2019 – Hon. Cheryl A. Starks

From the time she finished law school, Judge Cheryl A. Starks has dedicated her career to public service. She practiced as an Assistant Corporation Counsel for the City of Chicago and at the Chicago Board of Education Law Department before becoming a Judge in the Circuit Court of Cook County. When she retired from the bench in 2010, her commitment to public service did not stop, it just took on a new form.

Since that time, she has worked tirelessly on a volunteer basis with the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission (TIRC), the state agency authorized to gather evidence about claims of torture occurring in Cook County relating to former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge. As one colleague writes, “Judge Starks’ unyielding efforts[s] provided long overdue due process” on behalf of the many victims who were tortured to obtain incriminating statements and convicted without due process.

Faced with many funding and administrative challenges, Judge Starks never gave up on TIRC’s mission. She remained focused on the organization’s mission of healing the wrongs of the systemic torture committed against dozens of poor, African American men and providing a space for judicial review. Under Judge Stark’s guidance and advocacy, TIRC grew into a stronger, more effective institution than it had been prior to her involvement. Judge Starks was in constant contact with the Commission, tirelessly working to ensure that due process would finally be available to those who had been deprived of it many years ago. Throughout her efforts, Judge Starks recognized the responsibility judges have in making the system work and righting past wrongs as she fought to preserve the financial security and integrity of the Commission.

Judge Starks understood the injustice that took place under Jon Burge and worked tirelessly to correct it. Her work with the TIRC was not without challenges and frustrations, but Judge Starks maintained an unwavering commitment to the mission, underscoring her commitment to both public service and the equal protection under the law.