November 29, 2006

Law School honors Mills with scholarship

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A relationship forged more than 30 years ago between Southern Illinois University Carbondale's law school and federal judge Richard Mills will benefit future generations through the SIU School of Law Judge Richard Mills Scholarship.

The scholarship announced today (Nov. 29) during ceremonies at the Illinois State Library, Gwendolyn Brooks Building in Springfield, honors Mills, a senior judge for the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois.

The scholarship will generate $1,000 annually for a second- or third-year law school student — known as the Judge Richard Mills Scholar — who has outstanding academic credentials and is from the 46 counties comprising the Central District of Illinois.

Mills has been and continues to be a "valued supporter of the law school," School of Law Dean Peter C. Alexander said. Mills celebrates his 40th year on the bench on Tuesday, Dec. 5.

"This is a perfect opportunity to honor this very dedicated public servant," said Alexander, noting many people are contributing to the scholarship.

"It's a testament to his many years of service and the high regard in which we hold him," he said.

The law school is still receiving gifts and pledges to further endow the scholarship, Alexander said. Under rules of the federal judiciary, sitting judges may not know who contributed to a scholarship fund in their name.

Mills regularly speaks to SIU School of Law students and presides over law school moot court competitions. He also served as an adjunct professor of medical humanities at the SIU School of Medicine in Springfield since 1985.

In 1988, Mills became one of two inaugural SIU School of Law honorary alumni.

Mills is "terribly honored and extremely pleased" by the endowed scholarship.

"I have held the SIU School of Law in the very highest regard since its inception," he said.

"I am simply thrilled and it is totally unexpected, which makes it more meaningful to me personally," Mills said.

Founding SIU School of Law Dean Hiram H. Lesar "did a magnificent job of organizing and beginning a great law school dedicated to producing outstanding practicing lawyers for Illinois," Mills said.

The law school, which began with its charter class in August 1973, was "badly needed" because at the time the only other law schools in the state were at the University of Illinois or in Chicago, he said.

The School of Law "has more than justified all of the hopes and dreams of Dean Lesar and the legislators who got behind the idea and helped him found this outstanding law school," Mills said.

Mills said he hopes the scholarship helps students who have a need for additional financial assistance and who demonstrate they are at the top of their class academically.

Mills' first two law clerks when he assumed the bench on the state's Fourth District Appellate Court were from the SIU School of Law — current 10th Circuit Court Judge Stuart P. Borden and Neil G. Nyberg, who is assistant general counsel of The Kellogg Co. in Battle Creek, Mich.

"They left a great impression with me," said Mills, who has relied upon 16 law clerks from the SIU School of Law since 1976.

A former Cass County state's attorney from 1960 to 1964, Mills began his judicial career in 1966 as a judge in the Eighth Judicial Circuit. He won election to the Fourth District Illinois Appellate Court in 1976. He became a federal judge in 1985 after President Ronald Reagan nominated him and achieved senior status in 1997. Mills currently hears U.S. Court of Appeals cases.

Mills and his wife, Rachel, live in Springfield. The couple has two sons.

A Beardstown native, Mills, 77, earned his bachelor's degree in history from Illinois College in 1951. He earned his law degree from Mercer University School of Law in 1957, and a master of laws degree from University of Virginia School of Law in 1982.

Mills is a retired U.S. Army colonel with 33 years active and reserve service. He served 14 months in Korea with the 3rd Infantry Division, 8th U.S. Army, and earned a Bronze star. He also was a major general in the Illinois State Militia.

Even though he is completing his 40th year on the bench, Mills said it seems like "almost yesterday" when he took the oath as a circuit judge in the same courtroom where then-attorney Abraham Lincoln successfully defended William "Duff" Armstrong in the famous "Almanac Trial" in 1858. Mills said he plans to stay on the bench as long as he has the physical and mental capacities for the job.

"They will have to carry me out of the courthouse on a door," he said.

Offering a progressive education to graduate students and professional students is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.


Judge Richard Mills

Judge Richard Mills
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