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CHICAGO (AP) - On the day she was sworn in as the first female chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, Mary Ann McMorrow acknowledged her pioneering achievement with the same grace and good humor her colleagues say was customary.
"I am the 115th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Illinois," she said, according to a spokesman for the Illinois Supreme Court. "You will notice after I take off my robe that I am the only one of the 114 chief justices who preceded me that wears a skirt."
McMorrow died Saturday at a Chicago hospital following a brief illness, said court spokesman Joseph Tybor, who was authorized to speak on her family's behalf. She was 83.
Her five-decade career was marked by numerous precedents. She was the only woman in her 1953 class at Loyola University Chicago School of Law and was the first woman to prosecute major felony cases as an assistant Cook County state's attorney.
Once told by a supervisor she couldn't argue a case before the Supreme Court because of her gender, she went on to became the first woman on the state's highest court with her 1992 election. Her term as chief justice - from 2002 to 2005 - made her the first woman to head any branch of Illinois government.
In a statement Sunday, Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride said McMorrow's legacy looms large over Illinois' high court - the first to include three female justices.
"Being the first woman on the court and to serve as chief justice, she was an inspiration to all women in the law in Illinois. But through her courage, perseverance, wisdom, and character, she was a role model for all lawyers, regardless of gender," Kilbride said. "Justice McMorrow was top-tier. She was devoted to the law and justice; but was always collegial and good-humored. We will all miss her grace, elegance and style. Most of all, we shall miss her."
The Supreme Court said McMorrow wrote 225 majority opinions and an additional 85 se parate concurring and dissenting opinions. She wrote a 1997 opinion holding that limits on non-economic lawsuit damages for people injured through negligence were unconstitutional. McMorrow cited the case as an example of her desire to promote "the common good" as a judge.
She also used frequent speaking appearances to encourage lawyers to serve the poor. During her tenure as chief justice, the court raised the fee attorneys pay for licensure, Tybor said. Those funds - more than $2 million per year - help legal aid organizations serve low-income residents.
And although McMorrow said at the time of her 2006 retirement that she was proud of her accomplishments, she also told The Associated Press she never was trying to be "a first."
"I was just trying to do the best I could," she said. "I just thought this was my duty."
McMorrow is survived by her daughter, Mary Ann, and her sister, Frances. Arrangements were pending Sunday.
SARA BURNETT, Associated Press
Copyright © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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