DuPage forest preserve hires former chief judge

Former DuPage County Chief Judge John T. Elsner says he retired from the bench for the chance to represent the DuPage County Forest Preserve District.

On Tuesday, forest preserve commissioners unanimously approved the appointment of Elsner as the head counsel for the district. Elsner, who until this week served as chief judge of the 18th Judicial Circuit, was nominated by forest preserve commission President Joe Cantore.

"The forest preserve is moving in a different direction," Cantore said. "He (Elsner) is going to assist us in moving in that direction."

After spending nearly 24 years as a judge, Elsner said he believes working for the forest preserve "will be a good change."

"I had a conversation with Joe Cantore and thought the time was right and this would be a new start," the 63-year-old Wheaton resident said. "I'm really looking forward to it."

Elsner has been given a one-year, $150,000 contract and will work from the district headquarters in Wheaton.

He's considered an independent contractor and not a district employee. He won't receive benefits or a pension from the district.

"I think it's lucky that the forest preserve can hire a chief judge to be a contract attorney," Cantore said.

The forest preserve district is Elsner's only client.

Elsner replaces Jim Knippen of Walsh, Knippen, Pollock and Cetina, which had been the head counsel for the district since May 2012. The Wheaton-based firm will continue to do work for the district in other areas, officials said.

With the district going through a restructuring, Cantore said he decided it was time to change attorneys. He said he's excited to work with Elsner.

"He is an unbelievably accomplished man," Cantore said. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for his knowledge, his experience."

Elsner, who is a graduate of Lewis University College of Law, has worked as an attorney for public and private agencies.

"My experience before being a judge was municipal law," he said.

Elsner was appointed as an associate judge in 1991 and elected circuit judge in 2000. He was elected in 2011 by DuPage's circuit judges to become the chief judge of the 18th Circuit.

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