Cook County Judge Kay Hanlon said she was "surprised" and "humbled" to learn that the Northwest Suburban Bar Association has named her 2012 judge of the year in the Third Municipal District.
A prosecutor for 13 years, Hanlon served in the narcotics and gang crimes special prosecution units and served as deputy chief of the juvenile justice division.
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She entered private practice in 2000 and four years later was elected to the bench, where she presided over civil and misdemeanor matters, domestic relations cases and felonies.
Retained by voters in 2010, she currently serves as a felony trial judge at the Rolling Meadows courthouse, where attorneys praise her judicial acumen.
"She's got an exceptional knowledge of the law and she always applies it fairly to both sides," said Mike Clarke, a Cook County assistant state's attorney assigned to Hanlon's courtroom.
"It's a pleasure to do jury trials and bigger cases in front of her because she's so sharp," Clarke said.
"It makes the trial go a lot smoother because she knows the law and can rule on evidence to move a case along. As a trial attorney, that makes your job so much easier."
Hanlon returns the compliment, commending the attorneys appearing before her for making her job easier.
"I have really good lawyers practicing before me," she said.
The 650-member bar association doesn't honor judges in this way every year, said Miriam Cooper, chairman of the awards committee.
"This year we chose to pick Judge Hanlon because of the depth of her knowledge and experience. She is one of the few judges who has heard criminal cases and domestic relations cases," Cooper said.
Hanlon's demeanor also factored into the committee's decision, Cooper said, adding that in treating attorneys and defendants with dignity and respect, Hanlon "demonstrates what being a judge should be."
Hanlon took over felony courtroom 110 earlier this year after serving in the preliminary hearing courtroom, where she also presided over bond hearings.
"(Courtroom) 108 was a good learning experience," said Hanlon, who expressed her gratitude to Judge William Maki, presiding judge of the Third District, for the new assignment.
"I love my job. I look forward to coming to work every day," she said, quoting one of her favorite axioms: "Ability takes you to the top. Character keeps you there."
The bar association also named Judge Sharon Sullivan judge of the year for Skokie's Second Municipal District.
The group also recognized Susan Castans as a "friend of the bar; attorney Anna Markley Bush for her work helping to train fellow lawyers and attorney Ronald F. Wittmeyer for his volunteer efforts.