Retired Madison County Judge Barbara Crowder took the reigns of the Illinois Judges Association (IJA) as its president in June 2021. As one of her presidential initiatives, Judge Crowder established the IJA Pro Bono Committee. Under the leadership of Justice Thomas Kilbride (Ret.) and Judge Julie Katz, the IJA Pro Bono Committee is meant to highlight the great unmet need for pro bono legal services across our state, and to highlight ways in which sitting judges can support and encourage pro bono and retired judges can provide pro bono service.
Neither pro bono nor PILI were new to Judge Crowder. She has been an advocate for pro bono and access to justice throughout her legal career. Most recently, Judge Crowder served as the inaugural chair of PILI’s Third Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee from its launch in 2011 until her retirement from the bench in 2018. Through the IJA Pro Bono Committee, Judge Crowder intends for the IJA to recruit retired judges to assist in providing legal advice on cases and will also explore ways that sitting judges can make litigants feel more comfortable in the courtroom, help them to better understand the legal process and ensure they have access to legal resources.
“As members of the legal system, judges help people resolve conflicts and get through tough times while treating them fairly and with dignity,” Crowder said. “As a statewide organization, the IJA has the ability to make a significant impact across the state and ensure Illinoisans have access to justice, regardless of their financial situation.”
Likewise, those she tapped to lead the effort share her career-long commitment to pro bono and access to justice. Former Illinois Supreme Court Justice Tom Kilbride began his legal career as a legal aid attorney, setting the stage for his lifelong commitment to access to justice. He went on to build a successful private practice representing a broad range of clients, including pro bono clients, before his election to the Illinois Supreme Court in 2000. Justice Kilbride served on the Court for 20 years, and during his tenure as Chief Justice he spearheaded the formation of the Illinois Supreme Court’s Commission on Access to Justice.
St. Clair County Judge Julie Katz’s legal career has also featured a commitment to pro bono and access to justice. Prior to her judicial service, Judge Katz was a regular pro bono volunteer through Land of Lincoln Legal Aid. She also served on and ultimately chaired the Illinois State Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services. Judge Katz has been serving as chair of the Twentieth Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee since it was established in 2018.
“PILI is thrilled to partner with the IJA on this very important project,” said PILI Executive Director Michael G. Bergmann. “The vast unmet need for civil legal services that exists in Illinois, especially as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, requires the whole of the legal community to come together to ensure equal access to justice for all.”
Over the next year, the IJA will spotlight sitting judges who support pro bono and retired judges who perform pro bono legal services. The IJA will also promote Illinois Free Legal Services as a pro bono opportunity that is available in all 102 counties in Illinois to retired judges who are IJA members and encourage them to become active volunteers through the site. The committee is also planning an event to commemorate the national celebration of Pro Bono Week in October 2021.
For more information about this effort, contact Michael Bergmann by email or at 312-832-5129.