Evans names new Criminal Division head
Thursday, September 17, 2015
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
by Lauraann Wood
Cook County Circuit Judge LeRoy K. Martin Jr. will become the new presiding judge of Cook County Circuit Court’s Criminal Division, Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans announced today.
Effective immediately, Martin will fill the role left by Paul P. Biebel Jr. when he retired from the Leighton Criminal Court Building in July.
Circuit Judge Joseph G. Kazmierski Jr. served as the division’s acting presiding judge during the summer.
Martin, 55, said he is both “excited and awed” to come into the position, which calls for him to work with 42 other judges in a court that saw 22,487 felony cases last year. Despite the challenge, he said, he looks forward to learning the ins and outs that come with his new job.
“I’m following up behind a presiding judge who did really great service for the court system and the citizens of Cook County,” he said. “I’ve got to follow him and try and carry the ball forward. That’s a big responsibility, but it’s exciting and something different for me.”
Martin is the first black judge to preside over the Criminal Division. He said he recognizes its significance but does not dwell on it.
Rather, he said, “it’s just one of those things that the time has come.”
“There were certainly judges before me, black judges, who certainly could have held this position and would have done exemplary work, but it just happens to be that I’m the person at this time,” he said.
“I think the significance is more, for what other younger lawyers or younger people can see, is that with dedication and hard work, they should be able to achieve wherever their talent and their desire and their ethic carries them.”
The appointment is a return to his roots of sorts, as Martin began his legal career practicing criminal law in 1985 as a public defender.
“Quite honestly, that’s really where I learned how to become a lawyer,” he said. “I learned how to maneuver in a courtroom and I learned the practices of the law. It’s returning — after a long detour — but coming back to something I truly enjoy doing.”
Though he has always loved studying and practicing civil law, Martin said, he has always thought criminal law was interesting because it deals with human beings and exudes a sense of urgency.
“The stakes were very high because you’re dealing with that person’s freedom or, on the other side, you’re dealing with victims who have been injured as a result of what was going on,” he said. “So, you’re dealing with people, and I like people, and I just always felt that meant something.”
A South Side native, Martin attended North Carolina Central University School of Law in 1984. Three years later, he formed Martin & Duckworth and began representing parties in both criminal and civil cases when he became a sole practitioner in 1995.
Appointed to the bench in 2002, he spent his first few months as a judge in traffic court before hearing cases on expedited child support, divorce and civil orders of protection in the Domestic Relations Division at the Markham courthouse from 2003 to 2007.
In his last eight years in the Chancery Division, Martin has presided over such matters as class actions, injunctions, mandamus actions and non-probate trust cases.
“That’s one of the things I really enjoyed about the Chancery Division,” he said. “There were just so many different kinds of matters that you got to hear, and it always made it very challenging and very interesting.”
Though they will be wildly different types of disputes than he heard on the 20th floor of the Daley Center, Martin will still see plenty at the courthouse on 26th Street and California Avenue.
“You have narcotics cases, you have property crime cases, crimes against people and so you get a variety in the criminal realm as well,” he said. “It’s all criminal, but nonetheless there are different categories of what goes on, and I think that makes it interesting as well.”
Coupled with his long-lived passion for the law, Martin said his wide variety of case work and judicial experience has prepared him well for his new adventure as a presiding judge.
“As any lawyer or any judge, you go out there and you try and accumulate as much knowledge about the law and procedure as you can, and I think all of that experience is what moves you,” he said. “The longer you do this, the more you learn and the more you know.”
Martin has been a “rising star” since he became a judge, Evans said in a statement. He has gained a reputation as someone who “always remembers what it was like to practice law,” Evans said, and he treats bar members and their clients the same way he wanted to be treated by applying the law to the facts and respecting those who appear before him.
“I am convinced he will continue to move the Criminal Division forward as did his predecessor, Judge Biebel, with strong and innovative leadership, and that justice and fairness will always emanate from the Criminal Division under his leadership,” Evans said in the statement.
Circuit Judge Moshe Jacobius, who presides over Chancery Division, said in a statement Evans’ appointment was “brilliant.”“Judge Martin is an extremely able, intelligent and hardworking jurist who is an excellent problem solver,” he said in the statement. “He made major contributions to the Chancery Division, and the judges as well as attorneys who appeared before him in the [d]ivision will miss him.”