Durbin Announces Bipartisan Screening Committee to Consider Applications for Federal Judiciary in the Southern District

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] - U.S. Senator Dick Durbin today announced the formation of a bipartisan screening committee to assist in selecting Federal District Court Judges for the Southern District of Illinois.  It has been announced that a judicial vacancy will open up in the Southern District in December, and the immediate task of the screening committee is to review applications and make recommendations to Durbin for filling current and future vacancies.


The screening committee will be comprised of 6 distinguished Illinoisans drawn from various aspects of the legal profession.  The committee will be co-chaired by Lois Wood, Executive Director of the Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation, and the Honorable George W. Timberlake (ret.), former chief judge of the Illinois Second Judicial Circuit.  (A complete list and short bios of all panel members is included below.)


“Making recommendations to the White House on judicial nominees is one of the most important jobs I have as a U.S. Senator, and I am particularly pleased that these outstanding Illinoisans have agreed to advise me in selecting the best possible candidates to recommend to President Obama,” said Durbin.  “I look forward to carrying on Illinois’ tradition of bipartisanship with Senator Kirk when it comes to judicial nominations and to ensure that this and future Southern District vacancies are filled without delay.”


Durbin, who was first elected to the Senate in 1996, is the senior senator from Illinois.  The senior senator from the President’s political party has traditionally had the lead role in making recommendations to the President for the positions of Federal District Court Judge, U.S. Attorney, and U.S. Marshal in the senator’s home state.


During the Clinton Presidency, Durbin worked closely with Senator Peter Fitzgerald to ensure that the most qualified people for federal judgeships were recommended to the President with bipartisan support in order to secure their confirmation.  Durbin has consulted with U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) on previous recommendations for federal judgeship nominations in the Northern and Central Districts and will continue to do so.


Applications for these positions will be available on Senator Durbin’s website beginning on Monday, April 15, 2013. The application questionnaire is nearly identical to those used by the Senate Judiciary Committee and will help provide insight into potential nominees’ backgrounds and qualifications.  The deadline for submission of completed applications is Monday, May 13, 2013.


The screening committee will review the applications, interview applicants and references, and make recommendations to Senator Durbin.  The screening committee will recommend the names of several individuals to Senator Durbin for each vacancy.


Durbin will review the screening committee’s recommendations, conduct interviews of finalists, and – in consultation with Senator Kirk – submit his recommendations to the President, who will make the final decisions on nominees.


Once the President submits a nomination to the U.S. Senate, the nominee will be reviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Senator Durbin is a member, and will ultimately receive a vote in the committee.  If a nomination is approved by the Judiciary Committee, the nominee will receive a vote by the full Senate.


Judicial Screening Committee for the Southern District of Illinois


Lois Wood (Co-chair): Ms. Wood has served since 2004 as the executive director of the Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation, a non-profit that provides free civil legal services to low income persons and senior citizens in central and southern Illinois.  Based in East St. Louis, Wood has worked with Land of Lincoln for nearly forty years as a staff attorney, managing attorney and executive director.  She is currently the Vice-Chair of the Illinois State Bar Association Standing Committee on Delivery of Legal Services. 


Hon. George W. Timberlake (ret.) (Co-chair):  Judge Timberlake served as a trial judge on the Illinois Second Circuit for 23 years, retiring in 2006 as chief judge.  He is currently the chairman of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, a federally-mandated state advisory group that recommends juvenile justice reforms.  He also serves as a member of the Redeploy Illinois Oversight Board and the Models for Change Coordinating Council.  He lives in Mount Carmel.  


Courtney Cox:  Mr. Cox is currently a shareholder in the Carbondale office of the law firm Sandberg Phoenix & Von Gontard P.C.  He served as the United States Attorney for the Southern District from 2007-2010.  Prior to serving as U.S. Attorney he was in private practice in Benton for 25 years.  He is a member and former president of the Franklin County Bar Association.


Mark Goldenberg:  Mr. Goldenberg is the managing partner of the law firm Goldenberg Heller Antognoli & Rowland, P.C. in Edwardsville, where his practice concentrates on commercial and business law, estate planning, tax law and class action matters.  He is a past president of the Tri-City Bar Association and a past treasurer of the Madison County Bar Association.  He is an annual presenter at the University of Illinois School of Law in the Trial Advocacy program.


Hon. Alexis Otis-Lewis (ret.): Judge Otis-Lewis served as an Associate Judge in the Illinois 20th Judicial Circuit for nearly 17 years, retiring in December 2008.  Prior to her service on the bench she worked as a prosecutor in the St. Clair State’s Attorney’s Office and served as the first pro se law clerk for the Southern District of Illinois federal court in East St. Louis.  She is currently working as a family court mediator in St. Clair County.  


Suzanne Schmitz:  Professor Schmitz is Professor Emeritus at SIU School of Law in Carbondale, where she has taught since 1993.  From 2005 to 2011 she served as an assistant professor and director of SIU Law’s Academic Success Program, and from 1993 through 2005 she coordinated the SIU Law Alternative Dispute Resolution Program.  She previously worked in the Illinois Office of the Attorney General and in private practice.