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Cook County Judge retiring after 15 years on the bench

Monday, June 29, 2015
Fox 32 Chicago
by Larry Yellen, FOX 32 News Legal Analyst

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Whether it was the Palatine Brown's Chicken Killers, James Degorski and Juan Luna, or a pedophile priest like Daniel McCormick - before heading to prison, they appeared in courtrooms at 26th and California.

The longtime presiding judge at the Criminal Courts Building is stepping down next week. But before the big day, Judge Paul Biebel Jr. sat down for a rare interview with FOX 32's Larry Yellen.

"It's a tough business we're in, standing in judgment of people's actions, and ultimately, where their lives are going," Judge Paul Biebel Jr. said.

For almost 15 years, Judge Paul Biebel Jr. has presided over the largest criminal courthouse in America. Next Monday, he retires, satisfied that a dream he had as an eighth grade debater has been fulfilled.

"Three boys and three girls were in the finals . And one of the judges was a real judge. I thought that's what I want to do with my life. That was eighth grade," Judge Biebel said.

Judge Biebel's road to the bench was helped by the Evans Scholars Program, which puts golf caddies through college. In fact, he believes the Danny Noonan character in CaddyShack was in part based his own years as a caddy.

And while the Criminal Courts Building has seen appearances by celebrities like R Kelly and Jennifer Hudson in recent years, Judge Biebel says it's thousands of less publicized cases that he'll take with him.

"What I've been really able to get involved with is cases where we try to put people's lives back together through expungements, or sealings, or things like this. People who made mistakes younger in life, and now are looking for some sort of redemption through a court order, and we've been able to do that. I've done thousands of those in my life, and I'm very proud."

Attorneys who appeared before him appreciated his civility, and his preparation.

Daniel Coyne of IIT Chicago Kent college of law said, "He is what's known in the trial bar as a 'hot bench.' You don't just give your argument and then sit back and listen to him. He will probe your argument. He will test you on every aspect of it. And he wants to have a good trial thorough argument before he makes a decision."

Judge Biebel plans to settle down in Tennessee, where he'll spend his time reading and playing golf.

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