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Illinois Supreme Court Justice John L. Nickels, Sugar Grove native, dies at 82

Published: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 11:24 a.m. CST
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John L. Nickels

SUGAR GROVE – Sugar Grove native John L. Nickels, who served as an Illinois Supreme Court Justice for six years, died Monday at the age of 82.

Nickels served on the Illinois Supreme Court from 1992 to 1998, according to a news release from the Illinois Supreme Court, which described Nickels as "a quiet, private man, but one who was unafraid to express his fidelity to fundamental beliefs and to call out publicly those he felt had abused their trust."

During his time on the Illinois Supreme Court, Nickels heard and participated in 820 cases, authored 95 majority opinions, 45 dissenting opinions and 10 special concurring opinions, states the release.

One of the majority opinions he authored struck down Chicago's gang loitering ordinance because it was unconstitutional. The case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld Nickels' decision.

Before becoming a judge, Nickels practiced law for more 20 years. His judicial career started in 1982, when he was elected as a trial judge to the 16th Circuit, which at the time served Kane, DeKalb and Kendall counties, according to the release.

He was elected as an Illinois Appellate Court Justice in 1990. He was later elected to the Supreme Court from the Second Judicial District in 1992. Nickels then ran in an uncontested race to fill a vacancy on the Illinois Supreme Court created by the retirement of Justice Thomas Moran of Lake Forest.

During the 1990s, Nickels acted as the Supreme Court liaison to the Lawyers Trust Fund, where he worked to increase access to justice for low-income citizens and find funding for legal aid programs throughout Illinois, according to the release.

"Justice Nickels was a staunch advocate of lawyers sharing their privilege with the poor, disadvantaged and vulnerable – providing free legal services to the needy. He called it 'the work of the Lord,'" states the release.

Nickels grew up on a dairy farm in Sugar Grove. He was elected to the first Waubonsee Community College Board of Trustees. He also served on the Kane County Planning Commission, the Zoning Board of Appeals and on the Kane County Bank & Trust Co. Board of Directors. He was an active member of St. Gall Catholic Church in Elburn, and also served two years in the United States Army.

A visitation is planned on Friday and Saturday at St. Gall Catholic Church in Elburn, with a Catholic Mass at St. Gall at 11 a.m. on Saturday. Burial will be at St. Gall Cemetery.

Memorials in the name of John L. Nickels may be made to The Rafiki Foundation for the education of orphaned and abandoned children in Tanzania, www.rafikifoundation.org; or to Marmion Abbey's Preparatory Mission School in Guatemala, www.marmion.org. Memorials may be mailed in care of P.O. Box 66, Elburn IL 60119.

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