A portrait of former Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Ben Miller, unveiled Monday in the lobby of the Sangamon County Complex, is just across from a likeness of President Abraham Lincoln.
“For me, it’s really a pleasure to be back in the Sangamon County courthouse, with Abe Lincoln and all of you,” Miller said at the ceremony.
Miller, 83, spoke to a gathering of friends and current and former officials, including Supreme Court Justices Rita Garman and Lloyd Karmeier. He said his first jury trial as a young lawyer in 1961 was in what is now the Old State Capitol. The building served as the Sangamon County courthouse at the time but as the state Capitol, it also was where the 16th president laid in state after his assassination in 1865.
“In the entire 199-year history of Sangamon County, we have only one resident who has risen from the bench in Sangamon County to the state Supreme Court, and that is Ben Miller, who we honor today,” said Sangamon County Board Chair Andy Van Meter. Miller was on the state Supreme Court from 1984 to 2001, representing the 4th Judicial District, which takes in 30 counties including Sangamon. He was chief justice from 1991 to Jan. 1, 1994. He also had been a circuit and appellate court judge. He now splits time between Springfield and Chicago and continues to practice law at the Jenner & Block law firm in Chicago.
Among other accomplishments, Garman credited Miller with having a “groundbreaking role” working on behalf of battered women.
“At a time when the issue of domestic violence was not considered a big problem or a serious problem, Ben took that on,” Garman said. “He worked tirelessly in the area, culminating with his creation of the Illinois Family Violence Coordinating Council, which is still a very viable part of our system in Illinois. His leadership and commitment to the prevention of family violence has been so significant that the council created an award in his name and in his honor.”
Garman succeeded Miller representing the 4th District on the court, and called him “a great friend and mentor.”
“Justice Miller has been an inspiration to me personally in my career, and to many others,” she said.
Miller was a 2019 recipient of the Order of Lincoln award from the Lincoln Academy of Illinois. It is considered the state’s highest citizen honor. “For generations of lawyers and litigants and judges, Justice Miller has been a model for what a good judge should be,” Karmeier said, before he, Garman and Miller pulled the cover from the portrait.
According to John Lupton, executive director of the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission, the portrait is a replica of the original painting which hangs with those of other chief justices at the Supreme Court building in Springfield. The painting of Miller was done by artist James J. Ingwersen.
Each chief justice back to Walter Schaefer in the 1960s has a portrait there, Lupton said. It was decided about two years ago that copies should be placed where those justices or their families want. Miller asked that his go to the Sangamon County courthouse, Lupton said.
Miller, who until age 82 had a sailboat, said he has continued to travel and has “kept a real interest in life in general.”
Asked what advice he would give a 2020 law school graduate, Miller said: “Work hard, be prepared, and do a good job for your clients.”
This story appeared in the State Journal Register on January 8, 2020.
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