The Southern Illinois University School of Law is recognizing its past and applauding its present and future as it kicks off its 50th-anniversary celebration.
Founded in 1973 in the public interest to serve the public good, the law school is unveiling its Hall of Judges which honors the more than 160 SIU Law graduates who have become judges.
A reception to unveil the display and start the yearlong celebration is set for 5 p.m. Oct. 13, in the law school’s Hiram H. Lesar Law Building Formal Lounge. The event runs from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. and is open to the public.
SIU Chancellor Austin A. Lane and SIU Board of Trustees Chair J. Phil Gilbert, a senior judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, will provide opening remarks.
“Judges are public servants,” Dean Camille Davidson said. “As we celebrate 50 years, what better way to honor our legacy than by showcasing all of our alumni who have chosen to serve the public as members of the judiciary?”
Lane said the honored judges are exemplary Salukis.
“This Hall of Judges is a visual reminder of the power of imagination,” he said. “As law school students, they imagined a better world and what role they could play to make it a reality. Today, they are servant-leaders in their communities, states and the nation. I am proud to call them fellow Salukis and excited to honor them.”
Two alumni judges to speak at ceremony
G. Patrick Murphy, retired chief judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, and Nancy J. Rosenstengel, the current chief judge for the federal judicial district, will share their thoughts.
Murphy, a December 1977 law school graduate, chose SIU because it was close to home and the campus was beautiful. Murphy served on the federal bench from 1998 to 2013 and served as chief judge from 2000 to 2007. He continues his legal practice in Marion.
“I had a great experience while in law school and received a sound legal education,” he said, noting he took every course taught by then-SIU law professor Don Garner, who was “an excellent and demanding teacher.”
Rosenstengel graduated from law school in 1993. She has served as a federal judge since 2014 and chief judge since 2019. The law school’s small class size, location and affordability all factored into her decision to attend. She said students have “many opportunities to obtain an outstanding legal education,” noting a key component continues to be students receiving a practical education.
“My legal education gave me strong, practical tools and experiences to practice law and litigate cases,” she said.
Improving legal services in region
When Hiram Lesar, a nationally recognized legal scholar came to SIU Carbondale in 1972 to piece together the beginnings of the law school, a clear mission was to improve the available legal services and attorney access in the region. From the inaugural class of students who began their studies in the fall 1973 to the current first-year law students who recited their oath of professionalism in fall 2022, the original objective remains. The law school, which celebrated its 47th graduating class in May 2022, has 253 students this fall with a 9:1 student-faculty ratio.
The law school’s trademark for experiential opportunities continues and its mission has expanded beyond the Southern Illinois region. The law school recently expanded to the Metro East, providing third-year students the opportunity to participate in the inaugural Metro East Criminal Justice Clinic at the Southwestern Illinois Justice and Workforce Development Clinic in Belleville. Students will live and take classes on the campus while working at various state and federal offices in the region.
“Founding Dean Lesar would be proud of us,” Davidson said. “Our dedicated faculty are teachers as well as scholars, our clinics and externships provide hands on opportunities for our students, and we are committed to creating an environment where everyone feels appreciated and valued. We are staying true to our mission, but we are also evolving as we produce attorneys who are ready to practice in the 21st century.”
A ‘visible reminder’
The pictorial display is a “visible reminder to our students of the possibilities and opportunities that await them when they graduate from law school,” Davidson said.
“SIU Law is known for training attorneys who are ready to hit the ground running. Most of our graduates work in small firms and for the government. These are pipelines to judgeships.”