CBA Record March/April 2022

YOUNG L AWYERS S EC T I ON : COME TOGE THER From the Bench: Judge Charles P. Kocoras By Kenneth Matuszewski T he Rule of Law, which originated in ancient Greece, holds that all people, organizations, and entities

ety at large and to Kocoras personally: in 1961, he joined the National Guard. His decision to do so was both patriotic and pragmatic because the military draft was in e ff ect at that time. As the sole source of fi nancial support for his mother, Kocoras knew that being drafted could harm his family. Being in the National Guard, how- ever, allowed him to stay with and support his mother. Th e decision paid o ff , because although he served six months of active duty with an additional fi ve and a half years in the reserves, the longest amount of time he spent away from family was nine weeks for basic training. Kocoras values his military experience for many reasons, even though he did not plan to have a military career. For example, through basic training, he attended radio school and learned Morse Code. Already fl uent in Greek and English, he quickly mastered the language of Morse Code and graduated from basic training with honors. In 1965, he was o ffi cially recognized by the Chicago Tribune when it awarded him the Outstanding Guardsman Award. His military experience also led to some close friendships and the reinforcement of a strong work ethic. Th is served Kocoras well during basic training, and his commitment to physical exercise continues to this day: he walks at least two miles daily and tries to maintain a workout regimen similar to his military days. Law Career Shifting from the military to law school, Kocoras felt he had reached a major goal when he passed the bar exam. He soon revealed a laser-sharp ability to focus, which helped him excel in private practice and rise through the ranks as a prosecutor at the Northern District of Illinois, ulti- mately becoming the First Assistant United States Attorney for the District before his appointment to the federal bench. As a prosecutor, Kocoras balanced his passion for the role with integrity and honesty. Th is

are accountable to the same set of laws. It has been a guiding light for Judge Charles P. Kocoras, son of Greek immigrants, who was born and raised in Chicago. He grew up speaking Greek and learned English when he started attending American schools. While simultaneously attending Greek school for several years, he learned both classical and modern versions of his native language. By the time he fi nished elementary school, he was fl uent in both Greek and English. Kocoras’s love for his Greek heritage is evident at the Greek Museum of Chicago. Th e museum has produced several mock trial reenactments over the years, and Kocoras was involved with them from the very beginning. Wanting to showcase good advocacy to law students and the public, he recruited DanWebb, a close friend, and Bob Cli ff ord as the trial attorneys for the fi rst reenactment. Kocoras emphasized the importance of civility, and how opposing counsel could come together to achieve a common goal. Th ese principles guided other reenactments over the years, which have included Kocoras himself as a judge, as well as other colleagues from the bench, such as Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne M. Burke and Seventh Circuit Judge William Bauer. Despite each actor’s high pro fi le, Kocoras ensured that advocacy itself was the star of the show. Kocoras’s path to the legal profession was not straightforward. His father died when he was 18, and he stepped up to sup- port the family fi nancially. Th roughout his academic career, he also worked at a liquor store on Chicago’s South Side. To balance the demands of an accounting major and a work schedule, Kocoras quickly learned to multi-task. Military Career Th e 1960s brought major changes to soci-

was based in his belief in the prosecutor’s role in society: to measure a human being’s existence, right wrongs, and leave the world a better place. Kocoras’s beliefs and convictions were challenged several times over the course of his career. Th e fi rst occurred during Opera- tion Greylord, one of the largest investiga- tions of public corruption in history. Th e investigation resulted in the indictment of more than 92 public o ffi cials, including 17 judges, 48 lawyers, and a state legislator, who either accepted or paid bribes to fi x the outcomes of cases. Many of the cases where judges accepted bribes were criminal cases, which allowed some defendants who should have been found guilty to walk free. Kocoras, who presided over some of the criminal trials throughout Operation Greylord as a federal judge, was troubled that people would use the criminal justice system for nefarious purposes. Nonethe- less, his belief in the judicial system and the integrity of advocates never faltered. Another challenge to Kocoras’s beliefs in the legal system came several years later. A Greek American named John, 18 years old, sold drugs to minors, and the case was set in Kocoras’s courtroom. After an impassioned trial, Kocoras sentenced John to 15 years in prison. Soon after John’s conviction, Kocoras received a letter in his

30 March/April 2022

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