Crime & Courts

First woman selected as 16th Circuit chief judge

Judge Judith Brawka is the first woman to be elected as chief judge of the 16th Judicial Circuit.

Brawka, 57, will begin her term as chief judge Saturday.

“It’s pretty amazing to recall back to when I first started in 1978,” she said. “There were so few women in courts.”

She replaces Chief Judge Robert Spence and will serve the remainder of his two-year term, which ends Dec. 1, 2013. After that date, she will be eligible to serve a two-year term.

Spence is leaving the post because he’s been assigned by the Illinois Supreme Court to serve on the Second District Illinois Appellate Court.

Judges voted unanimously Thursday to elect Brawka as chief judge.

She thanked former Judge Pamela Jensen for paving the way for women in the 16th Judicial Circuit. Jensen was the first woman to be appointed a judge.

“It’s so different now,” Brawka said. “If you look at that history, it was never even on the radar. You’d never dream that day would come.”

Brawka was appointed as an associate judge in 1991 and was elected as a circuit judge in 2002. She has served as the presiding judge of the court’s civil division since 2009.

As chief judge, Brawka said she hopes to implement a foreclosure mediation program, which is pending approval by the Illinois State Supreme Court. The program would help homeowners and lenders reach the best solutions, locate resources and navigate the complexities of the foreclosure process.

She said the program also would help keep case volumes under control and stabilize tax bases and communities.

Brawka said she’s also a big proponent for transparency, and she supports efforts to allow cameras in the 16th Judicial Circuit courtrooms. She said educating local service clubs and schools about the law is one of her most important accomplishments.

Brawka graduated summa cum laude from DePaul University in 1975, and earned her Juris Doctor cum laude from Northwestern University School of Law in 1978. Her career started in 1978 when she became an assistant public defender in Kane County. In 1986, she was selected as Kane County public defender, where she worked 12 years.

She said she has fond memories of those 12 years because it exposed her to a variety of cases and clients.

“It was a privilege to represent the indigent,” she said. “People wonder, ‘How could you represent that person?’ You have to understand that you don’t judge the people you have to represent. You’re going to make sure those folks get their day in court just like everyone else.”

Brawka has served as president of the Illinois Public Defender Association, Illinois Task Force on Gender Bias in Courts, Prairie State Legal Services Board of Directors, Kane County Task Force on Drinking and Driving, Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority Data Advisory Committee and State Appellate Defender Training Seminar Faculty.

Brawka has handled a myriad of cases in Kane, Kendall and DeKalb county courts and a Supreme Court assignment in Cook County. She has been assigned to all civil and criminal courts, including the juvenile division, where she was named presiding judge.

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