Keely Patricia Hillison
Democratic candidate for Cook County Circuit (Flanagan Vacancy district)
Responses to our questions
Please submit an essay that explains your legal background, why you are qualified for this position and why you seek this position.
I have a unique combination of extensive trial court, reviewing court, and arbitration experience. I have had dozens of trials, dozens of appellate oral arguments, and hundreds of arbitrations. I have the knowledge, experience, integrity, patience and temperament to be a good judge.
I have earned the trust and respect of colleagues, opponents and judges alike. With so many judicial candidates limited to criminal court experience, I will fill a need for judges with civil litigation experience.
In 1985, I started as a new attorney representing farmers in bankruptcy, helping family farmers keep their farms, homes, and livelihoods when banks were threatening to foreclose. Next, I worked for a small general practice law firm in Chicago, learning to do whatever was needed.
In 1988, I started my current job at a high volume civil litigation law firm and was eventually promoted to the rank of partner. For the past 17 years, I have also served as an arbitrator and chair-arbitrator of mandatory arbitration hearings in the Circuit Court of Cook County, presiding at evidentiary hearings and making the same types of rulings which are made by judges.
For the past 29 years, I have worked in courtrooms on a daily basis, both downtown and at suburban courthouses. My experience includes jury trials in personal injury cases, property damage cases, and insurance coverage cases as well as non-jury trials in insurance coverage and contract cases. I have also represented my clients at several hundred mandatory arbitration hearings, during which litigants present testimony and evidence much the same as at a trial.
I handle every aspect of litigation from pleadings, discovery, routine motions, case managements, dispositive motions, arbitration hearings, and pretrial conferences, to trials and appeals. Most of my cases are traffic accident, personal injury, property damage, and insurance coverage cases but also include contract and commercial law cases.
I usually represent defendants but also represent plaintiffs, including: a beer delivery person who was injured while making a delivery, a truck driver who was injured when a factory owner forced him to tie down his truckload outdoors in high winds, an autistic boy who was bullied by classmates at school, and several people who were injured in traffic accidents. My appeals include interesting cases which addressed important issues.
In Sweeney v. Sengstacke Enterprises, Inc., 180 Ill.App.3d 1044 (1st Dist. 1989), I defended a newspaper reporter and publisher in a libel case over an article published in The Chicago Defender. In West Bend Mutual Insurance Co. v. Herrera, 292 Ill.App.3d 669 (1st Dist. 1997), I successfully argued to reverse a money judgment which the court had entered against my Spanish-speaking clients because they were unable to testify in English at the mandatory arbitration hearing.
I have primary responsibility for my law firm's appellate practice and insurance law practice. I have researched and written briefs for several hundred appeals and have argued appeals in the Supreme Court of Illinois, the Appellate Court of Illinois, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. In my appellate practice, I have researched and written about many legal issues which judges and attorneys encounter during trials but seldom have time to research in depth.
The knowledge and skills I have acquired through working on so many appeals will help me to apply the law correctly and impartially as a judge. I have also experienced litigation from a party's standpoint. Having been a personal injury plaintiff myself, I appreciate how much the lives of real people depend on the proper functioning of the court system.
Having been a plaintiff myself, and having represented both plaintiffs and defendants as an attorney, will help me to apply the law fairly and impartially as a judge. I am active in several bar associations, as a mentor to new attorneys in a Chicago Bar Association mentoring program, a member of the Board of Directors of the Appellate Lawyers Association ("ALA"), and co-chairperson of the ALA's Sponsorship Committee.
For many years, I have been a judge of the ALA's annual Moot Court Competition, serving on a panel of three lawyers who act as "Supreme Court Justices" while hearing, questioning, and critiquing law school students' oral arguments.
I grew up in Cook County and raised my children here, too. For many years and in many ways, I volunteered to help my children's schools and Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops. I have been a room mom, cookie mom, chaperone, and much more.
In my personal life, I have honed my skills as a lawyer and expanded the scope of my practice by advocating for my disabled son. At school and in the community, I have striven for appropriate academic, extracurricular and social programs and opportunities.
By necessity, I have learned to keep an open mind and explore alternative, realistic solutions when initial efforts prove unsatisfactory or unworkable. Through many years of raising, teaching, encouraging and caring for my disabled son, I have developed extraordinary patience, understanding, practicality, and resilience, qualities which will serve a judge well in everyday encounters with the wide variety of lawyers, litigants, witnesses, and bystanders who enter courtrooms.
After decades of dealing with complex and sometimes difficult people, I am unflappable, and I recognize that everyone, regardless of appearance or circumstance, deserves the same civility and rights as others. Throughout my 29 years of courtroom experience, I have observed many judges in action, some very good and some not as good. I have seen what works and what doesn't work in a courtroom.
I have acquired incomparable knowledge and skills, which I want to use to benefit all people, instead of helping only the clients who hire me as an attorney. It is time for well-qualified individuals, like myself, to step forward and run for public office instead of sitting back and voting for candidates who are not as well-qualified or well-suited for the position.
Tell us something we would be surprised to learn about you.
I enjoy woodworking, making something beautiful and useful with my own hands. I have taken woodworking classes and have made a table and cabinet which furnish my home.