Former Bears kicker Thomas to retire from state Supreme Court, sparking GOP worries of turnover

Thomas, elected to the Supreme Court’s Second District seat in 2000, will step down from the court on Feb. 29. He was a placekicker for the Chicago Bears for nine full seasons, and remains the team’s fourth-leading scorer.

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Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Bob Thomas in 2005.

Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Bob Thomas speaks inside the Illinois Supreme Courthouse in Springfield in 2005. File Photo.

Seth Perlman/AP

Illinois Supreme Court Justice and former Chicago Bears kicker Robert R. Thomas announced Monday he will retire from the bench.

Thomas, originally elected to the Supreme Court’s Second District seat in 2000, will step down from the court on Feb. 29.

“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.”

Originally from New York, Thomas, 67, moved to Illinois when he was signed by the Bears. He kicked for the Bears for nine full seasons — 1975 through 1981, as well as 1983 and 1984. He also played two games for the Bears in 1982. Thomas remains the fourth-leading scorer in Bears history.

Thomas began to pursue his law career while still playing in the National Football League, being admitted to the Illinois Bar in 1981, after graduating from Loyola University School of Law.

Bear kickers Vince Abbott (left), Bob Thomas (center) and Steve Clark await their next kicks during a practice at the Bears summer training camp in 1984

Bear kickers Vince Abbott (left), Bob Thomas (center) and Steve Clark await their next kicks during a practice at the Bears summer training camp in 1984. File photo.

Phil Velasquez/Sun-Times

In 1988, Thomas began his life on the bench, being first elected to the 18th Judicial Circuit, which covers DuPage County and then, in 1994, to the Second District for the Illinois Appellate Court, which covers much of the northern portion of the state.

Thomas came to the Supreme Court in 2000 by winning a contentious primary race against Justice S. Louis Rathje, who had been appointed to the seat the year before.

In a contested GOP primary for the Second District, Thomas defeated Rathje, who had the backing of the Republican Party, and DuPage Circuit Judge Bonnie Wheaton, who spent $1.2 million of her own money for the seat.

Thomas won on the back of promises to not appoint politically-connected attorneys to judgeships if elected. He also got some help from his former coach. Bears legend Mike Ditka held a fundraiser for Thomas.

Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka talks with kicker Bob Thomas (16) and other Bears in 1985. File Photo.

Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka talks with players at training camp during media day in 1985. Also pictured are center Jay Hilgenberg (63), and kickers Bob Thomas (16) and Bruce Kallmeyer (10). File Photo.

UPI

In the general election, Thomas went on to defeat Democratic candidate Larry Drury.

Thomas was up for a retention election this year, but now his replacement, Michael J. Burke will serve a term that expires in 2022, when an election for a full ten-year term will be held. Thomas nominated Burke to be his replacement, and the court approved the choice, said Chris Bonjean, a spokesman for the Illinois Supreme Court.

For local Republicans, the timing of Thomas’ retirement is not ideal. Marty Keller, chairman of the DuPage County Republican Central Committee, said he does not think a Republican is guaranteed to retain the seat in a future election, especially given the timing of Thomas’ retirement.

“I kind of wish it was immediate,” Keller said. “I think a Republican would have a better chance in a presidential year, but I recognize it won’t be until 2022.”

Keller said Republicans need more representation on the Supreme Court, and added he hopes newly drawn districts will make for a fair, and more friendly Republican race in the Second District.

“I don’t think we have that much influence on the bench right now,” Keller said.

Thomas will rejoin Power Rogers law firm where he will be reunited with attorney Joe Power, who successfully represented Thomas in a 2006 defamation lawsuit against the Kane County Chronicle.

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