Longtime Palatine prosecutor, 71, sworn in as Cook County judge

  • Michael Gerber, newly made a Cook County judge, speaks alongside Cook County prosecutor Virginia Bigane to reporters following the 2011 conviction of former Streamwood police officer James Mandarino on charges of aggravated battery, battery and official misconduct.

      Michael Gerber, newly made a Cook County judge, speaks alongside Cook County prosecutor Virginia Bigane to reporters following the 2011 conviction of former Streamwood police officer James Mandarino on charges of aggravated battery, battery and official misconduct. Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 12/23/2016 10:53 AM

For a 71-year-old Cook County prosecutor, Thursday's judicial swearing-in ceremony represented the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

"I only ever wanted to be a lawyer and a teacher," said Mike Gerber, who called his appointment to the bench by the Illinois Supreme Court "the most exciting thing in my life."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

A 32-year veteran of the state's attorney's office and an elder statesman at the Rolling Meadows courthouse, Gerber recently served as the first-chair prosecutor in Cook County Judge Marc Martin's felony courtroom.

"Defense attorneys hold him in high regard. My colleagues on the bench hold him in high regard and his colleagues in the prosecutor's office hold him in high regard," Martin said. "It's bittersweet to lose him, but (the appointment) is well-deserved and has certainly been earned."

Known for his quick wit and judicial acumen, Gerber is skilled at cross-examining witnesses and incisive in his rebuttal arguments. A onetime student at The Second City, Gerber credits his time studying improv with sharpening his ability to think quickly and on his feet.

A mentor to his colleagues, "Mike has all the qualities you want in a prosecutor: passion, fairness and integrity," said Cook County assistant state's attorney Maria McCarthy, Gerber's supervisor. "The citizens of Cook County are lucky to have him on the bench."

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A Chicago native, Gerber began working at 14 in delicatessens and restaurants. Over the years he worked for the Cook County circuit court clerk and the Illinois secretary of state. Supporting his family after his father became ill, Gerber attended Roosevelt University part time. With help from his late uncle Martin S. Gerber, he attended DePaul University law school, graduating in 1979 at age 35. The following year, he began teaching business law at Northeastern Illinois University, where he intends to remain.

Gerber joined the state's attorney's office in February 1984. In 1998, he made an unsuccessful bid for the circuit court. After learning earlier this month that the Illinois Supreme Court had appointed him to the bench, Gerber stopped by his uncle's former Chicago office, now a hotel, to toast his mentor.

"After my dad passed away he put me through law school," he said. "He meant everything in the world to me."

Initially, Gerber will preside over traffic cases.

"I want people to feel the judiciary and the judicial system is something they can be proud of," he said. "Ninety percent of people who have contact with the judicial system are in traffic court. If they're treated badly they'll think that is the way the system is."

Most important, he said, is to never lose sight of one's humanity and respect for other people.

"Never forget who you are or where you came from."

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