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Senior Cook County judge to retire after 30 years on the bench

Presiding Chancery Judge Moshe Jacobius is stepping down after three decades of work in the Chicago-area court system that included the development an assistance program for homeowners facing foreclosure.

CHICAGO (CN) — The office of Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans announced the retirement of the county's Presiding Chancery Judge Moshe Jacobius on Thursday, ending a 30-year career on the bench.

Jacobius, 75, began his career as a judge in Chicago's Cook County in 1991, filling a vacancy in the Domestic Relations Division.

“I wish Judge Jacobius well in his retirement,” Evans said in a prepared statement. “We will miss his keen intelligence, competence, kindness, steadiness, and always thoughtful approach to justice, and we applaud him for his many years of service to the citizens of Illinois.” 

Jacobius was born in Israel in 1947 and immigrated to the U.S. with his family at age 10. He is an alumnus of the University of Illinois and DePaul University's College of Law. Prior to serving as a judge, he worked as a teacher in the Chicago public school district from 1969 to 1974, and then as a prosecutor in the Illinois Attorney General's Office for 16 years. He served in the Domestic Relations Division, eventually as its presiding judge from 2000 on, before being appointed as presiding judge of the Chancery Division in 2010.

Despite lawyers complaining of him having a "poor judicial temperament" in 2006, the Chicago Council of Lawyers has consistently rated him "qualified" or "well-qualified" as a judge.

"Judge Jacobius is considered exceptionally knowledgeable with very good legal ability. His rulings are reported to be clear and timely," his 2018 evaluation states.

Contemporary court staff also praised Jacobius for his amiability as a judge.

"He's just a very kind and generous person to work with," one of Jacobius' staff members said of him.

The judge is most well known for navigating and improving the court's handling of the 2008 financial crisis, and the mass wave of foreclosures that characterized it.

Bob Glaves, executive director of the Chicago Bar Foundation, said Jacobius was instrumental in developing the county's Mortgage Foreclosure Mediation Program. The program, launched under Jacobius' predecessor Dorothy Kinnaird, offers homeowners who receive a foreclosure summons access to housing counseling and legal assistance at no charge.

"Going back to the Great Recession... there was a flood of foreclosures. Four or five thousand a month," Glaves said. "He came in at the height of the volume."

Jacobius, Glaves explained, brought in more case managers to help handle foreclosure cases as soon as they were filed, and encouraged them to help homeowners find alternatives to foreclosure. Glaves also said the judge held banks accountable for treating homeowners fairly and processing their legal forms quickly, at a time when thousands were going through an inherently traumatic process.

"He's a very good people person," Glaves said. "He's good at bringing people together."

More recently, Jacobius also started a pilot program in 2019 to conduct foreclosure hearings remotely by video conference, which helped prepare the court system for the Covid-19 pandemic. Since 2020, many county court proceedings have been carried out over Zoom and livestreamed for observers via YouTube.

Jacobius also presided over two cases emblematic of Illinois' botched attempt to grant cannabis dispensary licenses to victims of racist drug war policies. The judge found the lottery application system for the limited number of state licenses had inherent flaws in how it evaluated applicants, saying in August 2021 that it's possible "the whole thing will have to be redone."

He allowed several initially disqualified applicants to join the license lottery, but also blocked the issuance of any new licenses after Sep. 1, 2021. This has left the applicants in a legal limbo while their cases are resolved, and it is unclear what effect Jacobius' retirement will have on the ongoing litigation.

Jacobius himself did not immediately respond to a request for comment. His retirement is effective Sunday, Jan. 30. The court has not yet announced who will replace him as presiding judge of the Chancery Division.

"We thank Judge Jacobius for all his leadership and good work on the bench, and we wish him all the best in his next act," the Chicago Bar Foundation said in statement.

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