Justice Judy Cates currently sits on the 5th District Appellate Court, which covers 37 counties in southern Illinois. Growing up in a small town in southern Illinois, Judy never really considered becoming a lawyer. She majored in government at Cornell University and decided to attend law school as a result of her studies. Judy received her law degree from the Washington University School of Law – St. Louis in 1977. While working her way through school, Judy clerked for a small, personal injury firm. There, she discovered the world of litigation. She also discovered that trial advocacy was not open to women in the late 1970s.
Judy was lucky enough to land a job with the St. Clair County State’s Attorney’s office, where she started in Juvenile Court. Judy became passionate about helping victims of domestic abuse and neglect. She spent four years in the prosecutor’s office and was known for her advocacy on behalf of the victims. Early in her career she was honored by Big Brothers Big Sisters for her work on behalf of children. As her experience grew, Judy prosecuted the most serious of crimes – murder, rape, and domestic violence.
When Judy decided she wanted to help people in the civil law, she first hung out her own shingle. Subsequently, she was asked to join a plaintiff’s law firm – Carr, Korein in E. St. Louis, Ill. There, Judy was able to represent victims of negligence, working on cases involving the Jones Act, FELA, medical malpractice, and other negligence actions. Subsequently, she formed her own firm, Brennan, Cates and Constance, continuing her work on behalf of victims.
After 10 years in her own firm, Judy returned to the law firm of Carr, Korein, Tillery in 1997. There she began her work with the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, an organization dedicated to helping injured consumers and workers throughout Illinois. Judy lobbied in Springfield for laws that helped advance these goals. She became active in the American Association for Justice (formerly ATLA). In 2006, Judy became the first woman president of ITLA, and remains, as of today, the only woman who has presided over this organization since it was formed in 1952.
Judy’s practice expanded in 1997 to include nationwide litigation in the field of class actions and mass actions, as well as commercial litigation. She has received numerous awards and honorariums for her work on behalf of victims, including admission to the Order of the Coif, having been named a Kentucky Colonel, a Lawdragon, and one of the top 100 women lawyers in the State of Illinois. Judy was elected to the Appellate Court in 2012.
She is a member of the Illinois State Bar Association, the St. Clair County Bar Association, the Florida Bar, and the Missouri Bar. Judy is married to her husband, Darrell, and they have three children and two grandchildren. Her greatest pride is her family, followed by her work on behalf of all victims.