Joliet lawyer hopes to become Will County Courthouse judge
Years ago, when Vincent F. Cornelius began pondering the idea of becoming a judge, he knew the timing had to be right.
“For a long time, I’ve considered it,” he said. “People have always said to me, ‘Vince, I think you’d make a great judge. Have you ever thought about being a judge? Vince, when are you going to apply to be judge?’ [People] always said that to me, and I’ve always shunned the conversation very quickly. Now, I find myself wanting to do that.”
His current campaign is all part of his overarching vision.
“I thought I would do it perhaps early in my career, or at this stage in my career,” Cornelius said. “This stage of my career, it feels right for me right now.”
Cornelius is a Joliet native and resident of Will County for nearly 40 years, 13 of them at his current residence in Naperville. He is committed to seeking justice in the courts and prides himself on remaining grounded to his roots.
Cornelius first began working as an assistant state’s attorney in DuPage County and went on to become a prosecutor for the Law Firm of James D. Montgomery and Associates, a prominent law firm in downtown Chicago. His practice, the Law Offices of Vincent F. Cornelius, with locations in Wheaton and Joliet, has served in the community for more than 22 years.
With a career in law spanning 28 years, Cornelius has a history of service to the legal community, with having had an opportunity to serve as president of the Illinois State Bar Association, as president of the Illinois Bar Foundation and as chancellor of the Academy of Illinois Lawyers. Currently, he is board member for the American Bar Association House of Delegates.
“I have really enjoyed being an advocate, being a leader, and a decision-maker in all of those places,” Cornelius said. “I feel I am very prepared now to transition all of those experiences, all those skillsets to the bench, and to use those experiences and skillsets as a judge.”
Cornelius said there is a need for a candidate with sound judgment, a bend toward fairness and justice, a level-head, and a concern for making sure the right course of action results.
“I think those things describe me,” he said.
The court system in Will County, like anywhere else, has its share of challenges.
“I don’t know that they’re very different in Will County than most urban places,” Cornelius said. “A significant issue in Will County is opioid use and abuse and how our judicial system should handle people who have addiction to opioids.”
Historically, the approach has been to incarcerate such persons.
“I think the entire judicial system in Illinois now is coming to recognize that you incarcerate the sick person and your return the sick person to the community to do the same thing that they’re sickness caused them to do, and it’s a vicious cycle,” Cornelius said. “That is the issue that’s at the forefront of Will County’s judicial system right now.”
Other issues of note, he said, are the construction of the new courthouse and question of how resources are allocated.
“I envision bringing my very broad perspective, and my very broad perspective includes having lived in Will County for more than 40 years and having been educated in Will County in elementary, middle school, high school and college,” Cornelius said. “I’ve worked as a prosecutor; I’ve worked as a criminal defense attorney; I have worked as a civil litigator, as well, so my experience for someone who is pursuing the bench is broader than most. I think that’s what’s going to make the difference for me.”
Cornelius prides himself on understanding that every case, no matter how big or small, is important to his client.
“I treat that very small case and that very client who brings that very small case, the same way that I treat that case that is very large,” Cornelius said. “It’s not always easy to do because obviously, one commands a lot more of a time commitment than the other, but I want my client to feel that his/her case is as significant to me as it is to him or her.”
Cornelius gave credit to his upbringing for helping him to become a first-generation lawyer.
“I was raised in a household like that,” he said. “My mother was a teacher for 34 years, here, in the Joliet Public Schools system. I always say that the first judge you encounter in life are your parents. The next judge you encounter in life are your teachers. My mother happened to be a teacher, so I was raised in a house of a person who thought like a judge.”
Cornelius said he is committed to supporting those who express an interest in pursuing a career in law.
“I think it’s really important to have mentors in the profession,” Cornelius said. “I had great mentors in the profession. I still have people I consider to be mentors, and I call on when I’m trying to figure some things out.”
Cornelius, if he takes the bench, is looking to assume the position left vacant by the Hon. Carla Alessio Policandriotes, who is stepping down later this year. If he succeeds in the March 20 primary election, he will campaign against Victoria McKay Kennison.
“There is no higher honor, or calling, than ensuring that our citizens believe they received justice,” Cornelius said. “Sometimes they receive justice and they don’t believe that they did, because they don’t understand that they did. I take very seriously the opportunity to serve as a circuit judge, and I take very seriously what it means to the citizens of Will County. I’ve worked really hard in every aspect of my life—my community, my family, in the legal profession, and in my business—to prepare for this opportunity, and I feel very prepared to serve as a Will County Circuit judge.”