When Judge Tom Chiola, the first openly gay candidate elected to office in Illinois, retired from the 8th Judicial Subcircuit in 2010, the Illinois Supreme Court appointed lawyer Celia Louise Gamrath to finish his term. She is currently seeking the Democratic nomination in the March 20 primary, to continue serving as judge.
Touting her experience on both sides of the bench, Gamrath worked in private practice family law, picking up accolades including Chicago Magazine's Super Lawyers Top 50 Women distinction. Since moving behind the bench, the Illinois Supreme Court selected Gamrath as a faculty member for the Illinois Judicial Education Conference and as a peer review editor of the Domestic Relations Benchbook, teaching circuit judges the nuances of domestic relations cases and civil unions. Chiola, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Alderman Tom Tunney and Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin have endorsed Gamrath.
Windy City Times caught up with Gamrath on the campaign trail, asking her about her experience in the legal field and what she plans to bring to the courtroom.
Windy City Times: How did you enter into the legal profession?
Celia Louise Gamrath: I started my career out of law school working with the Illinois appellate court for Justice Tom Rakowski, and that training taught me how to think and act like a judge. Then I went into private practice with a large law firm that focuses on family law. I was in private practice for many years, and it made me realize how critical the rulings are to the litigants and the lawyers who appear before the bench.
Over many years of private practice, several people asked me, "Have you considered being a judge? That was your initial background, working for judges. Do you think you have what it takes?" So when Judge Tom Chiola retired [during his term in the 8th Judicial Subcircuit], the Supreme Court [of Illinois] had to appoint somebody. I went through an application process, a full vetting by the bar associations as well as a full vetting by the Supreme Court. I was fortunate enough to be appointed, and Tom Chiola has endorsed me and has supported me to fill his shoes.
WCT: You're currently the judge of the 8th Judicial Subcircuit. What exactly does that mean?
Celia Louise Gamrath: It just has to do with geography. I sit in the domestic relations division, where I hear dissolution of marriage, dissolution of civil union, child custody and orders of protection cases. That is just by virtue of my assignment. I am a judge who is hopefully going to be elected out of the 8th Judicial Subcircuit, but it just has to do with the electorate, really, not my assignment or where I'm stationed. I could hear any case in Cook County.
WCT: You spoke a bit about working on civil-union cases. What is your experience with family law and LGBT people?
Celia Louise Gamrath: Recognizing how critical this issue was for my practice in particular, same-sex couples would come in asking to be protected legally, asking about their rights, asking about their obligations and responsibilities of being in a committed relationship.
I would talk to them about property, talk to them about contractual rights and co-habitation agreements, financial planning. [I would ask them] "What do you want to get out of this relationship? Are you going to go into this real estate deal together, and what does that mean for you? Are you going to have joint accounts? If you adopt a child, who is going to have rights over that child?" So I would work on those kinds of contractual arrangements knowing they would never be as good as the state recognizing the validity of these committed couples. The big step was recognizing their relationship by way of civil unions.
In terms of supporting aspects of the civil-union legislation, I worked on ways to improve the legislation by talking about the realities of it, the practicalities of it. I've also worked with other judges who are openly members of the LGBT community on, for example, as far as how we are complying with this new law in terms of the language we use and in terms of the forms we distribute. I also made introductions into various constituencies and with legislators who are new to get the conversation going, because I believe very much in equality. I believe in bringing together our communities and different voices, so the voice that needs to be heard can be heard that much more loudly. The LGBT community needs advocates within and outside, deep allies to make equality a fact.
WCT: If elected to maintain your current position as judge, what would you like to accomplish?
Celia Louise Gamrath: My goal is to make sure everyone who comes in my courtroom is treated fairly without any sort of bias or crutches, that I continue to know and follow the law, that I can protect victims of abuse, that I can protect children, and that I can help families going through the dissolution process to regain control of their lives. I've seen these issues from both sides of the bench, and I know what a good judge can do to streamline the process for the litigants and the lawyers. So my hope is to continue to do that by serving more people than I was able to do in private practice and really make a difference in these people's lives.
WCT: Is there anything else you would like readers to know?
Celia Louise Gamrath: The reason I got involved with this, the reason I continue to want to do continue in my position as judge, is I am committed to fairness. I am committed to family. I am committed to enforcement of people's rights. And to me, the LGBT community struggle is truly about legal rights and equality for all. I believe in rights. I believe in the protections given to us by the laws of our state.
Judge Celia Louise Gamrath and friends will hold a wine-tasting at KAFKA Wine, 3325 N. Halsted St., 6-7:30 p.m., on Thursday, Feb. 9. Space is limited, and individual tickets are $25. RSVP to Stacey Smith at 888-713-7563 or email@example.com .