Robert R. Thomas
Robert R. Thomas

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Supreme Court Justice Robert R. Thomas, 67, is retiring after a 20-year tenure at the high court.

His retirement is effective Feb. 29, according to a court-issued news release Monday.

Thomas, a former Chicago Bears place kicker, will join Power Rogers LLP, the powerful plaintiffs’ firm where his son, Jonathan M. Thomas, currently practices.

“It has been a great honor and privilege to have served on the Illinois Supreme Court as well as on the appellate and circuit courts over the past 32 years,” Thomas said in the news release.

“While I will miss the collegial atmosphere with my colleagues on the court, I am ready to return to the practice of law and help clients achieve justice,” the statement said.

Second District Appellate Court Justice Michael J. Burke was appointed to fill Thomas’ vacancy.

In 1988, Thomas was elected as a DuPage County circuit judge. He was the county’s chief judge from 1989 to 1994, when he was elected to the 2nd District Appellate Court based in Elgin. He was an appellate court justice until his election to the Illinois Supreme Court in November 2000.

Thomas became the first chief justice from DuPage County when he was chosen by his judicial colleagues for a term that ran from 2005 to 2008.

Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier said in the court’s written statement that he and Thomas remained good friends, despite not agreeing on every issue before the court.

“His departure will be a great loss for the [c]ourt, for the [p]eople of Illinois, and for me, personally. Members of the bar will remember him for his clear thinking, insightful analysis and forceful writing. Those of us who served with him will miss him for his good humor, collegiality and intellectual thinking.”

Thomas graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1974 — the same year he was named an academic All-American on the national championship-winning football squad.

Following his graduation, he played 12 seasons in the NFL, 10 of them with the Chicago Bears.

A soon-to-be released biography, “A View From Two Benches: Bob Thomas in Football and the Law,” draws on Thomas’ path from the NFL to the judiciary.

The book is written by sportswriter Doug Feldman and includes a foreward from former Bears head coach Mike Ditka.

Thomas attended Loyola University Chicago School of Law while playing for the Chicago Bears.

He was licensed to practice in Illinois in 1981 and practiced for seven years at private law firms.

Chief Justice Anne M. Burke said, in the court’s written statement, Thomas cultivated a welcoming and professional environment when she joined the court.

“His great sense of humor made a challenging job more enjoyable for everyone,” Burke said in the statement. “He led key court initiatives in the areas of professionalism, civility, Continuing Legal Education and transparency. On behalf of the [s]upreme [c]ourt and the entire [j]udicial [b]ranch, we thank him for his service to the judiciary and wish him the best in the next stage of his storied career.”

During his tenure as chief justice, Thomas oversaw the establishment of the Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism in 2005.

“You hear a lot about how the practice of law is different now than in days past when a lawyer’s handshake meant something and a lawyer’s word was his bond,” Thomas said in the release about his recommendations for the [c]ommittee.

“That may be an oversimplification, but in this day and age with competition in the profession for dollars and clients, activities sometimes degenerate into a Rambo-style, win-at-all cost attitude by attorneys,” he said.

Power Rogers co-founder Joseph A. Power Jr., who represented Thomas in a 2006 defamation case against the Kane County Chronicle, said he looks forward to working with him on a variety of legal issues.

“He’s quite talented not only as a football player, playing at the highest level in college and the NFL, but he’s also a brilliant jurist and hardworking and has left a wonderful legacy,” Power said.

Thomas was set to face a retention question on the November general election ballot.

According to the high court’s order appointing Michael Burke to the vacancy, the appointment will run through the 2022 election cycle.