Longtime Justice Robert Thomas, a former kicker for the Chicago Bears, will retire from the Illinois Supreme Court later this month and return to practicing law, he said Monday.
“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 said in a statement. “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, 67, said he will leave the bench Feb. 29 and join the Chicago law firm of Power Rogers. A co-founder of the firm, Joe Power, represented Thomas in a 2006 defamation case against the Kane County Chronicle.
A jury found that allegations in a column the newspaper ran of high court politicking in 2003 were false and defamatory. In 2007, the Chronicle agreed to apologize for publishing defamatory statements about Thomas, then the Illinois Supreme Court chief justice, and to pay a reduced damage award to settle his case against the newspaper.
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Thomas is a native of Rochester, New York, and he attended Notre Dame University, where he was the starting place kicker on the football team for three years, including Notre Dame’s national championship in 1973. He played professional football in the National Football League for 12 years, 10 of them with the Bears.
He got a degree from the Loyola University School of Law and practiced law for several years before being elected circuit judge for the 18th Judicial Circuit in DuPage County in 1988. He was also served on the Illinois Appellate Court before he was elected to the Illinois Supreme Court in 2000. Thomas became the first chief justice from DuPage County when he was elected for that role in 2005.
Justice Lloyd Karmeier in a statement called Thomas’ retirement “a great loss” for the court and the people Illinois.
“Members of the bar will remember him for his clear thinking, insightful analysis and forceful writing,” Karmeier said. “Those of us who served with him will miss him for his good humor, collegiality and intellectual thinking.”
The Supreme Court has appointed Appellate Justice Michael Burke to fill Thomas’ seat effective March 1, through Dec. 5, 2022.