Judges, attorneys celebrate 200th anniversary of Illinois federal courts

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A variety of local and federal officials gathered Friday to celebrate the 200th year of federal courts in Illinois; most judges in Illinois’ Northern District have offices in the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in the Loop. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

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A who’s-who of local, state and federal judicial figures gathered at the Harold Washington Library Friday afternoon to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the formation of the federal court system in Illinois.

“One thing is true, and will always remain true: The Northern District of Illinois is here to stay. Rule of law in Illinois is here to stay,” said Judge Ruben Castillo, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

A host of current and retired federal judges attended the ceremony in the library’s Cindy Pritzker Auditorium. Among those joining them were: U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois John Lausch; his predecessors, Zach Fardon and Patrick Fitzgerald; Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx; Illinois State Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke; and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.

NBC5 reporter Phil Rogers reflected on the many notable cases that have played out in courtrooms of the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, such as the trials of the “Chicago Seven,” the prosecutions of several former governors, as well as “Operation Greylord,” which exposed widespread corruption in the Cook County courts system.

“The thing that always strikes me is you are ordinary people,” Rogers said to the judges in attendance. “But you’ve been given extraordinary tasks to fulfill and it’s not lost on any of us.”

Castillo also praised U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., for “his lifetime support for the rule of law” and gave him a doorknob from the original federal courthouse in Chicago, which closed in 1871.

“You have opened the door for rule of law,” Castillo said. “You’ve opened the door for a diverse judiciary and we’re happy to honor you this afternoon.”

“In these challenging times, the rule of law seems to be in play every day and everywhere,” Durbin said. “The federal courts in Illinois have been a firewall of democracy and our courts are the crown jewel of the federal courts system.”

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