Illinois Judges Association

Pro Bono Spotlight - May 2023

This month, the Pro Bono Committee pauses to spotlight the incomparable Illinois Appellate Court Justice and current President of the Illinois Judges Association, the Honorable Eileen O’Neil Burke. 

 Justice Burke received her undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois – Champaign-Urbana.  She is a proud graduate of IIT-Chicago Kent College of Law, where she frequently returns to engage with the students and faculty.  Following law school, Justice Burke worked as an Assistant State’s Attorney, subsequently embarking on a career in criminal defense work. 

In 2008, Justice Burke was elected as a Cook County Circuit Court judge where, during her tenure, she presided over cases filed in the court’s Law Division, Commercial Litigation calendar.  Additionally, Justice Burke presided over the Tax and Miscellaneous Remedies Calendar, as well as the Law Division Motion call.  In 2016, Justice Burke was elected to the Illinois Appellate Court, where she currently serves.

Justice Burke understands the value of a professional and competent judiciary.  Soon after becoming a judge, she became a faculty member of the Supreme Court’s Judicial Education Conference.  As faculty, she has lectured Illinois judges on a wide range of topics, including “Making a Record,”  “DUI’s” and civil procedure.  She has also presented at the Illinois Appellate Court Annual Conference on both civil and criminal law updates, accompanied always by just enough of the right lyrical rendition.

In 2022, Justice Burke was sworn in as President of the Illinois Judges Association. Under her leadership, the IJA launched the Judicial Independence Declaration, which was adopted by 22 legal, judicial and bar groups.  As President she has led the organization to new and higher heights.  Under her leadership, the Association has increased not only its statewide visibility, but also its accessibility.  With the monthly blog, and the Association’s use of Twitter, members of the Association are kept informed of programs and services provided by the Association, activities in which all judges can engage to promote confidence and trust in the judiciary and opportunities for professional development, as well as for physical and mental wellbeing.

This year, under Justice Burke’s leadership, the Association saw the revitalization of existing committees with the implementation of new committee structures.  Collaboration among committees throughout the state was increased with the use of workgroups and district chairs.  For judges finding themselves the subject of public or media commentary, Justice Burke created a new resource, the Emeritus Council.  The Council is comprised of retired Appellate Court Judges, Chief Judges and Presiding Judges who are available to active judges to offer advice and counsel in responding to public commentary.

As the judiciary emerged from the strictures of COVID-19, Justice Burke saw the need to focus on judges’ physical fitness and wellbeing.  What emerged were several new initiatives, one of which was the Healthy Courthouse Challenge.  Judges throughout the state were challenged to adopt one or more healthy habits to engage in and track for a period of one month in the hopes that those habits, once adopted, would become, not only life altering, but permanent.  Successful judges were rewarded with the coveted IJA water bottle, a replica of which can be acquired from the newly created IJA Swag store.

Justice Burke is deeply committed to public service and believes that our service to the community at large bears a strong correlation to enhancing public trust and confidence in the judiciary.  On Earth Day, she encouraged the Association membership to engage in activities that would nurture nature.  In the month of February, all across the state, members of the judiciary took part in various volunteer activities, with Justice Burke participating in the repackaging of food at Chicago’s Food Depository so that those lacking food might be served.  Additionally, Justice Burke participated in the annual blood drive in Chicago, donating blood so that lives of those in need of blood might be saved.  Additionally, Justice Burke is a regular presenter at the IJA’s In-Schools Programs, engaging with students throughout Illinois, and is one of the creators of the IJA’s newest school program, “Your Future-Your Choice.”  

As is the prerogative of the IJA President, this year Justice Burke chose Israel, with its rich history and culture, as the country to be visited by Illinois Judges. The trip was organized by former IJA President Michael Hyman and Retired Circuit Court Judge Moshe Jacobious. The group of Illinois judges arrived in Israel in March of this year, just as the independent Israeli judiciary was under attack by forces in the Israeli government. The Illinois judges got to meet with the Israeli judges and others on the front line of Israeli politics. When she returned, Justice Burke wrote a stirring commentary in the Chicago Tribune about the impact the trip had for her and the other judges and the importance of an independent judiciary here, as in Israel.

A true public servant --- we count Justice Burke among the brightest of our judicial stars.  Accordingly, we applaud Justice Burke for her vision and her contributions to increasing public service by our judiciary and in our communities.