The ranks of openly GLBT judges in Cook County increased by one this week, with the appointment of prosecutor Lori Wolfson to the bench.
"I've been trying to reach this dream for over a decade," Wolfson said. "I've worked very hard in my life to be prepared if this opportunity came. It's such a tremendous honor."
Wolfson will be sworn in Oct. 1 as a full circuit court judge. She fills the vacancy left when Chief Judge Donald O'Connell retired this summer. She was appointed by the state Supreme Court at the recommendation of Justice Thomas Fitzgerald, a former professor of hers at Chicago Kent Law School.
"I'm the first open lesbian to be appointed by the Supreme Court to fill a vacancy," she said. "That's pretty historical."
In a letter to Fitzgerald sent last week, the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago congratulated him on choosing Wolfson for the bench.
"Ms. Wolfson received the highest recommendations possible from all bar associations that evaluated her candidacy for the bench, and she brings with her stellar professional credentials, a powerful intelligence and a fierce commitment to justice," said the letter from bar association President Susana Darwin.
Wolfson's appointment runs from Oct. 1 to Dec. 2, 2002. To retain her seat, Wolfson has to win the countywide primary election next March.
"I'm going to seek the endorsement of the Democratic party and meet as many people as I can," she told Windy City Times.
In Cook County, she joins other openly gay Judges Tom Chiola, Sebastian Patti, Nancy Katz and Colleen Sheehan. Wolfson grew up with Katz, attending the same grammar school, high school and college together.
"Our lives have mirrored each other quite a bit," she said.
Wolfson has served as a prosecutor for the Cook County State's Attorney's office for the past 13 years, the last five of them as a supervisor.
"You really do have a chance to help people who don't ordinarily have a voice," she said of being a prosecutor. "The system is very silent when it comes to victims."
Law is a family affair for Wolfson, whose relatives include several attorneys. Her uncle, Warren Wolfson, is a Cook County appellate court justice. Wolfson characterized law as a strong calling she once tried...unsuccessfully...to ignore. She also serves as an adjunct professor of trial advocacy at her alma mater.
Wolfson said she brings to the bench not only her experience in criminal law but also civil experience gained through a variety of pro bono work. She volunteers for the Center for Disability and Elder Law and for Friends and Refugees of Eastern Europe. Other volunteer activities include work with Maryville, where she helped care for babies and toddlers with AIDS.
Wolfson said she also helped develop the Community Panels for Youth program, an initiative that provides juvenile offenders with alternatives to jail time. She said she has been financially supportive of several GLBT organizations and agencies, including the AIDS Walk, Horizons Community Services and the Lesbian Community Cancer Project.
"I've been involved in community work all my life," she said. "That was one of the values I was raised with."
She and her partner, Colleen, also run an antiques business in their spare time.
Wolfson said she is ready to tackle the dual challenges of being both a new judge and a candidate for office. "You cannot achieve any measure of success without help from others," she said, "I'm going to do my best."