Bob Thomas, first chief judge from DuPage County, retiring from Illinois Supreme Court

  • Justice Bob Thomas

    Justice Bob Thomas

  • Justice Michael J. Burke

    Justice Michael J. Burke

Daily Herald report
Updated 2/10/2020 11:02 AM

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Robert R. Thomas, who became the first DuPage County jurist to serve as the court's chief justice, will retire at the end of the month.

Thomas, elected to the high court in 2000, served as chief justice from 2005 to 2008, during which he established the Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, required mandatory continuing education for attorneys and embraced technology as a way to make the court's proceedings more public and transparent.


"It has been a great honor and privilege to have served on the Illinois Supreme Court as well as on the appellate and circuit courts over the past 32 years," Thomas, 67, said Monday in an announcement of his retirement. "While I will miss the collegial atmosphere with my colleagues on the court, I am ready to return to the practice of law and help clients achieve justice."

Thomas will join the Power Rogers law firm in Chicago, where he will practice with his son, Jonathan. He was represented by firm co-founder Joe Power in a successful 2006 defamation case against the Kane County Chronicle newspaper.

Before his legal career, Thomas spent 12 years as an NFL placekicker, 10 of them with the Chicago Bears. He remains the fourth leading scorer in Bears history.

The Supreme Court already has appointed Appellate Court Justice Michael J. Burke to fill Justice Thomas' seat through Dec. 5, 2022. Burke has been a member of the Elgin-based Second District Appellate Court since 2008, and previous to that served as judge in DuPage County and an assistant DuPage County state's attorney.

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DuPage County Judge Liam Brennan will fill Burke's seat on the appellate court, effective March 2 through Dec. 5, 2022.

Thomas, a Rochester, New York native, attended the University of Notre Dame before joining the Bears in 1975. While playing for the Bears, he attended the Loyola University School of Law and was admitted to the Illinois Bar in 1981, while still an NFL kicker.

After retiring from football, Thomas was elected in 1988 to serve as a DuPage County judge. Six years later, he was elected to the Second District Appellate Court.

"Justice Thomas has been a great colleague and, although we did not always agree on every issue that came before the court, we became and remained good friends who respected each other and our differing perspectives," Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier said in Monday's announcement. "His departure will be a great loss for the court, for the people of Illinois, and for me, personally. Members of the bar will remember him for his clear thinking, insightful analysis and forceful writing. Those of us who served with him will miss him for his good humor, collegiality, and intellectual thinking."

Notable opinions authored by Thomas during his years on the court include People v. Lerma (2016), which held that expert testimony concerning the reliability of eyewitness identifications is appropriate in certain cases; DeHart v. DeHart (2013), which for the first time recognized the theory of equitable adoption in Illinois; Ryan v. The Board of Trustees of the General Assembly Retirement System (2010), which held that, as a result of his multiple federal felony convictions, former Gov. George H. Ryan had forfeited the pensions he earned while serving in the General Assembly and as lieutenant governor; and People ex rel. Madigan v. Snyder (2005), which affirmed the constitutionality of former Gov. Ryan's grant of "blanket clemency" to all 167 of Illinois' death row inmates.

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