Tuesday, February 18, 2014

James L. Kaplan: In his own words

Judge James L. Kaplan is a candidate for the Jordan vacancy in the 12th Subcircuit. His punch number is 174.

I graduated from law school in 1971. During law school I was a law clerk in the City of Chicago Law Department (Corporation Counsel). Subsequently, I served as an Assistant Corporation Counsel until 1972, when I entered private practice. Shortly thereafter I formed a partnership with Thomas Hoffman and Sheldon Sorosky. This partnership lasted until Mr. Hoffman became an Associate Circuit Court Judge. Mr. Sorosky and I remained partners for the next 39 years. We never needed a written partnership agreement; our word to each other was all that was necessary. I have approached my legal career with this same level of honesty, loyalty and commitment throughout my years of private practice and my time serving as a judge.

For the duration of my career, I have also leant myself to public service. This included being a member (1992-1999) and Chairman of the Illinois State Advisory Council on the Education of Children with Disabilities (1994-1996). That service included being one of the main authors of the Amendment to the Due Process laws pertaining to disputes between students, parents and school districts. Thereafter, I served as a member (1999-2003) and Chairman of the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) (2003-2007). While serving as Chairman for these educational organizations, I gained invaluable skills that have enhanced my legal career. These skills include the constant negotiation of multiple interest groups with careful attention to an agenda, individual opinions being heard, and a fair and reasonable consensus being reached. This was excellent preparation for my role as a judge.

I currently am a trustee at St. Patrick’s High School, where I help the school’s administration in dealing with academic issues. I aim to remain current on the needs of the community of children and families of the school. I am also a member of the Comprehensive Transplant Council at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. I maintain this membership to raise community awareness, inform future transplant patients, and otherwise support the hospital. This facet of public service keeps me grounded in my personal community and in happenings that are outside the law. This work is important because it rounds out my legal career and it helps me to be able to relate issues affecting families outside of my courtroom to matters that may arise within it.

I also volunteer with the USO at O’Hare International Airport. My work for this organization includes advising traveling military, food preparation, cleaning tables and answering phone calls. A lot of the personnel passing through the USO-O’Hare station are teenagers who have never left home at any time in their lives. They are embarking on a career in the military and are unfamiliar with issues that arise during travel and their obligations upon arrival at O’Hare. Most of these young recruits are going on to Great Lakes Naval Station. They are in need of assistance, reassurance, and sometimes just a friendly face to greet them. Assisting those service men and women was an honor. I believe it is important to serve the military just as they serve all of us.

In 2005, I was appointed to the Illinois Court of Claims. This judgeship lasted for five and a half years, at which time I was appointed to a judgeship in the Circuit Court of Cook County. After serving for a time as a Circuit Court Judge, I was found to be qualified or recommended by all evaluating bar associations, being complemented for my temperament, court room management, and ability. I strive to maintain this level of integrity as I preside in the courtroom daily.

I presently serve as a judge in the Domestic Relations in the Paternity and Child Support section of the court. My current assignment is one of the toughest courtrooms a judge can manage; tensions between the parents are palpable, and the responsibility for the children in between is heavy. Yet for me, it has become one of the most meaningful times of my professional life because I am able to make a positive difference in the lives of many children. I work actively to promote the welfare of children by making crucial decisions as to their whereabouts, safety and family life. I do not take this responsibility lightly; I fully recognize the impact my decisions have on families. For example, through my repeated efforts, I was able to bring a child and her father together for the first time in her four-year life. This resulted in a successful, on-going relationship. In open court, the father thanked me for my persistence.

I seek a continued role as a judge because I believe that working as a courtroom advocate for families is the greatest honor a judge can receive. It has taken me the entirety of my legal career to arrive at the place where I have been able to mesh all of my legal and judicial experience with all of my public service for children and families. I hope to continue in this position, as a judge in the Domestic Relations court – Child Support and Paternity, for another term.

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