Chicago Lawyer 2000 Person of the Year: Judge Ann Claire Williams


One judge called it a coronation; another, a homecoming for a friend.p. A standing-room-only crowd squeezed into every nook of the James Benton Parsons Ceremonial Courtroom in the Dirksen Federal Building. Three other courtrooms, equipped with video monitors, held the overflow crowd.p. They assembled Jan. 21, 2000, to watch the elevation of Judge Ann Claire Williams from the federal trial bench to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.p. Williams, 51, is the first African-American to serve on the court, an accomplishment that U.S. District Court Judge Ruben Castillo labeled the “desegregation of the 7th Circuit.”p. “One can either take pride or think it should have happened sooner,” said U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who met Williams when she was a clerk and Stevens sat on the 7th Circuit. “I have regarded her as a friend ever since then. I have known her for quite a while and was delighted when she got on the court.”p. Scott Turow, a partner at Sonnenschein, Nath&Rosenthal worked with Williams when they were both federal prosecutors.p. “It was a tremendous atmosphere of celebration,” Turow said. “Ann has a large family who came from far away to celebrate with her. Ann’s parents were both educated persons who were prevented because of race from making use of their educations. To have seen in her parents’ lifetime this type of progress. To have gone to a point where ability is shunned and disregarded to a point where ability was rewarded regardless of race in Ann’s case is an achievement not just for Ann, but, frankly, for America. You could not avoid the larger implication.”p. “Her installation ceremony was history,” said Sharon E. Jones, senior counsel for Abbott Laboratories. “I wanted to be there. In 2000, it’s hard to think there are still all these firsts for African-Americans; but there really are. It was almost a tearful experience in how loved she was by the various groups of people. It was phenomenal.”p. The 7th Circuit is but another in a series of firsts for Williams.p. She and June Baldwin were the first two African-American women to clerk for judges on the 7th Circuit.p. In 1985 she became the first African-American woman to become a U.S. District Court judge for the Northern District of Illinois. At age 35, she also was among the youngest judges on the federal bench.p. >From 1993 to 1997, Williams served as chair of the Court Administration and Case Management Committee of the United States Judicial Conference. The appointment by Chief Justice William Rehnquist made her the first African-American chair of a Judicial Conference committee.p. In 1999 she became the first African-American president of the Federal Judges Association.p. Her appeal and talents go far beyond race, gender or politics.p. Her appointments to the bench have come from both sides of the aisle, something she mentions often. Republican President Ronald Reagan appointed her to the federal bench in 1985; Democrat Bill Clinton nominated Williams to the 7th Circuit in 1999 to fill the vacancy created when Judge Walter J. Cummings died.p. Both U.S. senators from Illinois, Democrat Richard J. Durbin and Republican Peter Fitzgerald, praised Williams at her investiture.p. Former Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson and University of Notre Dame Law School Dean Patricia O’Hara moved her induction to the court.p. The disparate groups had a wonderful time at her swearing-in, and “all we had in common was this 110-, 115-pound woman whose personality is the most impressive thing about her,” said Roland Chamblee, an Indiana state judge in South Bend and friend from law school. “She can handle dealing with kings, popes, presidents, the senators, the Court of Appeals judges, the butler, the guy who opens the door. And she is the same with everybody.”p. Nearly one year into her service on the bench, Williams enjoys wide support from a cross-section of the legal community, distinguishing herself not only on the bench but also in bar groups, in educational circles and in the community.p. “She is what people think a judge ought to look and sound like,” said William Joseph Linklater, a Baker&McKenzie partner and president of The Chicago Bar Association.p. Awards (no more clocks, please) are scattered throughout Williams’ chambers on the 26th floor of the Dirksen Federal Building.p. In 2000 alone, she received the National Black Law Students Association award at the Judge A. Leon Higginbottom Jr. Memorial Luncheon; National Council of Negro Women Women Making History award; award of excellence from the Notre Dame chapter of the Black Law Students Association; Illinois Judicial Council special achievement award; and The Chicago Bar Association Vanguard Award.p. Besides her judicial duties, she fills her schedule with chock-a-block speeches and activities.p. She has spoken in the past year to more groups than one can easily count, including serving as commencement speaker for the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minn.p. She also serves on the CBA board of governors and is secretary of the board of trustees of The University of Notre Dame .p. On a less official level, Williams is a role model and mentor for countless judges and attorneys, including seasoned veterans.p. “If you took those in the [Chicago] legal community who have been immensely successful and asked them who they look up to, it would be Judge Ann Claire Williams,” said Donald H. Hubert of Donald Hubert&Associates, a past president of The Chicago Bar Association. “I have been blessed in my own life to achieve some small success; and people like me need others to look up to who go way, far beyond that for us to cherish and feel good about. I’m in awe of her. She is someone I look up to as a role model.”p. “I suspect that Ann Williams has served as a mentor for and has assisted single-handedly more lawyers in this town than most people will in a lifetime,” said Susan Bogart, a sole practitioner who worked with Williams in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “She has a tremendous level of energy and expends a lot of it in reaching out to other people and helping other people and mentoring young lawyers. I am one of many, many people who she has one time or another provided guidance, or assistance or mentoring.”p. A former music major in college, she sings not only with talent but also from the heart at both sad and happy occasions, as well as at official functions, such as the farewell ceremony in May to mark the end of Richard A. Posner’s reign as chief judge of the 7th Circuitp. Singer. Mother. Teacher. Wife. Trial lawyer. Friend. Orator. Judge. University trustee. Motivational speaker.p. Meet Ann Claire Williams.p. For all of her accomplishments, Williams is Chicago Lawyer’s 10th annual Person of the Year.p. The 7th Circuit Williams joins Judges Daniel A. Manion and Terence T. Evans for short oral arguments in early October in the austere 27th floor courtroom.p. As the junior member of the panel, Williams sits to the left of the other two judges. The court seal hangs behind her. Her official portrait looks down upon the proceedings from the other side of the room.p. Wearing black oval-frame glasses that match her robe, Williams sits upright and forward in her chair as she scribbles notes with her left hand and sips water with her right.p. One of the cases, U.S.A. v. Williams, involves an appeal by an armed robbery’s getaway driver, who claims the District Court erred in not bestowing him minor participant status.p. The appellant’s court-appointed attorney speaks, and Williams closes her eyes. Is she falling asleep, upright in her chair? A few minutes later, her eyes open.p. “In my research of reported cases, I haven’t seen a [Court of Appeals] case that said the getaway driver of a run-of-the-mill robbery does not get that reduction,” the attorney said.p. “Have you looked at the Hafiz case out of the 8th Circuit? Or Lowery out of the 6th? Or Pinkney out of the 9th? They’re all getaway drivers in armed robberies,” Williams says. “All denied that status. They’re all denied the minor participant status.”p. “I cannot say that I have looked at those cases,” the lawyer responds.p. “OK,” interjects Williams.p. “And if I haven’t looked at those cases, I can’t tell you the fact situation. If they’re run of the mill, um, robberies where I have the driver of the car who does not carry the weapon inside the establishment.”p. “These are getaway drivers in armed robberies, so they don’t have the gun,” Williams says. “They’re just driving the car.”p. Well, let me see if I can answer," the lawyer rebuts. "Uh, I can assume some of the arguments that were made and the decisions that were made in those circuits …… "p. Williams has sat on numerous panels since she joined the 7th Circuit, including – once more – creating a first: She and Judges Ilana Diamond Rovner and Diane P. Wood formed the first all-female panel of 7th Circuit appellate judges in September.v Many lawyers and friends see her as perched one step away from appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, perhaps chalking up another first as the high court’s first African-American female member.p. “I am one of many people who intend to watch her career over the next 10 or 15 years to root for her to be on the U.S. Supreme Court,” Hubert said. “I think she is just that great, and you do need great people on the Supreme Court.”p. “Either party would gain major points with the public to appoint someone like Ann Williams,” said Tyrone Fahner, co-chairman of Mayer, Brown&Platt and former Illinois attorney general. “To appoint someone like Ann Williams, you are making a statement that quality counts, and you care about minorities and women, who have an appropriate place on our court, the highest in the land. She is someone of great ability where you don’t have to feel you are doing it because of political reasons.”p. “Personally, I would love to see it because she has been a hands-on lawyer who has tried cases,” Turow said. “She would not look at a record in a case as simply an abstract for a law school exam. That is frankly something that has been lacking in our appellate courts and our Supreme Court.”p. Among her fan club is fellow Notre Dame trustee Jack Sandner, retired chairman and senior policy advisor with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.p. “She is a person who is real comfortable with people,” Sandner said. “With Supreme Court decisions when you go up 35,000 feet and look down, they are still about people, whether it’s a criminal case or Napster.”p. “It wouldn’t be a bad move for some president to appoint her,” said U.S. District Court Chief Judge Sarah Evans Barker of the Southern District of Indiana. “Every judge knows that that is so iffy that you don’t plan on it. No judge plans on it.”p. Williams, for instance, measures her words.p. “I’m very flattered that I would be thought of in that light, but my focus is to really learn and to master the Court of Appeals job,” Williams said. “And I can’t really think beyond that.”p. Down homeAfter getting her hair done, Williams leaves the salon.p. The hairdresser’s next customer asks if that was Judge Ann Williams.p. “Oh, no, she’s a bank teller,” the hairdresser said.p. A few weeks later, Williams comes in for her next appointment. The hairdresser chuckles.p. “You’re never going to believe what one of my customers told me,” the hairdresser said. “She thought you were a federal judge.”p. “Well, actually, I am,” Williams replied.p. Universally described as approachable, Williams places her own telephone calls and introduces herself as Ann Williams, minus the honorific.p. "She doesn’t carry a badge saying, `I’ve done all these things. Aren’t I special?’ " Fahner said.p. “Ann is the antithesis of elitism,” Sandner said.p. “Some people who have achieved what she has can be pompous and arrogant,” said John W. “Jay” Jordan, chairman&CEO of Jordan Industries and a Notre Dame trustee. “She is as comfortable with someone who sweeps the floors at Notre Dame as she is with the president. And she would be able to relate. Some people who are stiff couldn’t even have a conversation with [the floor sweeper].”p. One sure way to tick off Williams: pretension and a disrespect of others.p. Williams may work in a lofty environment on the 26th floor of the Dirksen Federal Building, where she likes the “air up here.” But the bus driver’s daughter from Detroit resents the arrogance of people who don’t treat others with respect.p. “Particularly the people who help us do our job everyday, who are in service positions,” Williams said. "Like the people who clean the building. Like the security guards. To see people like that treated with disdain or not treated with respect. That really gets under my skin.p. "That really irritates me to see people either take them for granted or act like they don’t exist. Or not give them respect. Or make judgments about people because of the job that they are in or the color of their skin or their gender.p. “What my parents have taught me the most is to have a basic respect for every human being. And to not assume that just because I have achieved some level of success that I am better than anybody else. That fundamental respect for each person is so important.”p. Williams was born Aug. 16, 1949, the first of three daughters of Dorothy and Joshua Williams, who divorced after Williams was grown. Her mother lives in Detroit; her father is in South Carolina. Both attend events where Williams speaks or is honored.p. As a child, Ann loved riding the bus with her father. He would pick her up at the end of his line, and she would run up and down the aisles.p. When they went back to headquarters, she loved watching him roll the coins while the other drivers played dominoes.p. A shy child who nonetheless dreamed of being a Motown star, she was content often to play by herself or read a book, her father said.p. When she left Roosevelt Grade School to attend Detroit Girls Catholic Central High School, she came out of her shell through participating in debate and making speeches on interracial issues, Williams said.p. She kept her love of music, continuing with her piano lessons and singing. She often breaks out in song – even in the middle of this interview, when she offered her own version of “People, people who need people …….”p. “Judges, who needs district judges? Well, the lawyers need judges, that’s for sure ……”p. Her singing today also becomes a gift of kindness.p. “My wife passed, and the judge found out about it,” Hubert said. "As she does with so many, she called me and said, `Don, is there anything I can do?’ She offered to sing at St. Thomas. I said, `Would you please do it? I would be tremendously honored. It would lend something very special to the ceremony.’ I knew that Mellonie would have loved it. I used to always talk about how she and the judge had similar hairstyles. The only way you could have that type of hairstyle is to be beautiful because it showed your face so much.p. “That will always be very special to me. That she would let me and my wife sort of enjoy so much of her own goodwill and reputation with us. That’s what you don’t often see with successful people. They get successful, but they don’t share their name and reputation because they know how hard it was to get that.”p. After high school, Williams stayed home and attended Wayne State University, majoring in music before switching to education to become a teacher like her mother – and because she preferred rhythm and blues to classical training.p. Cynthia Grant Brown, a Delta Sigma Theta sorority sister, said that Williams the coed was “very focused but still very in touch with issues and events that were going on around that time. She was very down to earth and easy to get along with. She’s not one that puts on airs.”p. Williams would invite her sorority sisters over to plan strategies to “circumvent what the big sisters wanted us to do,” said Brown, who literally ran off and joined the circus a few years after college.p. In a college speech class, sophomore Ann Williams had to give an impromptu speech about someone she admired.p. Put on the spot, she talked about her father, who had a degree in psychology, who couldn’t get a job in his field.p. In class, she spoke about her father and realized for the first time he had driven a bus not by choice, but by obligation to raise his family. She ended the speech in tears.p. She rushed home to ask Daddy how he could have stood it.p. He told her he had to raise his family any way he could.p. Williams’ mother also had a college degree: Hers was in education, but the public schools wouldn’t hire her. Instead, she taught in a training school.p. “They kept moving forward,” Williams said. “I remember the struggles they had.”p. After college, Williams taught music in the Detroit public schools while commuting to Ann Arbor to earn a master’s degree in counseling from the University of Michigan.p. She and Brown shared a two-bedroom apartment on Detroit’s West Side.p. While Williams was described as a natural teacher, a natural morning person she was not.p. “She had this alarm clock that sounded like an air raid and she still wouldn’t get up,” Brown said. “When she did, she would start running around like the Tasmanian devil.”p. The two took their first trip outside of North America, jetting to Nassau, Bahamas.p. When Williams hits the beach now, she usually has a stack of books beside her. But this trip was different, Brown said.p. “We were taking in the scenery and stuff,” Brown said. “There were no books.”p. Law school The books came later: in law school.p. As Williams was finishing her master’s degree, a friend who wanted to go to law school influenced her to apply, as well.p. It was late in the application season; but she applied, anyway, and was accepted at Notre Dame. p. She arrived in South Bend, Ind., with little sense of what to expect.p. “My family didn’t have any lawyers,” Williams said. “I didn’t know any lawyers. I wanted to be Perry Mason when I decided I wanted to go to law school.”p. She worked in a dorm her first year and studied intensively.p. In one of her early firsts, Williams was assistant rector of Farley Hall in her second year of law school, the first year the dorm housed female undergraduates at Notre Dame.p. Then Williams found out the rector would be a nun.p. “Oh, man! A nun???” she said.p. The nun had her own thoughts when she heard about her assistant.p. “Oh, man! A gung-ho black law student?” said Sister Jean Lenz.p. Preconceptions, however, melted quickly; and during a Notre Dame board meeting this fall, Williams visited Lenz, who lives in Farley Hall in what used to be Williams’ room.p. Williams also worked as a research assistant for Howard Glickstein, associate general counsel for the university. In that job, she worked on a civil rights conference, meeting Andrew Young.p. As a third-year law student, Williams was active in the Black Law Students Association, which mentored younger African-American law students.p. Among them was Chamblee, who was struck by Williams’ straightforward, matter-of-fact style.p. “She would tell you what was on her mind, tell you what you needed to do, and work with you to do it,” Chamblee said. “She was a third-year trying to help us learn the ropes.”p. Clerkship After graduating from law school in 1975, Williams clerked for Robert Sprecher, a judge on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.p. She interviewed with then-Chief Judge Louis Swigart, who recommended Williams to Sprecher. Swigart hired June Baldwin, another African-American woman. The two were the first African-American female clerks on the 7th Circuit.p. “I remember being exceptionally proud to see an African-American woman in such a prestigious, highly sought after position,” Hubert said. “I didn’t know who she was. I didn’t meet her, but I saw her in the courtroom.”p. Judge William J. Bauer of the 7th Circuit remembers her unlimited energy.p. “She’s got more energy in her left hand than most people have in their whole body,” said Bauer, who met Williams when she was a clerk for Sprecherp. . Her own clerkship helped teach her how to deal with her own clerks.p. Nicole Jackson, an associate at Schiff, Hardin&Waite and former law clerk to Williams, said Williams has "incredibly high expectations and standards. She expects a lot and rightfully so.p. “When you think of judges, you think of them as aloof and detached from people and intimidating. She is down to earth, personable and warm.”p. Lisa Scruggs, an associate at Jenner&Block, recalls her interview with Williams when Scruggs applied for a clerkship.p. “We had a general conversation to start out, but then we had a conversation about education, and I am working on a Ph.D. in education. We talked about the intersection between education and the law and the justice system,” Scruggs said.p. “I just remember talking, and talking and talking some more,” Scruggs said. “She ended up giving me a ride home.” And the job.p. Sept. 22, 2000, was Scruggs’ last day as Williams’ clerk.p. “I was trying not to be emotional at all,” Scruggs said. Williams was meeting with a court official; and David Stewart, Williams’ husband, showed up at the office with a cake for Scruggs that read, “Thanks, Lisa.”p. Scruggs; Stewart; and Marilyn Renner, the judge’s assistant, were looking at the cake on the conference table in her office.p. “I was hugging her husband and Marilyn and not facing the judge,” Scruggs said. “Then I hear the judge scream, `She’s going to Jenner&Block! She’s going to Jenner&Block!’ And we were all crying like the biggest babies.”p. Meanwhile, the court official Williams was meeting was still in the room.p. “This guy is sitting there in absolute amazement and horror,” Scruggs said. “This guy was probably really freaked out. It was just indicative of how much her law clerks become part of her family. I’m still going through withdrawal.”p. Family time While Williams was still a clerk, a mutual friend introduced Williams to David Stewart the week before the Fourth of July, 1976.p. After going out to lunch, Williams and Stewart stood at the corner of Clark Street and Jackson Boulevard.p. “We were about to go our separate ways, and it was raining,” Stewart said. “I didn’t always carry an umbrella. I think she thought it was a prop.” He walked her back to the Dirksen Building and asked for her phone number.p. “And then I lost it,” Stewart said.p. After retrieving Williams’ number through the mutual friend, Stewart courted Williams for three years before their 1979 wedding.p. The couple has two children: Jonathan, a college freshman; and Claire, a high school junior.p. Stewart, 48, shies away from attention and interviews. A senior vice president at Amalgamated Bank of Chicago, Stewart jokes that he is “chauffeur, part-time bailiff, supplier of goodies and candies for the clerks” and part of Williams’ “unofficial staff.”p. Those who know him say he is the critical support that has propelled Williams throughout her career.p. Williams’ father gushes about Stewart, saying how accommodating Stewart is to him during his visits to their Hyde Park home.p. To relax, Williams plays the piano in their sunroom and watches shows like “Nightline,” “Meet the Press,” “West Wing,” “The Practice” and “Law&Order.”p. In fact, Williams lauds the legal-based shows, saying their writers do an excellent job of boiling down opening and closing arguments to 30 seconds.p. Williams and her daughter also like seeing movies together, including a recent screening of “Meet the Parents” with Robert DeNiro and Ben Stiller.p. But Roger Ebert need not worry about Ann Williams vying for his job: Williams rarely sees a movie she doesn’t like.p. Among the Oscar-unworthy movies Williams has given a thumbs up to include “Scary Movie,” said Scruggs, her former clerk.p. “Once she buys her ticket, she’s going to go see it,” said Vincent Connelly of Mayer, Brown&Platt, who was a colleague in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “Her suspension of criticism or expectation of how good or bad a movie will be ends when she buys a ticket.”p. Besides movies, Claire said the family enjoys playing card games and Scrabble at home. But the judge gives a thumbs down to Monopoly.p. As a mother, Williams is “not too strict as long as I give her all of the information about where I’m going to be,” Claire said. “She doesn’t really beat around the bush. She’ll tell you honestly what she thinks.”p. Occasionally, Williams mixes business and family commitments. She took Claire and one of Claire’s friends to Washington during Claire’s spring break while she herself attended to business.p. Williams took son Jonathan to U.S. District Court Senior Judge Abraham Lincoln Marovitz’s 95th birthday party.p. “She was able to mingle, in a very sensitive way, her family into her profession without trespassing on her professional life in an inappropriate way,” Sandner said.p. Judge Chamblee said when he and his wife, Angie, get together with Williams and Stewart, they “spend time sitting at home, drinking wine and laughing, talking about almost nothing. Seeing Ann Williams in sweatpants and a sweatshirt and sweatsocks, sitting on a couch – that’s the Ann Williams I know.”p. Williams is a quick study for most things, with one notable exception, Stewart said: “She is not a good tennis player. She has had lessons and prodding throughout the years.”p. On family vacations, she will read a book while Stewart and the children play tennis.p. Williams’ household duties have included what Stewart described as “de-briefing” the children about their day at school while he prepares dinner.p. Stewart is teaching Claire how to cook. As for letting Mom into the kitchen: “Rarely,” Claire said.p. “As long as it can be put into the microwave, she is OK,” Stewart said.

*The prosecutorp.
  • In the middle of a Chicago winter, a married couple huddles together on the Armitage El platform.p. The woman rattles away about a drug bust and the need to punish the alleged offender. As she continues to speak, the other commuters on the platform stop talking and start eavesdropping.p. Williams is rehearsing her opening statement, and her audience is her husband.p. “I was her focus group,” Stewart said. “For anyone who is married to a trial lawyer, that’s just one of the things that comes with the turf.”p. Williams moved to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 1976, becoming supervisor of criminal litigation in 1978. From 1980-1983, she was deputy chief, criminal receiving and Appellate Division.p. Dan K. Webb of Winston&Strawn, U.S. Attorney from 1981 to 1985, described Williams as “authoritative but not irritating.”p. He remembered watching Williams prosecute a drug case early in her career.p. "I thought, `This person is hell on wheels,’ " Webb said. “I watched her give a closing argument and speak without notes. She just stood there and mesmerized the jury.”p. Added Scott Turow: “I don’t think anyone got very far giving Ann Williams guff. If you crossed her, she was tough as nails.”p. In 1983 she became chief of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force for the North Central region, an initiative of the Reagan Justice Department. She credits her time with the task force as a key to her reaching the federal bench.p. Through the task force, she met U.S. Attorneys and top-level Justice Department officials. Meanwhile, she continue to mentor and to promote diversity.p. When Sharon Jones applied for a job in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Williams interviewed her.p. “She was very interested in increasing the number of minority AUSAs,” Jones said. “I was at [Lord, Bissell&Brook] and only considering the U.S. Attorney’s Office. She was very positive about the ability to make sure justice was done and that I could achieve that in the U.S. Attorney’s Office because we have the ability to influence what cases are prosecuted. She said it was important to have a diverse group of AUSAs to deal with the diverse defendant population.”p. “Everything sets her apart,” Jones said. “She is a leader. She’s intelligent. She’s diplomatic. She is a strategic thinker. She is a compassionate, generous person. She’s not the kind of person who brags about what she does. She just does it. She is not just well-liked; people love her.”p. Williams’ supervisor position made her a role model for most of the young female AUSAs, Bogart said.p. “There weren’t very many women in the criminal side of the office to begin with,” Bogart said.p. Williams also was “having a family at the same time, so there was that same type of connection that the two of us had. There weren’t a lot of us doing that kind of thing,” Bogart said.p. Bogart worked on several drug investigations when Williams led the task force. During that period, Bogart observed how Williams acted when she chaired meetings with the heads of various federal agencies.p. “She was very clear,” Bogart said. “She has a very good communication style and is a good problem solver. She is pretty quick at assessing what fact situations are and asking for more information if she needs it. She doesn’t take herself too seriously, but she takes the process seriously.”p. “She was an incredibly talented and hardworking lawyer who was thoroughly prepared at all times,” said Kenneth Cunniff of Kenneth L. Cunniff, Ltd., who defended cases against Williams when she was a federal prosecutor. "She knew her case very well and was able to reach consensus among several different defense lawyers.p. “She was always fair and open and above board in everything she did but never forgetting that she was a prosecutor and had a job to do.”p. Connelly of Mayer, Brown said Williams augmented her prosecutorial reputation in another way.p. “She had a terrific professional wardrobe,” Connelly teased. “She was always appropriately dressed with a much wider variety of selections than most of the guys.”p. John Gallo, a partner with Sidley&Austin and chief counsel for the Judicial Inquiry Board, clerked for Williams in the late 1980s.p. “Connelly had told me that at the U.S. Attorneys’s Office she was one of the great clothes horses,” Gallo said. “So, I started paying attention and kept track of how often she would wear the same outfit.”p. One month she had a different outfit every day, Gallo said: “She always had a shopping bag in her office next to her desk.”p. “That is the truth,” Williams said. “Let there be no mistake about that: I like clothes.”p. p. *The federal benchp.
  • Quietly, she says her goodbyes, knowing she has one more event that night: a 75th birthday party for a friend in Chicago.

As she tries to leave, however, a classmate drags her back into the room and demands a speech. Words flow, the clock ticks, and finally she makes it out the door. But not until 8:30 p.m.p. Williams has to motor. Time is not on her side.p. “That sums up my life quite well,” Williams said. "There aren’t enough hours in the day. I’m involved in too many things.p. “If the Good Lord could give me an extra four hours in the day, that would be great.”p. “We have joked about that,” Scruggs said. “The difference is she would work an extra four hours, and I would sleep.”p. When Williams became a federal judge, the other Article III women judges in the 7th Circuit were Ilana Diamond Rovner in the Northern District of Illinois, Barbara C. Crabb in the Western District of Wisconsin and Barker.p. “The four of us started having what we referred to as slumber parties,” Barker said. "We would get together in our hotel rooms [at judicial conferences] and wear sweatpants and order in a greasy cheeseburger and pizza.p. “We would sit and talk and laugh. Just about stuff. Just chatter. We talked about our kids, balancing our lives or cases that we handled where there was something funny that happened. For judges, it’s hard to have those just usual kind of conversations.”p. After getting control of her docket, Williams started teaching at the Federal Judicial Center in 1990, a stint that ran through 1997. She also has been on the faculty of the National Institute for Trial Advocacy since 1979 and has served as an adjunct professor at both The John Marshall Law School and Northwestern University School of Law.p. Teaching extended to her own courtroom, where she would buzz her clerks if she wanted them to see good trial lawyering in action.p. “When jurors finished their service, she would bring them to chambers,” said Jackson, her former clerk. “One of her jurors sent her a letter about how proud and happy he was to have known her. She has that kind of impact on anyone.”p. Including students from kindergarten through college.p. When she was a federal trial judge, Williams put elementary school students in the jury box and shackled one of their classmates to show them what it was like to be a prisoner.p. Her own children visited, too, but they got an extra perk: pizza in her chambers after the tour.p. Her promotion to the appellate court, though, eliminated her dog-and-pony show.p. “I’ve lost my props,” Williams said. Even so, teaching continues.p. A prolific public speaker, Williams chops her hands and points her index finger to emphasize points.p. At a September event in memory of the late U.S. District Court Judge James Benton Parsons, Williams spoke to nearly 120 Chicago public school elementary pupils and high school students in the ceremonial courtroom.p. She leaned forward in her chair and admonished the school children to set career goals and work persistently toward them. Parsons’ portrait stared over her left shoulder at the children.p. Like Parsons, Williams taught music in public schools and didn’t go to law school right after college.p. Both cut their teeth in the U.S. Attorney’s Office before reaching the bench.p. In a black suit with a wide silver collar and with her closely cropped hair parted straight down the right side, Williams spoke to the students.p. “I loved him,” Williams said. "He was a schoolteacher, so we had a lot in common.p. "He wasn’t able to get what he wanted right when he wanted it. He had to teach school because he didn’t have enough money. We can’t always do what we want when we want it.p. “Judges are not born with the black robe on. A good judge is someone who does not try to put him or herself above someone else.”p. Williams looks to Parsons and other pioneer African-American jurists for inspiration in both law and service to the community.p. She was the driving force behind the creation of the Just the Beginning Foundation, which honors African-American federal judges.p. During a March ceremony honoring the first women to hold major positions within the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, she praised other judicial pioneers, such as Constance Motley of the Southern District of New York.p. “These trailblazers have led the way for all of us,” Williams said. “Our goal should be to break all the glass in the legal profession.”p. She has her tried-and-true vignettes: her parents’ inspirational biographies, usually with one or both in the audience. The modest description of her career being a series of elevator rides in the Dirksen building. Her experiences as a teacher. Stories of pioneer black federal judges. Friendship Meanwhile, she’s leaving her own legacies, among friends as well as in the legal community.p. “She is always trying to learn more about issues that touch people’s lives,” said Sandner, whose college-age daughter has a learning disability. He and Williams have talked frequently about learning disabilities and have swapped books on the subject. “It comes from her deep interest in equal opportunity for all people.”p. “What defines her is her great warmth and humanity,” Fahner said. “She is a good person when people are in trouble.”p. “My father died in 1996 of Alzheimer’s,” said Brown, the college chum. “It’s something she really helped me through.”p. Hubert brought his 6-year-old daughter to hear Williams speak at the Illinois Judicial Council dinner.p. “She is that kind of person who you want your children to have every opportunity to be around and hear speak,” Hubert said. "When my daughter is 14 or 15, I will remind her, `Remember Judge Williams who sang at Mommy’s funeral? That’s the lady who is now on the U.S. Supreme Court.’ "p. *Busy, busyp.

  • If she didn’t have her addresses listed on her desktop version of Palm Pilot, she wouldn’t have enough space on her desk for the number of Rolodexes she would need.

She scurries to speeches, meetings, oral arguments, Claire’s tennis matches. She takes trips to Notre Dame, Washington, Detroit.p. “Because she is so unusually competent and well-organized, she is in demand to serve on every possible board and committee that anybody can ever think of,” said CBA president Linklater.p. Posner of the 7th Circuit points out Williams’ swearing-in ceremony as an example of her organizational skills.p. “She had a long list of speakers; and when she brought that to me, I was concerned about the length,” Posner said. “She said, `It’s going to be an hour, and it won’t drag.’ The speakers were under very strict instructions to keep remarks brief. It was very well-paced …… She’s a person very concerned about careful budgeting of her time.”p. She travels to South Bend several times a year for Notre Dame trustee meetings, including a visit in early October the weekend of the Notre Dame-Stanford football game.p. “She is very precise and exacting in her counsel to the board,” Sandner said. “She has always been very involved and proactive. She hasn’t been a passive board member.”p. After day-long trustee meetings at McKenna Hall, Williams shuffles quickly to the Notre Dame bookstore on an October Friday to find a gift for Claire.p. The first sweatshirt she finds is gray with a zipper up the middle, a hood and navy-blue capital letters that read NOTRE DAME across the chest.p. “I’m looking for something a little more subtle,” she says.p. Browsing some more, she points to a rack of neckties and suspenders with leprechauns, football players and ND insignias emblazoned prominently.p. “Well, that’s pretty subtle,” she quips.p. She settles on a yellow sweatshirt and a white T-shirt with small, blue lettering centered across the chest.p. The cashier tells Williams she reminds her of her mother. Williams laughs.p. On Saturday, she goes to her old dorm room in Farley Hall. The current occupant is Sister Lenz.p. Then it’s off to see Patricia O’Hara, the law school dean, and Rev. William Beauchamp, a university official and law school classmate.p. Next, she scurries to McKenna Hall for a pre-game brunch given by the university president, the Rev. Edward A. Malloy. She sits with fellow trustee Percy A. Pierre, an engineering professor at Michigan State University, and talks with him about his research into reparations for descendants of slaves.p. She watches the game from a skybox with other trustees and dignitaries.p. After the Notre Dame victory, she heads for the law school basement, her former post-game hangout when she was a student. Nothing much has changed.p. “No one studies on football weekends,” Williams said.p. Later, she attends her 25-year law school reunion.p. “Judge Williams, Court of Appeals! Judge Williams, Court of Appeals,” screams a law school classmate, fresh from a day that started for him with a morning tailgate before the football game. “This is soon to be Justice Williams.”p. At the cocktail reception, her classmates flock to greet her, calling her the class star.p. Quietly, she says her goodbyes, knowing she has one more event that night: a 75th birthday party for a friend in Chicago.p. As she tries to leave, however, a classmate drags her back into the room and demands a speech. Words flow, the clock ticks, and finally she makes it out the door. But not until 8:30 p.m.p. Williams has to motor. Time is not on her side.p. “That sums up my life quite well,” Williams said. "There aren’t enough hours in the day. I’m involved in too many things.p. “If the Good Lord could give me an extra four hours in the day, that would be great.”p. “We have joked about that,” Scruggs said. “The difference is she would work an extra four hours, and I would sleep.”

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