CBA Record May-June 2021


From the Bench: Judge Jill Rose Quinn By Kenneth Matuszewski

W hat do Jesse James, William S. Burroughs, Bonnie and Clyde, and Cook County Circuit Court Judge Jill Rose Quinn have in common? They are all outlaws. Histori- cally, outlaws were excluded from protec- tion under the law and were considered rebellious. Because they are not readily accepted in their communities, outlaws tend to be open-minded and accepting. While it might seem ironic to call a judge an outlaw, for most of her life, Quinn – the first openly transgender elected official in Illinois – felt like a stranger and was defined by dichotomies due to her gender identity. Because cisgender peoples’ personal and gender identity correspond to their birth sex, the thousands of verbal and non- verbal patterns that make up their gender identity can feel automatic. This was not the case for Quinn. Despite knowing she was female since the age of four, Quinn could not speak a language that others knew flu- ently. She felt ashamed that she could not fit into traditional society. As a result, she tried to blend in as a heterosexual man and suppressed any thoughts about her gender identity as much as possible. Called to Public Service Quinn was an outlaw in more ways than one. While many of her peers backpacked through Europe or moved to California to find themselves after college, Quinn worked at JFK International Airport. But she soon realized her calling to public service and social responsibility. This calling was rooted deeply in her family, particularly her father. An FDRDemocrat and veteran, he believed in civil rights and treated everyone with respect. He also had a deep and keen interest in other ethnic and religious groups. Through AmeriCorps VISTA, the domestic Peace Corps, Quinn began her journey by working as a community orga- nizer in Houston and Iowa, which she cher- ishes today. She then implemented school lunch programs throughout the Midwest with the Department of Agriculture. Work- ing for the government not only gave her

important background knowledge but also motivated her to attend law school. Eager to help others and join the legal profession as soon as possible, Quinn graduated from John Marshall in two-and- a-half years and became a licensed attorney in 1983. However, she soon realized after graduation that it would be difficult to accomplish her goals in Chicago. After receiving 100 rejection letters for oppor- tunities in Chicago, Quinn broadened her career search to include the downstate area. After receiving an offer to work at a small firm in Bloomington, IL, she thought that it would be a great opportunity. At that time, Quinn had only lived in large metropolises, so living in Bloomington offered her the chance to see another way of life. Practicing Law in a Small Town In smaller towns, few law firms focus on a single area of law, and the number of attorneys making up the local bar is low. For example, at the criminal court, the eight judges would rotate their court calls. Four would handle misdemeanors, while the other four heard felony cases. Civility was of the utmost importance because Quinn had the same opposing counsel for many of her cases. This experience allowed her to try a felony case in her first year of practice. Living downstate also taught her resil- ience and how to live on less. For example, since she lived within walking distance of the courthouse, Quinn did not own a car. These lessons served her well when she moved to DuPage County and worked at another small firm. With only a few associ- ates and a principal, the firm was a training ground for many attorneys fresh out of law school. Quinn made it a point to stay at that firm for a few years and became the go-to attorney not only for firm manage- ment, but also for training and mentoring new associates. Transitioning After working as counsel for the city of Glen Ellyn, Quinn moved back to Chicago and opened her own law firm in 1996. While

Jill Rose Quinn

the first few months were difficult, she was determined to succeed. She added real estate as a practice area, which had natural synergy with probate and bankruptcy cases, which she later added to her practice. Having a broad practice allowed Quinn to achieve her dream of helping families at all stages of life. This would often start with a real estate or financial closing. Then, she would write wills for elderly members of the family or represent the children in traffic court. Quinn took pride in being a go-to person for a family and established many long-time relationships. Despite this success, it became increas- ingly difficult for Quinn to hide her gender identity. The intensity of her dysphoria increased to a point that she decided to take action. She did so by transitioning and living the truth she had always known. What she was ultimately afraid of before she transitioned was how society would treat her. But she realized that people would either support her or reject her, which she could not control, and which did not matter if she could live her life on her own terms. Most people supported her transition, including her best friend from high school, who remains her best friend to this day. While she lost a few clients and some work,

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