DANVILLE — Illinois Supreme Court Justice Rita B. Garman will return to the courthouse in Danville where she first took the bench to be installed as the high court's chief justice next month.
The Supreme Court announced Thursday that Garman, a longtime Danville resident, was chosen unanimously by her fellow justices to succeed Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride, who has served in the position since October 2010. Garman's three-year term as chief will begin Oct. 26.
"I am honored and humbled to have been chosen by my colleagues to serve as chief justice," said Garman, who will become only the second woman to do so as well as the second woman to head one of the three branches of government in Illinois.
"This office has been held by many great jurists, several of whom I have served with and count among my friends," she continued. "I welcome the challenges and the responsibilities that go with the role of chief justice because I know that I can count on the support of my colleagues at all levels of the judiciary and the members of the Illinois bar."
Garman joined the judiciary in 1974 as a Vermilion County associate judge in the Fifth Judicial Circuit and will mark her 40th anniversary as a judge on Jan. 7. Of the more than 950 judges in Illinois, she is the second-longest serving jurist in the state, and her selection is the culmination of her years of public service.
Garman, who always has maintained her office in Danville, has served on the Illinois Supreme Court since Feb. 1, 2001, about two months after Kilbride and former Chief Justice Robert R. Thomas were sworn in as justices following their election.
"I have served with Rita Garman for nearly my entire tenure on the Illinois Supreme Court," Kilbride said in a release. "We have not only worked together as colleagues, but she has become a dear friend. She has an extraordinary combination of intellect, temperament and experience that will serve well our court, our judiciary and our state. It is my privilege to turn over the office of chief justice to her, and I look forward to following her in the years ahead."
"Rita will make an outstanding chief justice," Thomas added. "She is smart, she is passionate about the cause of justice and she is a natural leader. This court will thrive under her leadership."
The chief justice oversees the Illinois Supreme Court's heavy administrative agenda and chairs the Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference of Illinois, which suggests improvements in the administration of justice in the state, spokesman Joseph Tybor said. The chief also serves as the court's public face.
"She will appear at many functions as the official representative of the court," Tybor said.
On the state's Supreme Court, Garman has written and participated in hundreds of opinions and has been an active participate in the court's many administrative functions. She recommended that the court establish a Special Committee on Child Custody Issues to ensure that the best interests of children is the prime focus of all custody cases and that all child custody proceedings be scheduled and heard on an expedited basis, and she still serves as the court's liaison to the committee.
Garman also serves as Supreme Court liaison to the Conference of Chief Circuit Judges, the Committee on Judicial Performance Evaluation and the Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission.
She said has learned much from her chief justice predecessors who also include Justice Charles Freeman, retired Justice Tom Fitzgerald and the late Justices Moses Harrison and Mary Ann McMorrow, the first woman on the Illinois Supreme Court and its first female chief. She said she will work to ensure prompt judicial decision-making at all levels of the court system "because justice delayed is justice denied.
Tybor said the installation ceremony, at the Vermilion County Courthouse in Danville, is by invitation only due to space limitations and security purposes.