Illinois Supreme Court Justice Robert Thomas will retire from his seat on the bench at the end of the month. He plans to join the Chicago-based Power Rogers law firm, which successfully represented him in a defamation suit against the Kane County Chronicle in 2006.
First elected to the high court in November 2000, and voted chief five years later, Thomas was instrumental in opening its activities by allowing the online publication of video and audio from oral arguments. Thomas also supervised a mandatory continuing education program for Illinois lawyers and judges and established the court’s Commission on Professionalism.
Thomas was the first Supreme Court leader from DuPage County. He wrote numerous influential opinions while on the bench — ones that confirmed former Gov. George Ryan’s commutation of Illinois’ death row inmates’ sentences was constitutional; that Ryan, due to his federal felony convictions, was not allowed to collect his two state pensions; and that former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was eligible to run for that office. Thomas is the third justice to retire in two years, following Charles Freeman in June 2018 and Lloyd Karmeier in November last year.
Thomas is a former place kicker in the NFL that included 10 seasons with the Chicago Bears and stints with the Detroit Lions, San Diego Chargers and New York Giants. While playing for the Bears in 1977, Thomas kicked a 28-yard overtime field goal that sent the team to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. He was inducted to the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame in September 2012, and is the fourth-leading scorer in Chicago Bears history.
The Supreme Court filled the vacancy that will be left by Thomas’ retirement by vote. They appointed Appellate Justice Michael Burke who will serve from March 1 to Dec. 5, 2022, to that seat. According to the state’s Constitution, Burke will serve beyond the conclusion of Thomas’ term to the next judicial election because there is less than 60 days before the March 17 primary. A swearing-in date has not yet been determined, according to Capital News Illinois. Burke was chief of the DuPage County State’s Attorney’s Office’s Special Prosecutions Unit in 1991. He was elected to the circuit court in 2002, after being appointed to the bench a year earlier.