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Judge Brown to leave the bench after 23 years

Judge F. Keith Brown has served as a judge in Kane County for 23 years. He is retiring.
Judge F. Keith Brown has served as a judge in Kane County for 23 years. He is retiring.

GENEVA – After 23 years as a judge in Kane County, F. Keith Brown is ready to step down from the bench.

"It's time for some new challenges," the 57-year-old said.

Although Brown's retirement from his circuit judge post with the 16th Judicial Circuit is effective Saturday, he expects his last official duties as judge will be completed today.

By Monday morning, he had two meetings and one decision left – as well as the task of cleaning out his office in Courtroom 340 in the Kane County Courthouse.

The downtown Geneva courtroom – which he first toured as a sixth-grader – was the site of such milestones as his swearing-in ceremony and his first jury trial as a judge – a case involving a Class X felony, Brown said.

Like the other judges of Courtroom 340 before him, Brown has left his mark on the bench: His name is etched in the drawer for the two blocks of time he served in the courtroom.

"I always thought that was kind of cool," he said.

Brown's judicial career started in July 1991 with an appointment to associate judge, which he served as the presiding judge of the traffic and family divisions. He also presided over such matters as DUI, mental health, small claims, juveniles, paternity, domestic violence and child support matters.

He was elected as a circuit judge in 1996.

Brown said he likely will be remembered most as chief judge, a title he held from 2008 to 2012. His accomplishments during that time include establishing the Kane County Branch Court in St. Charles, starting the process of upgrading the court case management system and, he said, creating ways to get more probation fees paid.

Brown is leaving with plans to stay involved with the county's Judicial/Public Safety Strategic Planning and Technology Commission – which he chairs – and, he said, the regret of leaving Kane County without an African-American judge.

Brown, an African-American, said that when he was a practicing lawyer, he represented a client who didn't feel he was getting a trial before his peers. The jury members, prosecutors, bailiffs and all but one security member were white, he said.

"Minorities were appearing in court but had no other role," Brown said.

Brown was the first African-American judge in the 16th Judicial Circuit, he said. He said he aimed to bring greater diversity to the bench, which includes women and Hispanics.

Brown's final days as judge have included a retirement reception, as well as drop-ins by fellow judges.

"It's been an emotional week for me," he said.

But, he said, he has accomplished about everything he wanted to accomplish as a judge, has maxed out his pension and doesn't want to be defined just as a judge.

He is looking forward to doing mediation and arbitration work for Chicago-based ADR Systems; traveling; pursuing philanthropic work; and spending time with his two grandchildren, he said.

Brown's retirement could lead to one fewer judge in the 16th Judicial Circuit because of a provision in the law that limited the 16th Circuit to Kane County and moved Kendall and DeKalb to the 23rd Judicial Circuit, Kane County Court Administrator Doug Naughton said. He said the law states that the first resident circuit judge in Kane County to retire would result in the transfer of that position to the 23rd Judicial Circuit.

Chief Judge Judith Brawka intends to ask the Illinois Supreme Court to authorize a new associate judge, Naughton said.

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