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16th Circuit gets first female chief judge

16th Circuit Chief Judge Judith Brawka

16th Circuit Chief Judge Judith Brawka

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Updated: December 5, 2012 6:34AM

Judith Brawka has been elected the new chief judge in the 16th Judicial Circuit — the first woman to ever hold the position.

Brawka, of Aurora Township, begins her term on Monday and will serve the remainder of the two-year term of Robert Spence, who has been named to the Appellate Court. Brawka was elected to the position by other judges in the 16th Judicial Circuit.

The chief judge makes judicial assignments, helps write circuit rules and is the voice of the judiciary to the county board, among other duties.

“Being chief judge in any circuit is an honor because it demonstrates you have the confidence of your fellow judges to take on the administrative tasks that the job involves,” Brawka said on Friday.

Right now, Kane, Kendall and DeKalb counties are in the 16th Judicial Circuit. Gov. Pat Quinn approved splitting Kane County off into its own circuit and putting Kendall and DeKalb into the new 23rd Circuit, starting in December.

Public defender

Brawka, 57, was born in Oak Park and grew up in Bloomingdale. She graduated from DePaul University in 1975 and then Northwestern Law School in 1978. She started with the Kane County Public Defender’s Office in 1978 and was Kane County’s public defender from 1986 until she became a judge.

Brawka was appointed as an associate judge in 1991, then elected as a circuit judge in 2002. Brawka has worked in all divisions of the civil and criminal courts, including the juvenile division. (Associate judges are appointed to four-year terms and, unlike circuit judges, do not participate in voting on issues in the circuit, including electing a chief judge, local criminal code rules and civil court procedures.)

Brawka has been the presiding judge in the civil division since 2009.

When she was public defender, Brawka enjoyed administrative parts of the job and is looking forward to that work as chief judge.

“I really liked that process,” she said. “I enjoyed working the budget. I enjoyed working with the county board.”

Brawka said one of her first goals will be to help set up a foreclosure mediation program, which is awaiting approval from the Illinois Supreme Court. The program will give homeowners more of a voice in the foreclosure process and keep the process on track for lenders.

Brawka said she was honored to be the first female chief judge because it marks a distinct change from when she started practicing law.

“You were always pointed out because there was so few women,” she said. “It has changed so tremendously.”

When Brawka was appointed as judge, she was only the second female in the circuit.

“It’s exciting because we have many more women on the bench right now,” she said. “It’s exciting to be able to be a part of that, not because I’m a woman, and not despite being a woman, but I hope because my fellow judges made the decision on merit.”

Brawka’s election is one of several significant changes in Kane County. Longtime judges Allen Anderson, Robert Janes and Tim Sheldon all recently announced their retirement. For several years, Anderson and Sheldon have taken on some of the county’s most complex and high-profile felony cases. Janes has presided over many different courtrooms and currently serves in the family court.

On Friday, Aurora attorney Rene Cruz and former Kane County assistant state’s attorney Christine Downs were named as finalists to fill Janes’ open seat.

The circuit judges elect associate judges. A selection was expected soon, according to a press release from the 16th Circuit.

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