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.