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Well-known Lake County judge steps down

Judge Fred Foreman swears Lake County's 1st Case Review Board members courthouse WaukeganThursday February 21 2013. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media

Judge Fred Foreman swears in Lake County's 1st Case Review Board members at the courthouse in Waukeganon Thursday, February 21, 2013. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 9, 2014 5:28AM

Fred Foreman stepped down from the office of chief judge of the Lake County Circuit Court Monday, essentially marking the voluntary retirement of one of the most well-known figures in the county’s criminal justice history.

Foreman, 65, began his legal career as a law clerk in the Lake County Courthouse in 1973, just three years after the building was constructed.

Since then, he has been a public defender, a prosecutor, Lake County State’s Attorney, U.S. Attorney for Chicago, a felony judge and finally chief judge of the Lake County Circuit Court.

The most visible tenure of Foreman’s legal career was his appointment in 1990 as U.S. Attorney for Chicago by President George H. W. Bush, an office he held for three years.

Forman also served as Lake County State’s Attorney, elected to the office in 1980 and holding it until his 1990 appointment as U.S. Attorney.

In 1993, he joined the Chicago law firm of Freeborn & Peters, where he stayed until 2004, when he was elected as a judge in Lake County Circuit Court.

He served as a felony judge from 2004 to 2012, when he was appointed chief judge.

On Monday morning, Foreman spoke with The News-Sun about retiring from a lifetime devoted to criminal justice issues and pursuits, and his plans for the future.

Q: You have worked in almost all aspects of the criminal justice system. Which job was your favorite?

A: This (being chief judge) is right up there. The chief judge works with all of the stakeholders in the system and develops a consensus among people doing different things with different agencies.

Q: What do you view as your most important accomplishments?


We planned the new Lake County Jail and Babox Center between 1982 and 1988. It opened in 1990. It was an incentive in keeping the legal community downtown (Waukegan). I was elected state’s attorney on the basis that I would do what I could to stop crime. Obviously, we needed more jail space. What we had here in the county in the 1980s was too many criminals on the street with access to weapons.

More recently, the (planned) expansion of the courts will keep the legal community here until at least 2030, if not beyond that. It’s a real incentive to the legal community and benefit to Waukegan and the county.

Q: What are your top memories of serving as U.S. Attorney in Chicago?


It’s interesting, because the U.S. Attorney is appointed by the president and approved by Congress. It’s the same status as a four-star general, you serve at the pleasure of the president. There is a tremendous amount of pressure and responsibility attached to the job.

I rode on Marine One with President Bush the first when he was making visits in the area.

I came in at the tail end of Operation Greylord, which focused on public corruption and judicial corruption. And we also took down some of the main gangs in Chicago at the time.

Then with Operation Desert Storm, the focus was on anti-terrorism and targeting fundraising efforts in the U.S. for terrorism.

Q: What are the differences between street gangs then and now?


Organizations then resembled a corporate structure. Now, it’s more entrepreneurial.

Q: What are the most important advances in justice technology that you have seen?


We can get DNA evidence more quickly and deter wrongful convictions and misidentifications. At first, there was some skepticism, especially among prosecutors, but now I think (it is appreciated) by both sides. The bottom line is you can learn from every case. If one case points out a shortcoming, there is a value in saying “we will make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

I’m pleased with the kind of system we have here.

Q: What are the most infamous local cases in your memory?


Alton Coleman and Larry Eyler. They were serial killers. One of Coleman’s victims was Vernita Wheat, a (9-year-old) Waukegan girl. I was at the scene of the crime as State’s Attorney when they discovered her body. It was by the old Salvation Army Building on South Genesee Street.

Larry Eyler was a suspect in 21 killings, including one in Lake County.

And there was the Rouse murders in Libertyville (in 1980), and the abduction of Lisa Slusser (a 12-year-old abducted and killed in 1977. Former Waukegan resident Gary Kerpan eventually confessed to her murder. Billy Rouse, son of Darlene and Bruce Rouse, confessed to their murders years later after being arrested in Florida).

They eventually found those people. But it took some time.

Q: You have said you will spend some time as a pro-bono consultant for the court expansion project, but is it hard to retire from all of this?

A: No. I’m looking forward to having some additional time. It seems like I run out of time every weekend to do things I want to do. Travel. I haven’t decided if I want to practice law again. I’ll decide later.

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