Speaking Truth to Power: The Legacy of Raymond Bolden

Feature Attorney of the Month Sept. 2021 Don DeWilkins

Speaking Truth to Power: The Legacy of Raymond Bolden

As a highly esteemed lawyer and judge in the Joliet area, Raymond Bolden had the power to give a case context, and tell a captivating story of why it mattered. He was also a beloved friend, mentor, and more, with many individuals looking up to him professionally and as an individual. His legacy will forever have a print within the Will County legal community.

“If the community needed a credible voice to speak truth to power, Judge Bolden was always up to the task,” said Will County Circuit Judge, Vincent Cornelius. “If he was invited to be the guest speaker, you could expect a packed house. You left one of his speeches less ignorant, more knowledgeable, and with food for thought.”

Bolden was Will County’s first Black Assistant State’s Attorney, President of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a criminal defense lawyer, Will County Associate Judge, and Circuit Court Judge. Recognized as a trailblazer by his fellow lawyers, judges, and loved ones, he also had many awards and accolades, as well as being one of the founders of the Warren Sharpe Center and the Black Bar Association of Will County.

“The impact of his influence and service to our Will County community and beyond will continue to serve and benefit future generations,” said Will County Associate Judge, Chrystel Gavlin. “Many of us [judges] have considered the time we spent in his courtroom as one of the best experiences in our legal careers.”

A life passion for Bolden included speaking up about racism, inequality, and the unfair treatment of people of color in the legal system. He was active in the civil rights movement throughout his life and career and will go down in history as a patron of African American attorneys and judges in the community.

Those who knew Bolden as a judge and person fervidly believe he had a natural understanding of people, a sense of discernment, and distinctive compassion. Being an exceptional judge was inside of him, something that will remain long after his professional presence.

“Raymond Bolden was small in height but stood tall in his determination to improve the lives of others; he practiced what he preached,” said 12th Judicial Circuit Judge, Carmen Goodman. “For me, personally, Judge Bolden was my idol, my hero, and my friend.”

Goodman recounts a dear memory of Bolden sitting in his kitchen during the Christmas holidays as he gathered young African American lawyers together that later became the Black Bar Association of Will County, the first African American lawyers’ association outside of Cook County. They admired his fair and even-tempered ways, and ability to be a great listener, confident, respectful, and always willing to provide honest feedback.

Bolden’s wise, compassionate, and courageous touch will forever be missed within the Will County legal community but his spirit and memory as a lawyer and judge live on.

“I always loved to see Ray holding court around the house and at gatherings of family and friends,” Cornelius said. “His pipe would be ablaze, his head slightly tilted, his smile confident, and his wit quick and sharp. He was an unrivaled storyteller.”

Nominate an Attorney

Eligible nominees must be a WCBA Member in good standing, and individuals cannot nominate themselves or members of their own firm.

The Board will review all nominations monthly and select one nominee to be featured each month. Individuals not selected will remain as nominees for future features.

If there are any questions please reach out to info@willcountybar.org or
(815) 726-0383.

After Three Decades of Will County Practice, Donald DeWilkins Rises to the Bench

Feature Attorney of the Month Sept. 2021 Don DeWilkins

After Three Decades of Will County Practice, Donald DeWilkins Rises to the Bench

Time flies when you are doing what you love.

For Twelfth Judicial Circuit Court Associate Judge Donald W. DeWilkins, serving on the Will County Bar Association (WCBA) Board of Directors was one of the most memorable and productive engagements of his still-evolving law career.

“It allowed me to help make a difference in the community,” says DeWilkins, who was appointed to the bench in November of 2020. “The Bar Association does a lot to help bring legal services to Will County. My 10 years flew by. I wish I had more time on the Board.”

His interest in becoming an attorney took hold at “a very young age,” he recalls. After graduating from Governors State University in 1987, and John Marshall Law School in 1990, the Orland Park native, now 56, was able to achieve his longstanding goal.

He went straight to work for the Will County State’s Attorney’s office under then-Will County State’s Attorney Edward A. Burmila. Coincidentally, Burmila now serves as a Twelfth Circuit Associate Judge, too. From the State’s Attorney’s office, DeWilkins was hired by a private firm, the Law Offices of Robert Beranek, and by the late 1990s he had been named a partner. Focusing on litigation, mainly in the areas of criminal defense and personal injury, he logged thousands of courtroom hours, eventually opening his own practice, the Law Offices of Donald W. DeWilkins, with locations in Orland Park and Joliet.

His work for the WCBA has had a lasting effect. In 2018, when he was serving on the Board, the Twelfth Circuit Chief Judge at the time, Richard C. Schoenstedt, expressed interest in establishing an online traffic school. The initiative would bring Will County in line with the surrounding counties that already had a similar program up and running.

To that end, DeWilkins and other WCBA Board Members met with representatives of the DuPage County Bar Association for advice on establishing a Will County program. “They were very helpful in pointing us in the right direction,” DeWilkins says.

Two years later, DeWilkins was installed as WCBA President, and the online Traffic Safety School went live. Since then, it has been managed by the WCBA, and today it is considered a singular success.

“We were able to create state of the art software with a company to give the best product possible,” DeWilkins says. “Our interactive program is very beneficial to traffic offenders, especially offenders under 21.”

DeWilkins’ life has not been all work and no play; he has also had a lifelong love of sports. “I was fortunate to play hockey, baseball and golf at a fairly high level of competition,” he says. He also coached hockey for about 30 years, and softball and baseball for close to 20 each. But the law profession has been, and continues to be, his true passion.

He has witnessed Will County’s immense growth over the, starting with a population of 357,313 in 1990, the year he first practiced as an attorney, to 696,355 in the most recent Census (2020). The judgeship DeWilkins was appointed to last year was created in response to the county’s continued expansion.

So, after four decades of service in many sectors of the law profession, it appears his career has come full circle in a way. In the space where he once prosecuted cases on behalf of the state, and later defended clients, he now presides on the bench. In his first eight months, he served as a floater Judge, but on July 1, 2021, he was permanently assigned by Chief Judge Daniel L. Kennedy to the Misdemeanor Division.

“Becoming a Judge is a dream come true,” he says.

Nominate an Attorney

Eligible nominees must be a WCBA Member in good standing, and individuals cannot nominate themselves or members of their own firm.

The Board will review all nominations monthly and select one nominee to be featured each month. Individuals not selected will remain as nominees for future features.

If there are any questions please reach out to info@willcountybar.org or
(815) 726-0383.

Rockdale native is 1st recipient of Will County Legal Opportunity Scholarship

Rockdale native is 1st recipient of Will County Legal Opportunity Scholarship

The scholarship program encourages diversity within the legal community of Will County

By Denise M. Baran-Unland

Photo of Adrian Guzman, Robert Bodach, president of the Will County Bar Association, Rolonda Mitchell, Black Bar Association of Will County, Christian Spesia, Spesia & Taylor

Adrian Guzman (second from left) was chosen as the first recipient of the Will County Legal Opportunity Scholarship. He is pictured with scholarship representatives (from left) Robert Bodach, president of the Will County Bar Association; Rolonda Mitchell, Black Bar Association of Will County; and Christian Spesia from Spesia & Taylor. Philip Villasenor of the Latino Bar Association of Will County is not pictured.

A Rockdale resident who dreamed of becoming a lawyer is now one giant step closer to realizing it.

The Will County Bar Association announced at its picnic last Saturday that Adrian Guzman, the son of immigrants from Mexico, was the first recipient of the Will County Legal Opportunity Scholarship, a release from the association said.

Recipients of the scholarship are “eligible to receive up to $46,000 to help repay outstanding legal education debt,” the Will County Bar Association website said. In return, the scholarship recipients will be expected to practice law in Will County.

Scholarship committee members said in a Herald-News story in January that the purpose of the scholarship is to encourage diversity among the legal community in Will County. Guzman agreed the concept is a good one.

“It’s nice to give back to the community you grew up in,” Guzman said.

This scholarship program is a collaboration among the Will County Bar Association, the Black Bar Association of Will County, Latino Bar Association of Will County, Will County Women’s Bar Association and Spesia & Taylor Attorneys at Law. A scholarship committee selected four finalists, the release said.

Read the full press release at:
shawlocal.com

Will County Legal Opportunity Scholarship Program

Learn more about the program and how to apply.

State of the Courthouse Luncheon

RSVP now for the 2021 State of the Courthouse Luncheon

WCBA Business Luncheon

Saturday, July 31st, 2021
1:00 pm to 5:00 pm

This year the event will be held as a picnic on Saturday, July 31st from 1PM to 5PM at the Joliet Moose Lodge, 25 Springfield Ave.

Members, non-members and family are all welcome to attend. There is no cost to attend.

Please RSVP to info@willcountybar.org or (815) 726-0383 by this Thursday, July 22nd.

Putting Their Money Where Their Beliefs Are

Putting Their Money Where Their Beliefs Are

Will County lawyers offering unique scholarship to help promote diversity

By Denise M. Baran-Unland

Members of the Will County Bar Scholarship Committee

Members of the Will County Legal Opportunity Scholarship Program committee are, from left: Phillip Villasenor, Shenonda Tisdale, Rolonda Mitchell, Hon. Donald DeWilkins, Jaya Varghese and Chris Spesia.

For perhaps the first time in Will County history, several bar associations in Will County have come together to offer one black or Latino law student a really significant scholarship.

The scholarship recipient will be “eligible to receive up to $46,000 to help repay outstanding legal education debt,” the Will County Bar Association website said.

In return, the scholarship recipient will be expected to practice law in Will County. Scholarship committee members said the purpose of the scholarship is to encourage diversity among the legal community in Will County.

The concept started about six months ago with Chris Spesia of Spesia & Taylor Attorneys at Law in Joliet.

“The events of last year were troubling for everybody,” Spesia said. “So I started to think what we could do that would be positive.”

Spesia started making some calls and discussing ideas, which led to the formation of an official scholarship committee.

Read the full press release at:
shawlocal.com

Will County Legal Opportunity Scholarship Program

Learn more about the program and how to apply.

Will County Bar Association Honors Chief Judge Richard C. Schoenstedt and Bank President James M. Roolf

Chief Judge Richard C. Schoenstedt and Bank President James M. Roolf

The Service to the Community Awards went to Chief Judge Richard C. Schoenstedt and Bank President James M. Roolf.

By Lela Olds, Patch Staff

The Will County Bar Association recently presented its annual Service to the Community Awards to two deserving individuals, the Honorable Richard C. Schoenstedt and James M. Roolf. The awards were given during the non-profit association’s annual Christmas party held at Mistwood Golf Club in Romeoville.

Each year, the Christmas party gala is held before a room of attorneys, judges, and prominent members of the business community. This year’s gala was overseen by the Bar Association’s President Erin Webster O’Brien, Vice President Don DeWilkins and Second Vice President Bob Bodach, who was also the evening’s emcee. The evening also benefitted the DayBreak Shelter, a homeless shelter in Joliet.

Read more at
patch.com

2020 Continuing Education Seminars

WCBA Continuing Education Seminars

The following Will County Bar Association Committees are planning education seminars for 2020

The Civil Committee, Criminal Committee, Family Law Committee, Probate Committee, and Real Estate Committee as well as two newly formed committees – Local Government Law Committee & the Solo, Small Firm & Technology Committee. Members will be notified via our members only newsletter.

Will County Bar Association Celebrates 150 Years of Legal Excellence at Fall Gala

Will County Bar Association Celebrates 150 Years of Legal Excellence at Fall Gala

By Denise Freese

The Will County Bar Association, a non-profit professional organization, serves and supports the legal community in Will County by providing education, professional development opportunities, and service programs for its members, the legal profession, and the local community.

Attorney Erin Webster O’Brien currently serves as the President of the WCBA.  “I’ve been a member since I began practicing law in 2004,” she explained.  “I’ve been on the Board of Directors since 2011.  I’m happy to carry on the traditions of service that are set forth in the Bar objectives.”

The objectives of the Will County Bar Association include maintaining the integrity of the profession of law, promoting an understanding of the law and its application in the community, and supporting the Bar’s ability to provide public service, including offering an active Lawyer Referral Service and encouraging members to provide Pro Bono services for those in need.  To celebrate the past 150 years of legal excellence in Will County, the WCBA will host a fabulous gala on October 10, 2019.

Read more at:
theherald-news.com