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Final gavel falls for Condon after 14 years on bench

WOODSTOCK – Joseph Condon’s decision to go to law school started with a dare.

“I lived with four other guys, and one Saturday I learned that all four of them had signed up to take the LSAT test,” Condon said. “We all threw in 50 bucks with the agreement that the one with the highest score got the pot. So I got the highest score.”

It was 1968. Thanks in part to his left ring finger that doesn’t bend like normal, he was rejected by Uncle Sam, avoided Vietnam and went to law school at Loyola University.

Forty-four years later, Condon presided over his last case as judge Friday after 14 years on the bench.

Even when he was in law school, Condon didn’t plan to be a judge, instead expecting to be an estate planner.

“At my first job, a lawyer named Tom Zanck ... he handed me this file and said, ‘Go to Rockford and argue this motion for summary judgement,’ ” Condon said. “So I did, and I won the motion. That felt pretty good, so I asked him for more files like that.”

Although he handled many more civil cases while in private practice, Condon ended his career in a criminal courtroom presiding over felony cases.

He remembers many cases, but can’t say that any one was any better or worse, any more interesting or less interesting than another.

He also can’t say that he necessarily enjoyed his time on the bench.

“It feels odd to use the word ‘enjoyment’ when you sit there listening to the firsthand evidence of people destroying themselves and others,” Condon said. “It’s challenging.”

Potential jurors are often asked whether they will have any trouble sitting in judgment of others. As a judge, it’s in the title.

“In my personal life, I’m probably a very nonjudgmental person,” Condon said. “On the bench, I never really think that I’m judging the person. I’m judging the actions.”

What are the facts, what is the law, apply the law and let the facts decide the case, he said.

Married for 20 years with three children, two stepdaughters, eight grandchildren and another on the way, Condon said he decided to retire after 40 years in law because life is short, and he wants to spend more of it with the people he loves.

It’s too soon to reflect, he said.

“I’m not in a particularly reflective state of mind right now because it’s just ending and it takes a long time, I think, for the dust to settle,” Condon said. “When I turn around and look at it, it’ll probably look a little different to me six months from now.”

He treated Friday, with the last and only case on his call, as any other workday.

No case is more important than any other, he said.

“The people involved in them are highly involved in them,” Condon said. “They’ve spent countless hours worrying about it, preparing for it, spending money on it, devoting time to it, it preoccupies their daily lives. They’re all important.”

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