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Compassion in the courtroom and community

Submitted on Thu, 10/11/2007 – 12:27.
The petite Shelley Sutker-Dermer whisks around her kitchen preparing an almost unimaginable feast for the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. The menu includes six briskets, sweet and sour meatballs, a vegetable soufflé and tzimmes, a traditional Jewish dish of carrots, sweet potatoes, honey and prunes.

Sutker-Dermer cherishes these moments when she can enjoy the company of her family.

In her professional life, Sutker-Dermer is the presiding judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County’s Second Municipal District in Skokie. Despite her duties and extended hours, she also makes her family and community a priority.

“My days are very full,” said Sutker-Dermer, who began her legal career as a Cook County assistant state’s attorney in the early 1980’s. After receiving her law degree from Chicago-Kent College of Law, she was appointed judge in 1995, elected in 1996 and re-elected in 2002.

In the courtroom, Sutker-Dermer deals with criminal justice and domestic violence cases. For her efforts, she has been honored by several bar associations and received the Sanford Blustin Public Service Award.

When dealing with such intense crimes, it can be almost impossible not to be affected, especially by the more violent cases, Sutker-Dermer said.

“You can’t take things too personal but I can’t say I don’t take things home,” she said. “(But) I know how to focus on the issue and I can make a decision.”

The theme of Sutker-Dermer’s work, inside and outside the courtroom, seems to be her commitment to community.

“I admire how she genuinely cares about people,” says fellow Cook County Circuit Judge Garritt Howard. “She’s really good at reading people; she can tell if somebody is trying to snow her. But she is just an excellent administrator, very knowledgeable, and has a tremendous amount of energy.”

That energy extends into her role as community member.

Rabbi Jonathan Ginsberg of Ezra-Habonim, the Niles Township Jewish Congregation, says Sutker-Dermer is a very present member of the synagogue, serving on the executive committee and contributing whenever she can to specific events.

Sutker-Dermer also donates time to social causes and groups, such as NA’AMAT USA, whose mission is to support the women and children of Israel. Sutker-Dermer’s mother, Phyllis, once served as national president.

“From her [mother], Shelley learned commitment and devotion,” says Barbara Novick, executive director of NA’AMAT’s Greater Chicago Council. “Whenever there is a reason to honor or memorialize someone, Shelley turns first to NA’AMAT. Her contributions… go to good use in NA’AMAT’s programs for women, children and families in Israel.”

This dedication to community lead Sutker-Dermer to develop “What Teens Should Know About the Criminal Justice System,” a program now taught in Skokie-area high school health classes. It aims to educate teenagers of long-term consequences of their immediate actions, such as underage drinking and drug use.

“The program came from my experience having teenage children,” Sutker-Dermer said. “I was concerned when I kept hearing teens say ‘I didn’t know I couldn’t do that.’”

“What Teens Should Know” consists of a series of speakers, including former addicts, a police officer, a judge and a healthcare professional. They discuss teen laws on topics such as underage drinking and driving and the ramification of such choices.

“She has always shown a willingness to participate on behalf of others,” says Sutker-Dermer’s father, Calvin Sutker, a former Cook County commissioner. “She treats people with dignity and looks beyond herself. She was always concerned about society. She’s an activist in the most venerated sense of the word.”

Such care and concern for others’ well-being may explain the pains Sutker-Dermer takes in preparation for the Rosh Hashanah meal—a time when the judge could be relaxing.

Sutker-Dermer gains satisfaction from family traditions and togetherness. Her ambition and compassion combine inside the courtroom, her community and her home.

Justice & Crime Public
2nd circuit court cook county shelley sutker-dermer

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