For nearly 40 years, Lake County Chief Judge Fred Foreman said he has been compiling a bucket list to fill starting the day he retires.
That process begins in January after Foreman announced Tuesday he's stepping down as chief judge of the 19th Judicial Circuit.
"The first thing on the list is travel," Foreman said with a big smile an hour after announcing his decision. "There's also some charitable services and projects that I'm interested in volunteering for. At this point in my career, that's the type of thing that interests me."
Lake County Judge John Phillips will take over as chief judge Jan. 6. Foreman's departure will leave a bench vacancy that will be filled via appointment, officials said.
Foreman could not cite the day he will leave because of scheduling issues, but said it will be in "mid-to-late January."
"I made the decision to not go back into a courtroom when I was done with my term as chief judge," he said. "I anticipate I'll serve on some government committees, which I'll happily do on a volunteer basis."
Foreman first entered the Lake County government center in Waukegan as an intern for the public defender's office in 1973, a year before graduating from John Marshall Law School in Wisconsin, he said.
Since then, he has served in several legal positions there, including as an assistant public defender and assistant state's attorney before being elected Lake County state's attorney in 1980.
He served as the county's top lawyer for a decade before being appointed by former President George H.W. Bush as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, serving from 1990 to 1993.
He went into private practice for about a decade before running for election to replace former Circuit Judge John Goshgarian on the Lake County bench.
He was elected chief judge by his peers in May 2012.
During nearly 40 years as a lawyer and judge, Foreman served as part of a team of lawyers that helped negotiate the national tobacco settlement, was elected president of the National District Attorney's Association, named to the Illinois Sentencing Commission, and was a Special Assistant Illinois Attorney General.
While serving as U.S. attorney, Foreman prosecuted the first federal death penalty case in the country since the 1950s. Alexander Cooper was convicted in 1992 of ordering the murder of a federal witness. However, the jury spared Cooper the death penalty. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Despite a host of professional achievements, Foreman said he was most proud of mentoring people around him.
"My greatest accomplishment is seeing the people that have worked with me go on," he said. "I gave them the opportunity and they all went on to be successful. I've been fortunate to have good people working with me."
Assistant state's attorney Stephen Scheller said he has great respect for Foreman, who hired him in 1990.
"He's a man who has always treated everyone with dignity, respect, kindness and compassion," Scheller said. "One of the most important things he taught me as an assistant state's attorney is to always do the right thing, something he embodied throughout his career."
Foreman said Phillips will do an excellent job as chief judge.
"He's very experienced, very supportive of the programs we have in place, and will be a great colleague," Foreman said
Phillips, who was elected a circuit judge in 2006 and is acting chief judge and presiding judge of the specialty courts, said he has big shoes to fill.
"Not only has he been a good friend for years, he's done a wonderful job as chief judge," Phillips said. "We'll miss him a lot."