When James E. Shadid was recognized in the second class of 40 Leaders Under Forty in 1995, he was a private attorney and part-time public defender with a record of “against-the-odds” victories. He also served on the Illinois Court of Claims and as assistant attorney general for the State of Illinois prior to his appointment to the Tenth Judicial Circuit of Illinois in 2001.
After winning two retention elections, Shadid was nominated by President Barack Obama for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois, which encompasses 46 counties from Springfield to Rock Island. He began his federal appointment in March 2011, and has served with distinction as Chief Judge of the court since 2012.
In addition to his broad legal experience, Shadid has an extensive record of community involvement, serving as board president of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Peoria and on the boards of PARC, the Pediatric Resource Center and his alma mater, Bradley University, among others. Peoria Magazines is proud to recognize the Honorable James E. Shadid as the 2016 40 Leaders Under Forty Alumnus of the Year.
Tell us about your early years growing up in Peoria.
I had a wonderful upbringing. We lived at 2333 N. Ellis St., just south of McClure and one block west of Sheridan, until I was in college. Dad was a Peoria police officer, and often my brother George and I would arrive home from school, change our clothes, grab our ball gloves (and Dad’s), wait for him at the bus stop, and then walk home and start tossing the ball with him.
I am sure we didn’t have any excesses, but we thought we had everything. A stable home, plenty of friends, a Stingray bicycle to get me places, and bats, balls and gloves for when I got there.
Describe your education and career path. How did you first take an interest in law?
I received a good education at both St. Cecilia’s Grade School and Peoria High. The thought of being a lawyer did not occur to me; of the people I hung out with, I didn’t really know anyone whose parents were lawyers. I did, however, know a lot of policemen. They were good people, doing good work. As a result, I naturally developed an interest in law enforcement. I wouldn’t say that Dad and Mom discouraged me from being a police officer, but they didn’t encourage it either. Dad didn’t go to high school (actually, he went one day, as I am told) and Mom completed Manual, but they emphasized that George and I would go to college. Some of my cousins and I were the first of our extended family to go to college.
My interest in law enforcement became a more expanded interest in law during college at Bradley. I took a lot of political science, history and sociology courses. The professors were very engaging, and I started thinking about a career in law. But of course, I knew none of that would matter because I was going to play Major League Baseball!
After a one-year stint in the minor leagues, I applied for and was accepted to law school. Not having family or many friends who went to graduate school, I did not realize the importance of the admissions test. That may sound naïve, but it was true. As a result, I didn’t take a prep course. I scored just average (or below) and applied to four schools. Three denied me admission, and one let me in. I went to that one! The John Marshall Law School in Chicago. Although I am not necessarily proud of my admission test score, I do believe it is an example of not judging someone’s abilities to succeed only by test scores. I think the world is full of examples of people excelling after given an opportunity to do so.
Tell us more about your years as a ballplayer.
Like most kids, I played the sport of the season: football, basketball and baseball. I was an average- to maybe a little better-than-average baseball player at Peoria High, but wasn’t good enough that any colleges were all that interested. I would have probably ended up at a junior college, but for the call I received from Bradley’s baseball coach at the time, Chuck Buescher. Coach took me to Hunt’s Drive-In on Farmington Road for a root beer and tenderloin, and offered me an opportunity to play baseball at Bradley. I said yes without a second thought.
I arrived at Bradley as a right-hand-hitting shortstop. I was a decent hitter and infielder with an average throwing arm, good baseball instincts, and I could run really well. My eyes were opened playing Division 1 baseball. Between seasons after my freshman year, I taught myself to switch-hit and learned to play center field to take advantage of my speed chasing down fly balls. My sophomore year, I broke Bradley’s single-season stolen base record and tied for the Missouri Valley lead in stolen bases. Thirty-seven years later, I still hold Bradley’s single-season and career stolen base records.
Coach Buescher later told me the reason he called me was because of the legendary former Manual coach, Ed Stonebock. Although he coached at another high school, Coach Stonebock called Bradley’s coach and said there was a young man at Peoria High who could run well, who he believed had not fully developed as a ballplayer—a local kid worth taking a chance on. I say this because, whether you know it or not, people are watching you, and watching out for you. Inevitably, someone will give you an opportunity. We should be prepared when that opportunity comes.
I signed with the San Francisco Giants after my senior year at Bradley, and played one summer in the minor leagues. I had some success and enjoyed professional baseball, but I wasn’t going to be moved up. I could see the handwriting on the wall and saw too many guys without a college education who were destined for four, five or six years in the minor leagues. I chose to move on and applied to law schools. I was just being realistic.
Tell us about the early years of your law career.
I started practicing law in November 1983. Attorney Harry Sonnemaker gave me the use of an office and staff at very little cost so I could develop my own practice. I handled some cases for him to help pay off the rent. He was very generous to me.
Attorney Thomas Penn was the Peoria County Public Defender, and he gave me a public defender slot, starting in juvenile court. In Peoria County, assistant public defenders worked under an independent contract theory, which allows them to have their own private practice of law at the same time. In 1984, Jane (Kelly) and I married. We have three children: Jim, Joe and Maggie.
I assume my early years were like most everyone else when starting in a job or profession: stressful to pay the bills, yet hopeful for a successful life. Balancing family and work was never really an issue because family came first—I was raised that way. Within a few years, Mr. Penn moved me to a felony courtroom, which I really enjoyed. I learned so much about people, the system, the process, the judges, the jurors… and how intertwined they really are. Our system may not be perfect—and we should constantly address any shortcomings—but it is truly the greatest system in the world. I believe this real-life experience helps me today as a judge.
Did you have a mentor along the way?
I have had many mentors and role models—too numerous to mention all of them. At the risk of offending some, I will mention a few.
It was simple with Dad and Mom. You treat people right, your word matters, and you don’t shame the family name. I am not sure what it is like to be the son of a police officer today. So much has changed in police work. But when I was young, I knew so many fine police officers who were daily examples of how police and community could interact.
My uncle Phil Abraham was a positive influence on me. I spent many Saturday mornings sitting in his garage around a wood-burning pot belly stove, drinking coffee and listening to him. He had very little formal education, was a welder by trade, and was very, very wise.
In law, Harry Sonnemaker, Thomas Penn and Ron Hamm provided much guidance to me. I learned from many judges by listening and watching, including people like Mike Mihm, Joe McDade and Bob Manning.
At Bradley, Chuck Buescher was a really positive influence, constantly reminding us how we should represent ourselves and the university, as athletes and as young men. Bradley was (and is) a great place. My time there—and my interaction with faculty, staff, coaches and administrators—was all positive.
Today, Jane and I have a whole bunch of friends who are doing good things around this community, and I consider them role models as well.
I would describe myself as a listener and observer. I don’t think I know everything, and I believe I know my limitations. I appreciate the positive traits I see in others and try to incorporate them into my own life to the extent I am able. I have been very lucky to have so many positive people in my life.
What is a typical day like as a judge?
Being a judge is interesting work. First and foremost, we must recognize that the case isn’t about us. The parties must be able to enter the courtroom knowing, win or lose, that the playing field is level, they had an opportunity to be heard, and they got a fair shake.
A typical day depends on whether there is a trial currently underway. If so, the trial consumes each and every day until it comes to an end. Most trials end within a week; a few go longer. If there isn’t a trial, the week is generally scheduled with pre-trial hearings from pending cases (civil and criminal), guilty pleas or sentencings. A couple of days are left open to stay on top of office work, including administrative duties as the Chief Judge for the Central District, or research and writing with my staff on pending matters that need attention.
I currently have approximately 340 active cases. The magistrate judge handles the pre-trial discovery on most of the civil cases. I have a terrific staff that stays on top of our docket management, researching and writing to help move cases toward resolution. We are busy, but not overwhelmed. We handle it.
Are there specific highlights from your career that stand out in your mind?
I have never tried to chart out a course—I didn’t become a lawyer to be a judge. I tried to be a good lawyer, and when the opportunity for a judgeship came up, the timing was good, I was prepared, and I was lucky to be selected. First in 2001, when a judgeship opened and Justice Kilbride of the Illinois Supreme Court selected me. Second, in 2010, when Judge Mihm took senior status and President Obama nominated me to the federal bench.
Clearly, when you have done something for quite a while, there will be both successes and failures along the way. I hope I have learned from both and kept moving forward, doing what I am supposed to do. As a judge, I am a public servant. When my turn is over, someone else will step in and do this job as well as, or better than, I do it. My hero in that regard is Bob Manning. After serving the public with fair and impartial justice for 20 years, he simply hung up his robe and left the courthouse. He had done his job, and did it well. It was now someone else’s to do.
How did it feel to be nominated by President Obama for a federal judge appointment?
Some days I still can’t believe it. It is a huge honor to hold a position of public trust, which I take very seriously. In addition, I was appointed to the judgeship that was held by Mike Mihm—a person of great integrity and someone I admire very much.
I will recite a few highlights from the nomination process. First, receiving a call that my name was being submitted. Second, the appearance at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in the room where so many confirmation hearings have been held. I remember Senator Sessions, from Alabama, asking me a baseball-related question, which was a real softball toss to me. (He must have known that I have relatives in Birmingham!)
However, the real highlight was in the morning when we had 15 minutes in the Oval Office with the President—with my parents, Jane, the kids and my brother’s daughter, Lauren. Watching the President hug Mom and Dad, listening to the President and Dad share stories from their days in the Illinois State Senate, and watching as he engaged the kids in conversation made me very proud of, and for, my family.
Finally, in March of 2011, watching on C-SPAN as the United States Senate unanimously confirmed my nomination at a time when both parties hadn’t agreed on much. I am truly humbled each time I think about it.
What was it like to receive the 40 Leaders Under Forty Award in 1995?
I was very honored and appreciative of the 40 Leaders Under Forty Award. I distinctly remember the evening as being one of energy and excitement, and truly wondering how I fit in when listening to the accomplishments of the others. I think this is an exceptional thing you do for young leaders in our community. Everyone likes to be recognized, and I believe more people than not want to be involved in their community. This recognition and award accomplishes both.
A lot has changed in your life since you were named a 40 Leader. How are you different now from then?
My children grew up and are successful in their own right. Jim is an editor for a marketing agency in Chicago. Joe makes a life in music and has won singer/songwriter competitions. Maggie is finishing undergrad at DePaul and is thinking of going to law school. My brother George passed from brain cancer in 2005. His daughter Lauren, my niece, works for the Cubs.
The experiences of life have given me perspective that I didn’t have then. I’m happy that my children and niece are healthy, happy and able to live the lives they choose—all the while realizing that life’s twists and turns can show up unannounced. I would say that I have always had an idealistic nature, but today—and since my brother’s passing—I would add reflection. I would also say that I am more aware and try to empathize with those who may have struggles in life, but don’t have someone to lean on or talk to who might be able to help. And I am in constant reminder mode that we really should live life with a promise and a purpose.
Tell us how you have remained involved in the community over the years.
I have spent much of my volunteer time involved with organizations that make a positive difference in the lives of children. I enjoy visiting schools, or having schools visit the courthouse, and do that regularly. I hope to impress on young people that education is their ticket. The common denominator I see in criminal activity is lack of education and drug use.
There are so many people in this community who give of time and money to help others. There are so many organizations that do so much good. I am a past president of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Peoria and still consider that a very worthwhile organization.
What advice do you have for young professionals hoping to make a difference in their communities?
God gave us many gifts. He didn’t list having the biggest house in your neighborhood, or the fanciest car, as one of them. Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses. Do the best you can do. Treat people right. Realize you have gifts and talents that can help others—and help you succeed. Utilize them to the extent you are able.
What are your hopes for our region in matters of law and policy?
The criminal courts are full of young people making bad choices as a result of lack of education, opportunity and/or stable environment. There are others who find success, or make good choices, precisely because of education, opportunity and/or a stable environment.
Federal and state courts across the country are looking for alternatives to imprisoning nonviolent or addicted offenders. We have a very successful one in our federal court here. Imprisoning nonviolent or addicted offenders has only created obstacles for that person’s ability to find work or advance him or herself. Having said that, we must find ways to encourage and assist young people to make better choices before they end up in a criminal courtroom.
My hope for central Illinois is a culture and educational system that gives all young people opportunities to succeed, and an economy and workforce that allows them to stay here if they choose to do so.
None of us can attribute our successes solely to our own devices. Somewhere along the way, someone opened a door, inspired us, helped us, assisted us, encouraged us, mentored us, or in some fashion played an instrumental part in shaping our lives. We need to be that for others. iBi