By CHRISTOPHER HEIMERMAN
For Illinois Press Association
CHICAGO – John Gorman will never forget the time Bernie Judge “gushed” over his reporter’s remarkable performance under great duress.
Judge, a longtime editor and model of investigative journalism, died at his Chicago home June 14 of pancreatic cancer.
He was 79, and 54 years removed from the beginning of an illustrious career when he joined the City News Bureau of Chicago. He’d go on to become the top editor of the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times, before serving as editor and publisher of the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin from 1988 to 2007.
He was appointed in 2012 by the Illinois Supreme Court to serve as commissioner of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.
Sandy and Brewster Macfarland, the owners of Law Bulletin Media, issued a written statement mourning Judge’s death.
“We are saddened at the loss of Bernie. He was a legend in the newspaper industry, revered by many, including judges and lawyers. As editor and publisher, Bernie increased the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin editorial coverage of the Chicago legal community and he was also instrumental in acquiring the Chicago Lawyer magazine. We fondly remember Bernie, who retired in 2007, dispensing wisdom he learned from a tough, old editor at the City News Bureau: ‘If your mother says she loves you, check it out.’”
‘High praise, and enough praise’
Back in 1977, Judge was the city editor, and Gorman was working midnights as a general assignment reporter at the Chicago Tribune. Shortly after the sun rose, and as his shift neared its end, a corrupt Chicago police officer was shot to death on the Northwest Side. As Gorman cranked out the officer’s backstory and re-wrote the murder details from the reporter in the field, word came in about four more bodies found in Park Ridge.
Gorman burned up the phone lines.
“I called the Park Ridge Police Department, who told me to call back in a couple of years," Gorman recalled. "I called the coroner, who didn't know anything. I called the sheriff's police and the State Police, and they said they didn't know anything."
So he called General Hospital in Park Ridge, where he got a nurse to tell him the bodies were coming, and where they were coming from.
Then Judge walked in, got his coffee, and sat down to start his shift a few feet from Gorman.
“So I'm working right underneath his nose,” Gorman said, with a tone that still notes a desire to make Judge proud.
Gorman grabbed the reverse number phone book and found 15 numbers at 6714 N. Northwest Highway. He called the numbers at the office building and finally reached not only a worker, but the guy who was met by the bodies outside the elevator.
"He said when it opened up, there were four dead bodies stacked like cordwood," Gorman said. "I wrote about eight paragraphs just before the deadline erupted at 8:30, and Bernie looks over at me and says, 'Nice job,’ Gorman said, laughing.
“High praise, and enough praise. I don't think that hurt my career, since he saw me work under fire, under pressure, and probably did exactly what Bernie would have done."
Judge kept Gorman on the John Gacy case for three weeks. He put him on a 14-day series on elder care issues. Titled “Growing Old in America,” it was a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize, Gorman said.
Two projects Judge oversaw at the Tribune did, in fact, garner the prestigious Pulitzer in 1976: one on abuses in Chicago federal housing programs, and another on conditions at two private hospitals.
Judge made Gorman’s career possible, he said. He even remembers the date Judge hired him: Sept. 13, 1974.
But what stands out most was Judge persuading Gorman to stick around and be his assistant when Gorman said he was considering throwing his hat in the ring for a job with the Chicago Tribune’s Atlanta bureau.
"He said, 'Yeah, you could do that, but how would you like to be an assistant city editor?"
A newsman’s newsman
Jerry Crimmins, who first worked with Judge 49 years ago at the Tribune, said Judge was “the most unphony person you ever met.”
“Bernie had no attitude or pose, such as some young men adopt as a new supervisor if they secretly lack confidence or are uncertain,” Crimmins said. “He was a straight guy. He was an aggressive newsman.”
They’d both worked for the City News Bureau and shared the same news judgment, training and ideas, Crimmins said.
Judge’s subordinates never had to wonder where they stood, and they never found themselves without backup, according to another longtime colleague, John McCarron, who wrote a letter to Judge shortly before he passed away.
“Peel away that Studs Lonigan shell (How else to command 200 know-it-alls?), and here was a guy who would back you without fail,” he wrote in the letter. “... You always took care of yours. It’s a lesson we’d do well to pass on to ours.”
Judge was known as “Skipper” in the newsroom - and not just because he encouraged Crimmins to set up the dayside-versus-nightside summer softball picnic.
"He had moxy," Gorman said.
“Even at work, especially as night city editor, Bernie was a social guy, like the captain of a sports team,” Crimmins said.
Crimmins said when Judge was promoted to city editor for the Tribune in 1974, he had to get tough in order to guide 100 reporters and beat deadlines.
Judge’s contemporaries agree that while he was direct and demanding, he was also indisputably likeable, and that he genuinely liked his peers, too.
“I never saw him in hot anger; I don’t think a lot of people did,” Crimmins said. “You could tell it was in him, but he generally kept it under wraps.”
Unless someone wronged someone in Judge’s bunker.
“I did hear him once loudly and fiercely scold a lawyer who had lied to us,” Crimmins said.
In 2007, Judge was a recipient of the James C. Craven Freedom of the Press Award, an award established in 1993 by the Illinois Press Association to honor the legacy of former Illinois Appellate Court Justice James C. Craven, a crusader in the areas of media issues and voting rights on behalf of blacks and Hispanics.
"The thing about Bernie was that he knew everybody, and it seemed most everybody knew and respected Bernie," said Don Craven, James Craven's son and the legal counsel for the Illinois Press Association. "Dad and I have been working with the Press Association since the early 1980s, and have the opportunity to work with journalists across Illinois, at newspapers large and small. There were two 'go-to' guys in the editorial realm that were unmatched. Bernie was one, John Foreman was the other. When faced with a dilemma, Bernie was always willing to listen, turn problems upside down, shake it around, and would always come up with a solution. And, if you needed somebody who knew something about something in greater Chicago, Bernie would know somebody. Best of all, he had stories that would make you laugh 'til you cried.
"He touched an untold number of lives in the world of journalism, and left each of us better than we were before."
Legacy lives on
When Judge’s son-in-law, John Schott, spoke at the open mic reception following Judge’s funeral, the message resonated with Gorman.
“He said Bernie told him he was proud of him,” Gorman said.
Again, it was the highest praise a guy could get.
"Bernie wasn't throwing around compliments willy-nilly," Gorman said. "When he said that, it really meant a lot."
Judge’s colleagues met his children, Bernie R. Judge, Jessica Schott and Kelly Goldberg, when they were just kids, when about a half-dozen co-workers were invited to Judge’s home after the summer picnics. Judge, along with his wife, Kimbeth Wehrli Judge, were wonderful hosts, Crimmins said.
“They were a fun couple, and Kimbeth would devise all sorts of clever games,” he said. “Or we might sing Irish songs in their kitchen for an hour or so.”
Judge was an immigrant’s son, born Jan. 6, 1940, on the South Side to Bernard A. Judge and Catherine Hallorn Judge. He attended John Carroll University in Ohio, but didn’t get his degree, and later did a tour of duty in the Army before working at the U.S. Steel South Works plant on the Southeast Side.
He is also survived by his wife and children; daughter-in-law, Gina Judge; sons-in-law, Schott and Michael K. Goldberg; five grandchildren, Declan, Henry, Ava, Daniel, and Isabella; and two sisters, Mary Supina and Cathy Judge Gallagher.
According to an obituary penned by Crimmins for the Daily Law Bulletin, Michael Goldberg, managing partner of Goldberg Law Group, called his father-in-law “a legend in the legal community.”
“Everyone assumed he was a lawyer because of how perceptive he was about the law,” Goldberg said. “More important, he was my friend and I loved him.”