This issue we highlight the prominent jurist, Justice Mary Seminara-Schostok, of the 19th Judicial Circuit. This Justinian was appointed an associate judge in 1998 and elected a full circuit in 2002. We pick this time to highlight her judicial career as she was recently sworn in as president of the statewide Illinois Judges Association, no small feat.
The first of five children, Seminara-Schostok grew up in New Castle, Pa. Her father came to the United States from Italy and her mother was a second-generation Italian American. She attended Youngstown State University, the first in her family to graduate college. She exceeded all expectations when she successfully completed her studies at Capital University College of Law in Columbus, Ohio. “It wasn’t common for someone in my generation and background to go to law school. But I always marched to a different drummer than most people my age — always challenging, always questioning,” she said.
While in law school, she met her husband, the extraordinarily highly regarded catastrophic injury litigator, Michael Schostok, a name partner in the firm of Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard P.C. Recently deceased, Schostok served a few years bac, as president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, a statewide group of prominent litigators. After law school, Seminara became an associate in the Pittsburgh, Pa., firm of Bernstein and Bernstein, practicing Chapter 11 bankruptcy work while working part-time for the public defender’s office. However, when she married, she moved to her husband’s hometown of Waukegan and became a prosecutor in the Lake County State’s Attorney’s office in 1998 where her new spouse was already employed. As a prosecutor, Seminara-Schostok knew she ultimately wanted to be a judge: “I don’t think I was probably out of misdemeanor court before I made it clear that’s what I was working for.”
Seminara-Schostok expressed a fondness for politics early in her career. She joined the Young Republicans and campaigned for Lake County State’s Attorney Michael J. Waller, several judges, a number of Republicans running for the state Senate, and the various campaigns of her close friend, Albert J. Salvi.
She campaigned to be appointed an associate judge five times. In May 1998, she achieved that goal. She was elected a full circuit judge in 2002, but the road wasn’t entirely smooth: a court battle over the validity of her nominating petitions went all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court. Of course, she brought wonderful credentials and a stellar reputation to this effort.
“The reputation of Judge Seminara-Schostok in Lake County is one all lawyers, like myself, should ascribe to. She is a wonderful example of the best our ethnic community has to offer and we take pride in seeing her on the bench and knowing the wonderful reputation she enjoys,” says Michael Ori, a prominent Lake County Attorney, who’s late dad was founder of the first iteration of the Lake County Justinian chapter and was a judge in Lake County before he passed away. “Judge Schostok has served as a role mode and mentor to me and countless others for which I will always be grateful. She is dedicated to the law and dispenses her judicial duties evenly and fairly. She is known as a patient, well-prepared and fair jurist.”
“I used to think I had the greatest job in the world when I was a prosecutor,” Seminara-Schostok said. “But then I became a judge, and now I know I have the greatest job in the world. I can honestly say there’s not one morning that I get up and say I don’t want to go to work today. I love what I do.” When she lectures to children, “I always encourage them to be lawyers. It’s the greatest profession in the world.”
Judge Schostok is also a moving force in the continuing success of the Lake County Chapter of the Justinian Society of (Italian) Lawyers.
Away from the bench, Seminara-Schostok enjoys volunteer work, travel, reading and golf. On Thursdays, she meets with a group of other judges, lawyers, secretaries and deputies for a Bible study group. “It’s a great opportunity to clear your mind and to study with others in the same profession,” she said. “It helps ground me after a hard week in Criminal Court.”
Seminara-Schostok currently resides in Libertyville with her three children Marisa, a recent John Marshall Law School graduate, Gina and Michael.