Timothy C. Evans of Hot Springs (Garland County) was the first African American to be elected as chief judge of the Cook County Circuit Court of Illinois. He was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2010.
Timothy Evans was born on June 1, 1943, in Hot Springs, to George Evans and Tiny Marie Evans. His father would later become a bailiff for the Illinois State Supreme Court, a position he held for twenty-seven years. Evans has two siblings: George W. Evans and Sandra M. Johnson.
As a child in Hot Springs, Evans wanted to be a doctor. The family moved to Chicago, Illinois, shortly after Governor Orval Faubus closed Little Rock (Pulaski County) public schools to impede desegregation, an act which his mother saw as a threat to the education of her children. At Hirsch High School, Evans realized that racism was still prevalent in the North when he was barred from attending until he showed the administrators his birth certificate; later, he was sent home because of his mustache, which was against school policy.
At the time of his graduation in 1961, the civil rights movement was in full force, which inspired Evans to change course and become a lawyer. He pointed to Thurgood Marshall and leaders in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as role models. He attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and was enrolled as a premed student, but he was advised that he could still go to law school and take those classes. He met his future wife, Thelma, an aspiring doctor, in anatomy class; they would have twin daughters. He graduated with a BS in zoology and began attending the John Marshall Law School in 1965, where he graduated four years later.
During law school, Evans worked as a clerk in domestic relations to pay for tuition. There, he became motivated in public service. His first job was assistant corporation counsel for the City of Chicago in the Torts Division. After two years, having never lost a case, he was promoted to deputy commissioner of the Department of Investigations, a position he held for eighteen months before becoming chief hearing officer of the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office, where he made a name for himself in Chicago politics.
In 1973, after the death of Alderman Claude Holman of Chicago’s Fourth Ward, a special election was held, and Evans won. He held this position until 1991. One of his primary goals was to bridge the socioeconomic gap between Oakland and the affluent Hyde Park areas of the ward. He played a role in opening several schools in the ward, as well as helping prevent Provident Hospital of Cook County, the first black-owned hospital in the county, from closing. He served as the chairman of the budget committee and the floor leader of the city council. In 1989, an election to replace acting mayor Eugene Sawyer forced Evans to run as an independent. He received more than 428,000 votes but lost to Democratic nominee Richard M. Daley. In 1992, Evans was elected as judge of the Cook County Fifth Subcircuit. In September 2001, he was elected as chief judge by unanimous vote of the circuit judges; he is the first African American to hold the post.
As chief judge, Evans oversees approximately 400 judges over the court’s ten divisions and six geographical districts. Evans has brought reforms to the court, including the creation of two court-wide divisions dedicated to domestic violence and elder law matters; court dedication to mental health and drug treatment; and measures to support veterans. He received the William H. Rehnquist Award for Judicial Excellence from the National Center for State Courts and the Liberty Achievement Award from the American Bar Association, as well as many other prestigious awards and honors.
For additional information:
Bureau of Justice Assistance, Criminal Courts Technical Assistance Project. “Review of the Cook County Felony Case Process and Its Impact on the Jail Population (Illinois). Justice Programs Office of American University, September 26, 2009. Online at http://jpo.wrlc.org/bitstream/handle/11204/1063/Review%20of%20the%20Cook%20County%20Felony%20
Case%20Process%20and%20its%20Impact%20on%20the%20Jail%20Population%20Illinois.pdf?sequence=3 (accessed August 16, 2016).
Dustin J. Seibert. “Arkansas Roots, Windy City Climb.” Chicago Lawyer (June 2013). Online at http://www.chicagolawyermagazine.com/Archives/2013/06/Timothy-C-Evans (accessed August 16, 2016).
“Office of the Chief Judge.” Circuit Court of Cook County. http://www.cookcountycourt.org/ABOUTTHECOURT/OfficeoftheChiefJudge.aspx (accessed August 16, 2016).
Hot Springs, Arkansas