An Aurora-based attorney has become the first Hispanic appointed to serve as judge in Kane County.
Rene Cruz, 42, of North Aurora, Monday will begin a four-year appointment as associate judge in the 16th Judicial Circuit.
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"Kane County is my home. I've done a lot of community work," he said. "It's a huge responsibility. I'm excited to get started."
Cruz was chosen by other judges this week out of 36 candidates and he is in the process of handing off cases to other associates at his law firm. Cruz fills the vacancy created when Judge Robert Janes stepped down in October. Instead of being assigned to hear traffic cases like most beginning judges, Cruz will preside over divorce and child custody cases.
Chief Judge Judith Brawka pointed to Cruz's education at The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, and his experience in both criminal cases and civil matters.
"He has an excellent temperament in the courtroom and has distinguished himself as an attorney," she said. "(His appointment) certainly brings diversity to the bench, but you look first at the qualifications of a candidate."
There have been several firsts on the Kane County bench this month.
Brawka was appointed as the circuit's first female chief judge, and voters elected Democrat John Dalton, who is openly gay, to an Elgin judge seat.
Years ago, Judge F. Keith Brown became the first black person to serve as chief judge for the 16th Judicial Circuit.
"What's happening in the judiciary, it's reflective of what's happening in our world and America. It's a more diverse community," Brawka said, adding that after she was appointed chief judge, she received a card from a friend who opined that one day, these types of "firsts" wouldn't have to be mentioned.
"That's really where everyone wants to be. We're chosen for what we are and what we have accomplished," she said.
Cruz was born in Panama to a military family, and he said frequent moves helped him become more accepting of many cultures.
He earned his law degree from Northern Illinois University in 1997 and has served as president and legal counsel to the Aurora Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Cruz also believes he brings a broad perspective to the bench, as well as the ability to be a good listener.
Cruz thanked his parents, retired Army Sgt. Major Florencio Cruz and his wife, Carmela, for teaching him to work hard and sacrifice. Cruz must leave his firm, Gil & Cruz, but he is excited to serve and hopes he can inspire other Hispanics.
"It's a great day and a sad day. I have a law practice that, unfortunately, I'm going to have to say goodbye to," Cruz said. "(Serving as judge) gives me a higher point to serve and do good for the community. This is something the community was wanting for a long time and I'm carrying the torch in a sense."