Please join the NIU College of Law’s Embracing Diversity Series for a panel discussion, “Diversity from the Bench: Teasing Out Implicit Bias in the Judicial System,” on Saturday, February 27 from 3-4:30 p.m.
Register via zoom.
Hon. Vincent Cornelius (’89), 12th Judicial Circuit
Hon. René Cruz (’95), 16th Judicial Circuit
Hon. Sondra Denmark (’04), Circuit Court of Cook County
Hon. Sheree Henry (’94), Circuit Court of Cook County
Hon. Diann Marsalek (’89), Circuit Court of Cook County
Hon. Joseph McGraw (’85), 17th Judicial Circuit
Professor Tiffany Puckett, J.D., Ph.D.
Professor Puckett is an Assistant Professor of Educational Administration in the NIU College of Education. She also teaches education law in the College of Law during the fall semesters. Her research interests include education law/policy, school finance, disability policy, adolescent/teen parent policy, school discipline and cultural competence. She is a former attorney for the District of Columbia Public Schools and Baltimore City Public Schools. She has a Ph.D. in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership and a J.D., both from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She also has her B.S. in Political Science from Northern Illinois University.
The Honorable Vincent F. Cornelius (’89) is a Circuit Judge of the Twelfth Circuit Court of Illinois, elected in 2018. Prior to joining the bench, he was the founder and principal of the Law Offices of Vincent F. Cornelius, with offices in Joliet and Wheaton. He was an associate attorney with the James D. Montgomery Associates in Chicago and also served as an Assistant State’s Attorney in DuPage County.
Judge Cornelius was elected as the first Black President of the Illinois State Bar Association in its 140-year history. He is the only lawyer in Illinois history to serve as President of the Illinois State Bar Association, the Illinois Bar Foundation, and as Chancellor of the Academy of Illinois Lawyers. Judge Cornelius is a founding member of the Black Bar Association of Will County. He has served on the Governor’s Commissions, Supreme Court Commissions, Legislative Committees, University, and Hospital Boards.
Judge Cornelius has received many awards for his accomplishments, including the Martin Luther King Journey Award, the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of St. Francis, the Medgar Evers Award from the NAACP, and the New Canaanland Christian Church Community Leadership Award. He was also inducted into the Boys & Girls Club of Joliet Hall of Fame. He is an active NIU College of Law alumnus where currently serves as the Chairman of the NIU Law Board of Visitors. He is the founder and co-host of the NIU Law Minority Reception which began 18 years ago. He is a mentor to students and is a recipient of the Northern Illinois University College of Law’s Outstanding Alum Award and its Alum of the Year Award.
The Honorable René Cruz (’95), Kane County’s first Latino judge, is a judge of the Sixteenth Circuit Court of Illinois and is currently the Presiding Judge of the Family Division. Judge Cruz was appointed as a Circuit Judge for the First Subcircuit in July of 2016 and an Associate Judge in 2012. Before taking the bench, Judge Cruz had an extensive criminal law practice in Illinois for 17 years with Ed Gil, his former law partner at Gil & Cruz. Judge Cruz obtained his Juris Doctor from Northern Illinois University College of Law and graduated in 1995 with honors.
The Honorable Sondra N. Denmark (’04) was installed as a Cook County Circuit Court Judge in the Second Judicial Subcircuit on December 27, 2018, and reelected in 2020. Prior to her appointment, Judge Denmark served as an Assistant State’s Attorney for 13 years, spending the last 10 years in the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office and three years in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office from 2004-2007. She has also worked as a solo practitioner.
The Honorable Sheree D. Henry (’94) was installed as a Cook County Circuit Court Judge in August of 2019 and reelected in 2020. Prior to her appointment, Judge Henry served as an Assistant Public Defender for 20 years in the Cook County Public Defender’s Office. Her role as an assistant public defender allowed her to represent all the individuals in the Drug Court, Mental Health Court, and Veterans Court Programs in the Markham Courthouse. These programs provided sobriety, health education, and life coping skills to prevent individuals from returning into the criminal justice system. From 1995-1999, Judge Henry became an Assistant Public Guardian where she worked tirelessly to represent abused and neglected children. She also worked briefly at a civil rights firm for 4 months.
Judge Henry has devoted her entire career to being the voice for the voiceless in and out of the courtroom. She has volunteered at food pantries and hosted expungement seminars. Judge Henry is an active member of Homewood Veterans Committee, Democratic Women of South Suburbs and Trinity United Church of Christ. She frequently speaks at churches, park districts and schools explaining the how the criminal justice system works.
The Honorable Diann K. Marsalek (’89) is a judge in the Circuit Court of Cook County and is currently the Acting Presiding Judge of the Traffic Division. Judge Marsalek was first appointed to the bench in 2011, and first elected countywide as Circuit Judge in 2012. From 2011 to 2014, she worked in the First Municipal District, adjudicating evictions, torts, contracts, and post-judgment enforcement. Since May 2014, Judge Marsalek has been the Supervising Judge of the First Municipal District’s Traffic Court located in the Daley Center, and oversees judges assigned to traffic court as their first assignment. She was part of a committee that worked on improving training for new judges and has subsequently trained approximately 150 new judges.
Before her appointment to the judiciary, Judge Marsalek served as an attorney for government agencies, including the Illinois Secretary of State and the Illinois Attorney General. She served as chief legal counsel for the Illinois Department of Corrections and has extensive jury trial experience in civil rights cases before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
The Honorable Joseph G. McGraw (’85) is a judge of the Seventeenth Circuit Court of Illinois and has been the Presiding Judge of the Criminal Division since 2004. Judge McGraw was appointed as a Circuit Judge in 2002 and was elected in November of the same year. He served as Presiding Judge in Boone County from 2002-2003 and was Chief Judge of the 17th Judicial Circuit from January 2011 – December of 2017.
Currently, Judge McGraw is also the chairman of the Supreme Court Committee on Equality, and he serves on the both the Supreme Court Judicial Performance Evaluation and the Legislative Committees. Judge McGraw is a regular instructor for the Illinois Appellate Prosecutor’s Trial Advocacy Program, an active member of the Illinois Supreme Court Special Committees on Minimum Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) and Judicial Ethics, and a former faculty member of the Illinois Supreme Court Committee on Capital Litigation.
Judge McGraw was admitted to practice before the U.S. District Courts for the Northern and Central Districts of Illinois and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. Prior to joining the bench, Judge McGraw practiced personal injury, medical malpractice, product liability, civil rights and insurance law with the law firm he founded in 1995, the Law Office of Joseph G. McGraw, in Rockford, Illinois. Previously, he was a partner in the law firm of Turner & McGraw where he concentrated in personal injury and medical malpractice cases. He also served as an Assistant State’s Attorney in Warren and Winnebago Counties where he prosecuted violent crimes and other offenses. Additionally, Judge McGraw was certified by the Supreme Court as a mediator in the Alternative Dispute Resolution Pilot Program for the 17th Judicial Court.