Although Cook County Circuit Judge Tommy H. Brewer may serve a more administrative role as the Markham Courthouse’s new acting presiding judge, his heart will always be in the courtroom.
That’s the reason he doesn’t mind presiding over extra court calls to cover gaps while the south suburban court facility prepares to add several newly assigned judges.
But even once new judges are assigned by Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans to fill those spots next week, Brewer indicated he would like to stay active in the courtroom beyond the behind-the-scenes administrative work tasked to presiding judges.
“I’ve got to be in that courtroom. I don’t care where or how, just as long as I’m in there,” said Brewer, who Evans appointed as 6th Municipal District’s presiding judge in January following the retirement of then-presiding judge Marjorie C. Laws.
“Some [presiding judges] have been on the bench 15 years and have done enough trial work,” Brewer said. “I still like to be in there. I’m just wired that way.”
Beyond enjoying the pace at which judges can work through a court call, Brewer said he likes to watch lawyers in their element advocating for clients.
Brewer, a Chicago native who graduated from Northwestern University School of Law in 1976, had a career path that traded law for law enforcement at one point and later relocated to the East Coast before returning home.
Brewer’s plan out of law school was to take a job as a Cook County assistant state’s attorney, but he met an FBI agent shortly after graduation who encouraged him to apply for a spot as a special agent with the bureau.
Brewer said he hadn’t necessarily set out to work for the FBI. He spent five years investigating cases to bring to the U.S. attorney for prosecution.
Even then, Brewer said he felt the pull toward courtroom action.
“I would watch some trials, and I just missed it,” he said. “When I would go over to the federal building, I would see trials and I would think, ‘This is what I was meant to do.’”
Brewer eventually joined the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office in 1981, serving in what was then its new gang prosecution unit.
One of his favorite aspects of that job was going into communities, engaging with youth, talking to residents about their concerns and helping them improve their lives.
His role with the gang unit also called for him to track down former community residents and encourage them to testify in criminal cases.
“I had to talk to them about bringing them back to testify, and how important that was, and understand the fear that you go through when called upon to testify,” he said. “That was very satisfying because we got a lot of good prosecution from people who were reluctant to come back.”
A few years later while visiting a friend in Massachusetts, Brewer met Frank Bellotti, at the time the Massachussetts attorney general.
Bellotti was facing criticism for his failure to bring civil rights cases against police officers for alleged police misconduct, and he wanted his office to hire someone outside of Massachusetts’ political circles to handle such cases. He asked Brewer to help him in that regard because he thought Brewer was suited for such a position.
But Bellotti later decided he wasn’t going to run for another term as attorney general, Brewer said, so all of the cases Brewer spent time preparing “were put on the back burner” and he was transferred to the office’s Medicaid fraud unit.
“Working with those kinds of cases, I know politically how difficult it was to bring those cases. You’d try to interview people and witnesses, and they were very hostile,” he said. “Thirty years later, you still have the same issues and difficulties with bringing these types of cases. I fully appreciated the sensitivity of it.”
Brewer returned to Chicago and began a three-year stint in 1991 serving as the chief administrative law judge for the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation, where he said he and three other judges heard disciplinary cases for all professions except lawyers.
He became the department’s director of enforcement in 1993 — a post he maintained until he entered private practice in 1996.
Brewer focused his practice on criminal defense, but he said it took some time for him to adjust to his role on the other side of criminal investigations and prosecutions.
Brewer appeared before Associate Judge Michelle M. Pitman for some of his client’s criminal cases, and his demeanor as an advocate was something she said stuck out to her.
“He was always very pleasant to the court and to the opposing counsel, yet firm in representing his client,” she said. “He had that nice balance which always stuck out with me that he would represent his client but yet not in a way where he was making judges angry or other attorneys angry.”
It’s those qualities that Pitman said gave her confidence he would carry that same upstanding demeanor to the bench when he was appointed a circuit judge by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2010.
Pitman, who’s been assigned to the Markham Courthouse since 2003, said Brewer is approachable and has the specific type of personality that allows someone to represent the court in the community and work with the different public offices that have an interest in what happens at the court.
“It’s not just getting on the bench and ruling every day,” she said. “He’s absolutely up to the task to be acting presiding judge.”
Evans met Brewer decades ago when he was an alderman. He said he chose Brewer to lead the 6th Municipal District because he knew someone with his experience would be good to man a court that is “bursting at the seams.”
“It is full of some of the most complicated and important cases in the south suburbs, and we don’t have enough courtrooms to really dispose of the cases as efficiently as I would like,” he said. “I needed someone with a strong voice and a commitment to leadership out there, and that’s why I chose Tommy Brewer. He’s going to do a great job.”
Brewer’s personality and compassion are traits his colleagues say haven’t changed over time.
“He has a unique perspective that is highlighted with his competency and his ability to apply the law in an objective fashion to the best of all parties involved,” said Circuit Judge Carl B. Boyd, who Brewer mentored when he arrived at the Markham Courthouse in 2013.
“Character and personality should not change once you become a judge, and Tommy’s overall personality has not changed. He’s still the same diplomatic man and he’s a very effective leader. He brings to the bench a litany of experience, and there’s no doubt that he’s going to make an amazing impact here in the 6th District.”