For the past six years, Mary Anne Mason has been working her dream job as a justice on the 1st District Appellate Court.
But her role on the reviewing court — often the last stop for litigation filed in Cook County — doesn’t give her a whole lot of time to do other things. Mason said she frequently works nights and weekends.
“I’m ready to do other things,” Mason said. “I have a lot of interests, and this job, as much as it’s been my dream job, has been more than a full-time job. It’s just the way I’ve approached it. It’s been all-consuming and all-engaging, but I’m ready to do other things.”
Mason, 66, will retire from the appellate court on July 26, putting a bow on a 19-year judicial career that began when she was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Cook County Circuit Court.
Mason said she will join JAMS as an arbitrator/mediator; her husband, Michael T. Mason, is a former magistrate judge who retired from the federal bench earlier this year and also works with JAMS.
When she was first considering retiring, one of the first people Mason consulted was Robert A. Glaves, executive director of The Chicago Bar Foundation. Mason, who serves as foundation board secretary, said she told Glaves, “I’m going to retire. What can I do for you?”
“I don’t want to just be on a board. I want to do something more substantive,” Mason said.
Glaves asked Mason to co-chair a task force with E. Lynn Grayson, a partner at Nijman Franzetti LLP, that will examine how professional rules affect innovation and sustainable legal practices.
Glaves and Mason said the task force is rooted in examining how lawyers can reach the “middle market” — clients who are too wealthy to qualify for legal aid services, but who still can’t afford to hire a lawyer at market rates.
“We have priced the regular guy out of the market, as a profession,” Glaves said.
Glaves said the rules of professional conduct are strict on how lawyers can partner with other professionals and split fees.
Glaves added that Mason’s role as the task force’s co-chair will be very “hands on.” The task force will launch sometime after Labor Day.
“She’s an outstanding lawyer and outstanding jurist, somebody we could all be proud of in our profession,” Glaves said.
Mason, 66, is a Chicago native. She completed her undergraduate degree at Boston College and graduated from Loyola University Chicago School of Law in 1977.
After law school, Mason worked as a law clerk for 1st District Appellate Justice Daniel J. McNamara, who served on the appeals court from 1967 until his death in 1999.
“It’s impossible to describe the influence he had on my career and on my life,” Mason said. “He was a model of what every judge should be.”
In 1979, Mason joined the civil division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago. It was there when she first met her future husband, who was working for the Federal Defender Program at the time.
Mason is the justice’s maiden name. And Michael Mason hailed from Mason City, Iowa. “I thought, well, this is a trifecta. I don’t have to change my name.”
In 1984, Mason left the U.S. Attorney’s Office to begin working for Kevin M. Forde at his law firm. Over her 16 years at Kevin M. Forde Ltd. — now known as Forde Law Offices LLP — Mason said she learned how to “really practice” law and write persuasively.
It was through Forde that Mason got involved in Mary Ann G. McMorrow’s electoral campaign for the Illinois Supreme Court in 1992. The first woman to serve on the state’s high court, McMorrow in September 2000 offered Mason the opportunity to join the Cook County bench through an appointment.
“It is the epitome of any lawyer’s career to serve as a judge. The apex,” Mason said.
After a few months in traffic court, Mason was reassigned to the court’s Juvenile Justice Division. She moved to the Chancery Division in 2007.
Mason was elected to a full term with the Cook County Circuit Court in 2002 and won retention in 2008 and 2014. Since July 2013, she’s been assigned to the 1st District by the Supreme Court.
During her appellate tenure, Mason said she has been called numerous times by Cook County judges thanking her for her decisions. She said she also wrote “99% of her dissents.”
“I really enjoy debating the law and its application in a particular case,” Mason said.
Fellow 1st District Appellate Justice Terrence J. Lavin recalled how he and Mason disagreed in a 2016 case on whether a high school student’s gym-class injury arose from willfu and wanton conduct on the school’s part.
Lavin and Justice Aurelia E. Pucinski held in Barr v. Cunningham that it did and remanded the case for a new trial. Mason dissented.
The Barr appeal then made its way before the Illinois Supreme Court, which unanimously reversed Lavin’s majority opinion in 2017.
“I was very loathe to cross her after that,” he said.