CHICAGO – Retired Illinois Supreme Court Justice John Nickels, who worked to make legal services more accessible to low-income people, died Monday after a long illness, court officials said. He was 82.
Nickels died at his home in Maple Park, said Illinois Supreme Court spokesman Joe Tybor. Nickels served six years on the state high court during the 1990s, participating in 820 cases. He authored 95 majority opinions, including a decision that struck down a gang loitering ordinance in Chicago. The U.S. Supreme Court later upheld Nickels’ decision.
He grew up on a dairy farm in Kane County and credited his background with shaping his values. When announcing his retirement, according to Tybor, Nickels said: “This farmer’s son is going home.”
Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride said in a statement Tuesday that Nickels was “a real role model” and “a gentle and most hospitable man.”
“He carried a wealth of compassion and internal resolve to bring out the best in all of us – to be respectful professionals,” Kilbride said.
While he was on the high court, Nickels served as the court’s liaison to the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois, which gives money to legal aid organizations. His support for a rule allowing lawyers’ pooled client accounts to earn a higher rate of interest was credited with substantially increasing the money available for legal services. The Illinois State Bar Association honored him with the Access to Justice Award for that work.
Nickels is survived by his wife, Merita, a professional artist. He’s also survived by seven children, 24 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Visitation will be Friday and Saturday at St. Gall Catholic Church in Elburn. A Catholic Mass will be at St. Gall at 11 a.m. Saturday. Burial will be in St. Gall Cemetery.