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Judge retires, starts law firm

Published: Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT
Caption
(AP Photo/Rockford Register Star, Jeff Kolkey)
In this Dec. 11 photo, 17th Circuit Court Associate Judge Gary Pumilia is seen in Rockford. Pumilia, 66, retired Dec. 31, after a career spent presiding over some of Winnebago County’s highest-profile criminal cases.

ROCKFORD (AP) – Judge Gary Pumilia closed the book Tuesday on a career spent presiding over some of Winnebago County’s highest profile criminal cases, but as a new year dawns he has already begun a new chapter.

Pumilia, 66, retired on New Year’s Eve, seizing the chance to forge a new law firm in downtown Rockford with his 31-year-old son, Joseph Pumilia. For the first time in nearly 14 years, Pumilia will argue cases before the court instead of deciding them from the bench.

“My son and I are going into practice together,” Pumilia said. “What a great opportunity. I mean, I get to work with my son.”

Going to private practice is sort of a third leg of Pumilia’s legal career that has spanned nearly four decades.

Pumilia came to the bench from the public defender’s office, first as a lawyer in 1976 and then leading the Winnebago County Public Defender’s Office from 1981 to 2000. He was named a 17th Circuit Court associate judge in June 2000.

Pumilia presided over some of the county’s highest profile felony cases over the past few years.

He sentenced Rafael Santos, 23, to 70 years in prison in July 2012 for the 2007 murder of Isidro Duran, a 47-year-old ice cream vendor and father who was killed on a hot summer day.

Pumilia also presided over the October 2011 Marie’s Pizza botched armed robbery case that cost the life of a teenage accomplice when the robbery was foiled by an off-duty police officer. The case involved three defendants and two trials. Pumilia sentenced Lamar O. Coates, 25, to 40 years in prison, Brandon L. Sago, 24, to 37 years in prison and Desmond Bellmon, 24, who pleaded guilty, to 20 years.

In November, Pumilia sentenced Melanie M. Grant, 32, to 22 years in prison for aggravated battery of a child, and earlier this month, he sentenced her live-in boyfriend Duran Johnson, 40, to 62 years in prison for the murder and abuse of her 3-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn Head.

Pumilia said a judge must set aside emotion and view the facts of a case dispassionately.

“The view from the bench is different from the view from the counsel table,” Pumilia said. “You see things differently. It’s not the same as being a lawyer. When you hit the bench, you set aside your partisanship.”

Both as judge and defense attorney, Pumilia said he comes in contact with people experiencing some of the worst moments of their lives. A judge has a difficult job because there isn’t always a clear right or wrong answer and even the law itself is sometimes inadequate to fully address the facts of a case, Pumilia said.

“I go home, and my wife asks ‘How was your day?’” Pumilia said. “And I think, ‘It was a day full of other people’s misery.’ Very little happy goes on in a courthouse. The good things are adoptions. But, you know, before you get to the adoption, there is a lot of misery.”

Still, Pumilia knows it’s a job that must be done and done with integrity. And he takes pride in the fact that what he and the courts do make a difference in the community, to families of victims and for those facing charges in the criminal justice system.

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Source: Rockford Register Star, http://bit.ly/JsIuR9

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Information from: Rockford Register Star, http://www.rrstar.com

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