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BLOOMINGTON — Eleventh Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Elizabeth Robb, known for her leadership and innovative approach to justice, announced Wednesday that she will retire Dec. 31.

"I am so very grateful to have had the opportunity to achieve a goal that I have had since I was a junior in high school," Robb said in a statement on her plans to leave her position after 22 years as a judge.

Appointed to the bench in 1993, Robb was the first woman to serve as associate judge, circuit judge and chief judge of the circuit that serves McLean, Logan, Woodford, Livingston and Ford counties. She worked in private practice, spending five years as an assistant public defender representing juvenile court clients.

Robb was elected circuit judge in 2000 and retained twice by voters. She has been chief judge for 10 years.

Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Rita Garman called Robb "an excellent chief judge and administrator, a leader among the chief judges in Illinois."

Robb "has been on the forefront with innovative programs that have moved the courts forward," said Garman.

The Illinois Supreme Court will appoint a judge to fill Robb's seat on the bench until the 2016 general election. A chief judge will be chosen this fall by the circuit judges.

The retiring chief judge said the McLean County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council formed in 2010 represents the spirit of cooperation she has worked to foster during her tenure.

"The concept of collaboration, bringing people around the table to share ideas, the needs of the court system, ways to make things better — that whole spirit of we can do it together," Robb said of her approach.

The council has been credited with saving over $1 million in tax dollars through changes that have made the criminal justice system more efficient.

Sheriff Mike Emery, one of the founding members of the council, said Robb "implemented many positive changes that have increased efficiency and effectiveness in our justice system. She has certainly guided us in a direction that has made us a model county."

 Among those changes was the opening of the McLean County Drug Court in 2006 and the Recovery Court in 2010 for defendants with a mental illness. The small claims mediation program started in 2008 and a mediation option for mortgage foreclosures started in 2010.

Robb also helped implement the state Supreme Court pilot program for cameras in the courtroom. Media have extended their coverage of proceedings with cameras, video and sound equipment in McLean County courtrooms for more than a year.

Laurie Bergner with the McLean County League of Women Voters cited Robb's openness to league initiatives, including the court observer program that allowed the group to evaluate local judges.

"She has always been open-minded and flexible and willing to try progressive things," said Bergner.

A 1978 graduate of Illinois Wesleyan University, Robb said she plans to remain active in the community and may enjoy new opportunities not available during her judicial service.

Robb earned her law degree from Loyola University in Chicago in 1981. She taught business law at Illinois State University and IWU.

The retirement plans of two other judges and ongoing projects convinced Robb to postpone her retirement plans for about a year.

"However, I realize there will always be uncompleted projects. That is not a good reason to delay my retirement any longer," said Robb.

Outside McLean County, Robb has served on the Illinois Judicial Conference. She will leave her current post as chairwoman of the Illinois Conference of Chief Judges in December.

Robb is an active member of the of the Illinois Judges Association and the McLean County Bar Association.

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