First woman to be sworn in as chief judge for Northern District of Illinois

CHICAGO — In over 200 years there has never been a woman chief judge to preside over the Northern District of Illinois. Until now.

Rebecca Pallmeyer, 64, is no stranger to the Dirksen Federal Building. She’s been there for over 20 years and presided over the infamous corruption case that put Illinois George Ryan behind bars.

Pallmeyer said she is looking at this next chapter as a chance to learn something new and to show women they should hold onto their dreams.

Pallmeyer began her career as a University of Chicago Law School grad trying to make a name for herself in a predominantly male world. Women made up maybe 25 percent of her graduating class.

“Women have been in the pipeline for years and years and decades,” she said. “They do rise to leadership positions in a way that they couldn’t have 20 or 30 years ago and certainly that applies to me.”

Currently, about one third of active judges in the federal courts are women. The U.S. Supreme Court has three female sitting justices.

Pallmeyer said she thinks being a parent has helped her on the bench. She is able to draw on the human experience, keep a sense of humor and maintain “a sense of humility and determination to do the best you can recognizing it’s a human process and no human process is perfect.”

Pallmeyer will have the unique role of supervising and empaneling grand juries as well as reviewing indictments and requests for subpoenas. She will be in the know before most people are when the big cases are still brewing quietly behind closed doors.

While being the face of the federal court is part of the job, the soon-to-be chief judge is aware her priorities are decisions she makes from behind her desk.

Still what keeps her in the game is her loyal staff, together since Day 1,  her love for the drama of the courtroom, her respect for the jury system and an outcome, she says, that almost always gets it done. She also is a believer of holding onto what’s important to you.

“I always say, don’t ever give up on your dreams, that can happen,” she said. “It happened for me.”

Pallmeyer will be sworn in as chief judge July 1.

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