The beginning of the Illinois Supreme Court’s September docket was overshadowed this week by a surprise announcement from Chief Justice Thomas R. Fitzgerald. Chief Justice Fitzgerald told his colleagues that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, and would retire from the Court effective October 25, 2010, rather than running for a full ten-year term.

Chief Justice Fitzgerald’s retirement caps a distinguished thirty-four year career in the Illinois judiciary. Chief Justice Fitzgerald was elected as a Circuit Judge in Cook County in 1976 — at the time, the youngest elected Judge in the county. After eleven years as a trial judge in the Criminal Court, the Chief Justice was assigned as Supervising Judge of Traffic Court. He was assigned as Supervising Judge of Traffic Court in 1989. Chief Justice Fitzgerald was elected to the Supreme Court in 2000.

Acting upon Chief Justice Fitzgerald’s recommendation, the Court appointed Justice Mary Jane Theis of the Appellate Court, First Appellate District, to serve the remainder of Chief Justice Fitzgerald’s term. Justice Theis served as an Associate Judge and later, a Circuit Judge before being elected to the Appellate Court in 1994. Once Justice Theis takes her seat, three of seven members of the Court will be women for the first time in state history.

Chief Justice Fitzgerald "has served the people of Illinois with honor and integrity," said Governor Quinn in a statement. The retiring Chief Justice "will be greatly missed." According to the Governor, "Justice Theis has demonstrated sound legal judgment and an unwavering commitment to finding truth and upholding the law of the land."

According to Supreme Court spokesman Joe Tybor, the Court will file its order naming one of its members Chief Justice later today.