Bernard M. Judge, one of the most influential editors in the Chicago newspaper business in the last half century and one of the last links to a bygone era of Chicago journalism, died at his Chicago home early Friday of pancreatic cancer. He was 79.
Judge was editor and publisher of the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin and its sister magazine from 1988 to 2007.
He held wide influence in the industry as a top editor of the Chicago Tribune and later the Chicago Sun-Times. He was also editor and general manager of the City News Bureau of Chicago before he joined the Law Bulletin.
Judge hired and promoted dozens of reporters and editors in at each stop in his career, including some who went on to great fame.
“I wouldn’t be who I am today without Bernie Judge,” said David Axelrod, former senior advisor and lead strategist for President Barack Obama. After college, Axelrod started as a reporter on the night city desk for the Tribune. Judge hired Axelrod in 1976 when Judge was city editor and Axelod was an intern.
“I really feel I owe so much of who I am to him,” Axelrod, now director of the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, said. “I think there are a lot of other people who feel the same way.”
In 1988, Judge was recruited by Lanning Macfarland Jr., then chairman of Law Bulletin Publishing Co., to take charge of CDLB.
Donna Gill is the former manager editor of Chicago Lawyer. She was also hired by Judge for the newspaper, then became Chicago Lawyer’s managing editor when the Law Bulletin purchased the publication in 1989.
At the newspaper, Judge broadened the coverage and expanded the staff, adding more news content into each edition, Gill said. Judge also expanded CDLB’s lineup of special editions.
“Whereas it once had been a highly respected publication for court news, Bernie expanded that reputation and the paper’s influence both by his own reputation and by the expansions he created,” Gill said.
Steve Brown, whom Judge hired to be the managing editor of CDLB in 1992, said Judge implemented new editorial features for the newspaper, including “In Chambers,” a weekly biographical interview of local judges.
Judge also added weekly features on law schools and lawyers’ social events.
Brown said one of Judge’s innovations that Brown was most proud of was opening a bureau in Washington, D.C., to cover the U.S. Supreme Court and the federal government.
Judge “fought for that,” Brown said.
“He was an outstanding boss,” Brown said. “He was genuine. If he told you something, he stood behind it. He was very loyal. He stood behind all his people. He backed me up on a number of occasions when there were disputes. He was there to advocate on my behalf and to take care of me.”
At the time Judge joined the Law Bulletin, the company was also negotiating the purchase of Chicago Lawyer magazine from longtime Chicago reporter Rob Warden.
Chicago Lawyer was a liberal publication originally connected with the Chicago Council of Lawyers. Law Bulletin leadership mainly prized the name of the publication, but Judge saw a bigger future for the magazine.
“I wanted Chicago Lawyer to be editorially independent, and I wanted a publication that could help lawyers, inform them, make them better,” Judge said in a 2007 Chicago Lawyer interview. “I wanted different points of view, but very establishment. I was not seeking the radical views. It wasn’t what the company wanted, and it’s not who I am. I am a centrist by nature.”
“It was because of his reputation as a straight shooter and a solid journalist as well as the reputation of the Daily Law Bulletin and the Macfarland family that allowed us to launch the Chicago Lawyer and succeed,” Gill said.
Among Judge’s editorial policies at the Law Bulletin: All stories quoted sources by name, and no anonymous sources. Also, Gill said, “all investigations were to be based on public records, which both publications followed to the letter.”
Another of the many valuable gifts Judge brought to the Law Bulletin, Gill said, were his extensive relationships with figures in the legal world.
“Bernie was already known in the legal community as well as in journalism and in politics,” Gill said.
Walking to bar events or meetings, she said, “all along the way into or through the Loop people greeted Bernie warmly, shook hands and chewed the fat. Their respect for him was obvious.”
Judge was in part “the last city editor you imagine from the romantic era of Chicago journalism, the ‘Front Page,’” said NBA writer Sam Smith.
Judge hired Smith at the Tribune in 1979, originally as a reporter for the city desk.
Judge was equally a reformer and a modernizer in the Chicago newspaper business, Smith said.
“Bernie was one of the great journalists in Chicago history,” he said. “His influence on writers, and also what he stood for, makes me feel proud to have worked for him. … He really was an inspirational editor.”
Axelrod echoed that description. He said Judge “would always support you when the high and mighty called to complain,” referring to elected officials “or their agents.”
In 2012, the Illinois Supreme Court appointed Judge as a commissioner of the Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission.
Thomas A. Demetrio of Corboy & Demetrio P.C. talked about the respect his friend received from the bench and bar.
“I think that what’s most telling about Bernie in his dedication to our profession is how he chose to dedicate his retirement years on behalf of the ARDC in the capacity of a hearing judge and a commissioner, and he sat in judgment on the ethical misadventures of many of our brethren, and he did so with aplomb,” Demetrio said.
“He could have been doing a lot of other things, but yet he chose to help insure the integrity of our lawyers practicing in our state,” he said. “That to me is very telling about the man and his desire to have competent lawyers representing those in need.”
Sandy and Brewster Macfarland, the owners of Law Bulletin Media, issued a written statement mourning Judge’s death.
“We are saddened at the loss of Bernie. He was a legend in the newspaper industry, revered by many, including judges and lawyers. As editor and publisher, Bernie increased the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin editorial coverage of the Chicago legal community and he was also instrumental in acquiring the Chicago Lawyer magazine. We fondly remember Bernie, who retired in 2007, dispensing wisdom he learned from a tough, old editor at the City News Bureau: ‘If your mother says she loves you, check it out.’”
Judge was born Jan. 6, 1940, on the South Side to Bernard A. Judge and Catherine Halloran Judge, the third of four children in the Catholic family. His father was an Irish immigrant.
In 2007, Judge shared some of his background in a Chicago Lawyer interview.
“My dad came to this country (in 1929) because he was hungry – hungry for food,” Judge said in the 2007 interview.
Judge graduated from Our Lady of Peace Catholic School and began at Leo High School for ninth grade. When his family moved to Oak Park, he transferred to Fenwick High School in that town. Judge eventually became a member of Fenwick’s board of trustees and was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame.
Judge spent time at John Carroll University in Ohio but did not graduate. Then he did a tour of duty in the Army and went to work at the U.S. Steel South Works plant on the Southeast Side.
In 1965, Judge joined the City News Bureau of Chicago — a wire service that was a legendary training ground for young reporters. Among its alumni are Mike Royko, Kurt Vonnegut and David Brooks.
Judge joined City News as a copy boy on the night shift, tasked with carrying sheets from the reporters’ typewriters to the editors. He also fetched lunch for the night boss, Arnold Dornfeld — a legend himself.
“[A]nd when my night wrapped up,” Judge said in the 2007 interview, “I had to sweep the floors.”
The job captivated the young man. Every night, Judge described, “there were guys sitting there with headsets on … taking notes and yelling, ‘Copy!’ and there were half-a-dozen rewrite guys and reporters coming and going and doing something to their stories or rewriting them, talking among themselves, and being sassy and smart, quick, and making a lot of noise, being kind of pushy, and it was just intoxicating.”
City News in those days was very loud — six typewriters or more going at once, several teletype machines clacking and dinging away, phones ringing constantly and editors shouting.
Judge became a reporter for City News and learned that “the thing about journalism is you have that instant access to knowledge that nobody else has because you’re a newspaper man, whoever you work for, people return your phone calls and tell you things, just by you asking.”
After about a year at City News, Judge was hired by the Tribune, where he covered the criminal courts and state government. Soon he became an assistant city editor.
Gill, who worked inside Tribune Tower at the time, said Judge was “a feisty, young Irishman with great energy who threw himself into whatever he did and valued country, family, friends and journalism with equal gusto.”
He was named city editor of the Tribune in 1974 at age 34. Judge hired Axelrod two years later.
“When he called me into his office and said he was going to hire me, it was a life-changing event,” Axelrod said.
“The newsroom the first six years that I was there was just this magical place,” Axelrod recalled. “There was a sense of mission in that newsroom, and nobody embodied it more than Bernie …. He wanted you to get (the story) first, but he wanted you to get it right.”
On Judge’s Tribune office wall, Smith recalled a sign with City News’ famous fact-checking mantra.
“It was a great message to all of us — as simple as it was, it was also sophisticated because the point was if you’re a good journalist, you’re going to question everything and make sure you got it right,” Smith said.
Smith went on to cover the Chicago Bulls for the Tribune in the Michael Jordan era, and now covers the team at Bulls.com.
Judge’s reporters won two Pulitzer Prizes under his leadership at the Tribune. Actor Ed Asner, who played an editor named Lou Grant on the television show “Lou Grant,” came to the Tribune newsroom in advance to study and meet Bernie Judge.
The power structure at the Tribune changed after managing editor Bill Jones died, who was Judge’s extremely close friend. Judge moved to become editor and general manager of the City News Bureau in 1983.
Judge was next recruited by the Sun-Times, where he became metropolitan editor in charge of day-to-day news and later associate editor in charge of special projects.
He said his biggest accomplishment at the Sun-Times was supporting and supervising reporter Charles Nicodemus in a Sun-Times campaign to prevent the movement of Chicago’s central library into an old, abandoned department store downtown.
Judge said the building was full of asbestos, and the floors were not designed to handle the weight of books required for a central library.
The end result of that campaign, Judge said, was the city’s construction of the Harold Washington Library Center.
Judge served as a Pulitzer Prize juror in 2000-01. He was inducted into the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame and received a lifetime achievement award from the Chicago Headline Club. He also received the Excellence in Journalism Award from the City Club of Chicago and the James C. Craven Freedom of the Press Award from the Illinois Press Association.
Judge was a journalism instructor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He was a board member and past chairman of the Constitutional Rights Foundation of Chicago, a board member and past chairman of the Illinois First Amendment Center in Springfield and a board member of Catholic Charities Chicago.
Judge is survived by his wife, Kimbeth Wehrli Judge; son Bernard R. Judge and daughter-in-law Gina Judge; daughter Kelly Goldberg and son-in-law Michael K. Goldberg; and daughter Jessica Schott and son-in-law John Schott.
He’s also survived by two sisters — Mary Judge Supina and Cathy Judge Gallagher — and five grandchildren: Daniel and Isabella Goldberg, Henry and Ava Schott and Declan Judge.
Michael Goldberg, the managing partner of Goldberg Law Group, called his father-in-law “a legend in the legal community.”
“Everyone assumed he was a lawyer because of how perceptive he was about the law,” Goldberg said.
“More important, he was my friend and I loved him.”
Per a Chicago Tribune report, a service will be held at noon on June 22 at St. Giles Catholic Church, 1045 Columbian Ave. in Oak Park.
Jerry Crimmins was a Law Bulletin staff writer from 2001-13. He first worked with Judge in 1969.