MORRIS – When the Honorable Robert C. Marsaglia began his career as an attorney after graduating from DePaul College of Law in 1983, he didn’t think he would be a judge for more than 20 years.
But that’s exactly what happened on Marsaglia’s journey, and after serving as a judge since 1996, his last day on the bench will be Dec. 4. He has served as a judge in Grundy County since 2002, but he also practiced law and served on other courts before then.
“When I graduated from law school, being a judge was not even in the back of my mind,” he said. “The law was a goal of mine in college, but like a lot of kids, I thought about some different paths. I was interested in business for a while, but I always came back to the law.
“I was more of a social studies person than a math and science person.”
When he graduated from DePaul, Marsaglia remained close to home and took a job as an assistant state’s attorney in Grundy County from 1983 to 1986. From 1986 to 1996, he engaged in the general practice of law with the firm of Marsaglia and Russo.
“Like a lot of lawyers, I did a lot of things,” Marsaglia said. “I did a lot of municipal work representing Coal City for years as well.
“After a few years of private practice, I began to think I might make a good judge. It happened quicker than I thought it would, but I really thought I could be good at it. I enjoy looking at both sides of things and trying to be fair.”
He was appointed associate judge of the 13th Judicial Circuit in 1996 and was appointed by the Supreme Court as a circuit judge in 2001. In 2002, he was elected resident circuit judge of Grundy County, where he has served since.
The year he was appointed, 1996, was the same year that current Judge Lance Peterson was elected as Grundy County’s state’s attorney, and the two have worked together ever since.
“It’s been a pleasure and an honor to work closely with Judge Marsaglia over the past 24 years,” Peterson said. “He’s been an excellent judge and a valued colleague who will be missed by everyone in the courthouse.
“Over the past 24 years working together, we’ve seen significant changes in certain areas of law, such as criminal justice and family law. We’ve worked with four different sheriffs, three circuit clerks, three county treasurers and many bailiffs. We’ve also seen major renovations to the courthouse, jail and sheriff’s department.
“I know that Judge Marsaglia will look back on his many years on the bench and be proud of his accomplishments and smile thinking about all the great people we’ve had the good fortune of working with.”
Since he has been a judge, Marsaglia has worked with five state’s attorneys – Peterson, Dave Neal, Sheldon Sobol, John Bates and Jason Helland – and four sheriffs – Jim Olson, Terry Marketti, Kevin Callahan and Ken Briley.
Sobol noted that Marsaglia has been a leader in using technology to help the Grundy County Courthouse run smoothly. Marsaglia also has presided over the Grundy County Drug Court since 2006, when he worked with Sobol, who at the time was state’s attorney, and LuAnn Ishmael of the Grundy County Probation office to get it going.
“Judge Marsaglia was a key component in getting the problem-solving courts going here in Grundy County,” Sobol said. “They have been able to put people back into society where they work and pay taxes instead of having them in prison where we spend tax money on keeping them in prison. When it started, we were having a rash of heroin arrests and fentanyl deaths. It was a big problem. He took the bull by the horns and got the drug court going.”
Marsaglia also is proud of the work he had done with the drug court.
“I think is has been very positive,” he said. “Of course, no system is foolproof, but I think we have shown that treatment and rehabilitation, in the right cases, can really have a lot of success.”
Sobol, who now is a resident judge, also spoke highly of Marsaglia’s character.
“[Marsaglia] also served as my mentor my first couple years on the bench,” Sobol said. “In a county this small, we judges don’t specialize in a certain type of case. Some counties have traffic judges or misdemeanor judges. We have to hear all types of cases and there were quite a few that I didn’t really have much experience in. Judge Marsaglia was great to have around and talk to about them.
“He has always been a very fair judge and also very humble. I have never seen him be imperious from the bench. He just hears the facts and makes his decisions. He doesn’t have any political or personal motivations, and I would like to think that has rubbed off on me as a judge as well.”
Marsaglia also noted the variety of cases he has seen. The biggest change Marsaglia said he has seen in his years on the bench is the sheer volume of work.
“We work at such a different pace now,” he said. “There are far more cases now than there were in 1996 when I started. There are more felonies, lawsuits, DUIs. Probably the biggest change has been the number of felonies.”
Yet he continues to be involved with legal work in numerous ways. Marsaglia is a member of the Illinois Supreme Court Judicial Mentor Committee and the Special Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Justice and Mental Health Planning, where he serves on the PSC Standards working group and as chairman of the education subcommittee. He is a member of the Illinois Judicial College Committee on probation education and the Ed-Con curriculum committee. He serves as a facilitator for judicial performance evaluations, a new judge mentor and a peer mentor, a member of the curriculum work group of the Judicial College and as an Ed-Con instructor.
Marsaglia said he has no immediate plans for his retirement and that he will miss the people he has worked with.
“With all the upheaval we have had in the last eight to 10 months, we have just been focused on how to keep the courthouse running as best we can to keep everyone safe,” he said. “I will miss the day-to-day contact with people. My staff, the people in the courthouse, bailiffs, attorneys and the people that come into my courtroom.”