Our Commissioner Spotlights highlight the judges, lawyers, and educators from across Illinois who serve as our Commissioners. These legal leaders are known for their reputation for professionalism and contributions to the bar and to their communities. The Illinois Supreme Court appoints Commissioners to a three-year term of volunteer service.
Judge Franklin U. Valderrama is a judge on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and has served on the Commission since 2021. Judge Valderrama was born in Panama City, Panama, and is the first Panamanian American to serve as an Article III judge in the Northern District of Illinois.
Prior to joining the District Court, Judge Valderrama was a judge in the General Chancery Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County and a partner at Sanchez, Daniels & Hoffman, the largest minority-owned law firm in the City of Chicago, where he focused his practice on civil litigation. He has also served as an Adjunct Professor at UIC John Marshall Law School. Additionally, Judge Valderrama is a member of the Court Rules Committee and the Illinois Supreme Court Committee on Evidence.
You were the first Panamanian American judge to serve in the Northern District of Illinois and were nominated to fill the seat of Judge Ruben Castillo, the first Latino judge in the Northern District of Illinois and the first to become Chief Judge. What is the significance of this and of diversity on the bench?
It is a privilege and honor to follow in the footsteps of Judge Ruben Castillo. I believe that a diverse federal judiciary is vitally important to the administration of justice. A judiciary that reflects the community garners the respect of the citizenry and lends credibility to the legitimacy of its decisions. At a time when public confidence in so many of our institutions is waning, it is paramount to maintain—indeed, to enhance—the respect for the judiciary. As the first Panamanian American judge to serve in the Northern District of Illinois, I bring my own life experiences to the bench and that diversity of experiences strengthens the judiciary.
As a judge, how do you promote civility?
I believe that a judge promotes civility by how that judge runs his or her courtroom. That is, the manner in which the judge interacts with attorneys, litigants, and courtroom staff, sets the tone in the courtroom. To that end, I try to promote civility by being courteous, respectful, and attentive. It is my hope that attorneys and litigants in turn model that behavior towards each other and the court. That said, when attorneys and/or litigants are disrespectful or rude, the judge must intercede. A judge cannot turn a blind eye to conduct that negatively impacts the proceeding and undermines respect for the judiciary and/or the legal process. It is the judge’s responsibility to ensure that attorneys, litigants, and staff exhibit civility in the courtroom.
From a judge’s perspective, what is the cost of incivility for lawyers and their clients?
The most obvious cost of incivility for lawyers and their clients can be monetary in the form of sanctions. A hidden, but more lasting, cost is damage to reputation. An attorney who is rude or disrespectful, to opposing counsel or the court inflicts damage to his or her reputation.
What is the most important thing lawyers and judges can do to improve the profession?
I think that the most important thing that lawyers and judges can do to improve the profession is to try, at all times, to model civility and professionalism. Being rude or arrogant is not a formula for enduring success.
Our Commissioner Spotlights recognize the judges, lawyers, and educators from across Illinois who serve as our Commissioners. Check out more interviews with our current and past Commissioners here.
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