Monday, February 19, 2018

Arthur Wesley Willis: In his own words

Arthur Wesley Willis is a candidate for the Valarie Turner vacancy in the 2nd Subcircuit. His punch number is 163.

I’m known to my family and good friends as Wes, I am a husband and father, who has dedicated his career to defending the rights of those in need.

I was born and raised in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Chicago’s South Side, the youngest of Sylvia and Frank’s six children. I followed in the footsteps of some of my siblings by attending the University of Illinois in Champaign. I was graduated from the College of Communications earning a Bachelor of Science degree in News-Editorial Journalism in 1991 and from the College of Law in 1994.

It was as a freshman undergrad at the U of I that I met my wife, Julie, whom I married while we were both students at University of Illinois’ College of Law. We have been married 24 years and have three children.

I'm the rare person who went through the expense of attending law school for the sole purpose of becoming a poorly paid Public Defender. It was while an undergrad that I decided to dedicate myself to a career of serving those with no voice and limited means. I believed then and to this day, that protecting the rights of the poor, ensures that we can all feel secure in the rights guaranteed us by our Constitution.

A man of faith, raised in the Lutheran Church, I believe that Christ, while living among us, was the ultimate public defender. My way of following Christ was to become one as well. I believe in following what Jesus said was the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.” In my personal life I have done this as an elder and national delegate for my church, St. John’s, and I invite you to hear my next sermon when this is all over. I plan to talk to y’all for a long time about the shortest bible verse, “Jesus wept”.

As a Public Defender for over 23 years, I have tried all manner of cases. My colleagues and I in the Office have seen the worst our society has to offer. Yet I firmly believe everyone I come into contact with deserves to be treated with respect and compassion.

As a Public Defender I have been a staunch supporter of union rights, serving as a Union Steward and member of the Executive Board of AFSCME local 3315. As in my church life, I have served as a delegate to AFSCME’s national convention.

Serving as a Public Defender is not the only way I have been able to dedicate my professional experience to those in need. I have been able to do so through my work with MLER, as well. Minority Legal Educational Resources, or MLER, is a Bar Exam training program whose mission is to increase bar passage rates for minority law school graduates. Because of my belief in that mission, i served as both an instructor and board member for the organization for many years.

As a Judge I can reach out and serve even more people than I am able to as a Public Defender. I can make a positive impact on even more lives. I want to see that everyone who steps into a courtroom is stepping onto a level playing field. All should be treated fairly and with respect. Young, non-violent offenders should be granted the opportunity to turn their lives around and become productive members of society without the stigma of a felony conviction following them around for life. All crime victims should be compensated and drug addicts rehabilitated.

My one confusion is with what sort of tag to leave you with. Punch 163 doesn’t just have enough ‘something’ alone. I considered “What you talking about Willis”. Or even “Wes won’t take any mess”. My childhood friends suggested (hopefully in jest) Farty Arty.

All I can say is I will be Last on your ballot but hopefully First in your heart. Thank you. Punch 163!

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