge. She noted that there is an increase in self-represented litigants or pro-se litigants, causing more stress and time on the courts because pro-se litigants do not always understand the process and the law and therefore need more assistance which the judges do not always have time to address despite their best efforts. She also noted that providing access to justice to all residents of DuPage County and beyond is increasingly challenging with an ever-increasing population of diverse cultures and languages requiring more interpreters to assist non-English speaking litigants.

Judge Wheaton has been and remains an active member of the DuPage County Bar Association.  She previously served as the chair of the Diversity Committee and the Law & Literature Committee.  She also served as Associate Editor for the DCBA Brief.  Prior to joining the judiciary, she was also an active participant as a performer and writer in Judges Nite, the DCBA’s annual send-up of the judiciary and the legal system to raise money for Legal Aid.

Since 1989, Judge Wheaton has been a member of the AAUW Wheaton-Glen Ellyn Branch. AAUW is a national organization of college-educated individuals actively committed to the AAUW mission of advancing equity for girls and women through research, education, and advocacy. The AAUW Wheaton-Glen Ellyn Branch, NFP has been a part of this national organization of local communities since 1956, offering a variety of interesting programs and sponsoring fundraising activities.  

In 1991, Judge Wheaton received the Lewis University Distinguished Alumni Award, and in 1994 was honored by the Young Women’s Christian Association as an Outstanding Woman Leader. She also received the Outstanding Alumni Award from the Northern Illinois University College of Law in 2008. Besides her extensive involvement in the legal world, Judge Wheaton also has a passion for literature and travel. To date, her travels include Mt. Kenya, the Black Sea region, the Great Wall of China, Iceland, Abu Dhabi, and Bhutan.

The IJA Pro Bono Committee recognizes Chief Judge Wheaton this month in appreciation for her service to the judiciary and to the community.