Bob Thomas, NFL kicker-turned-high court justice, to retire

SPRINGFIELD, IL - MAY 05: The Supreme Court Of Illinois Building, in Springfield, Illinois on MAY 05, 2012. (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Bob Thomas, whose legal career led him to the state's highest court, but only after a decade as the Chicago Bears' placekicker, announced his retirement on Monday.

The 67-year-old Republican said he will leave the Illinois Supreme Court at the end of February after 20 years. He served as chief justice from 2005 to 2008, the first to be elected to the post from DuPage County.

Thomas, who helped Notre Dame win the 1973 national championship and is the Bears' fourth-leading scorer of all time, enrolled in law school during his pro career and was admitted to the bar in 1981.

He spent seven years in civil practice before he was elected DuPage County circuit judge in 1988, won a seat on the Second District state appellate court in 1994, and was elevated to the Supreme Court in 2000.

“His great sense of humor made a challenging job more enjoyable for everyone,” Chief Justice Anne M. Burke said. “He led key court initiatives in the areas of professionalism, civility, continuing legal education and transparency.”

During his term as chief justice, Thomas established the Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, which grew out of a committee to restore civility to the courts. Notable opinions which Thomas authored included one which found that former Gov. George Ryan was not entitled to receive a public pension because of federal corruption convictions and one which determined that it was constitutional for Ryan to grant blanket clemency to 167 Death Row inmates, a move that fueled a debate over and eventual abolition of capital punishment in Illinois.

Thomas will return to private practice with his son, Jonathan, at the Power Rogers law firm in Chicago. “While I will miss the collegial atmosphere with my colleagues on the court, I am ready to return to the practice of law and help clients achieve justice," Thomas said in a statement.

Thomas was Notre Dame's placekicker for three years and booted the winning field goal in the 1973 Sugar Bowl, lifting the Irish to a 24-23 victory over Alabama and the national title.

His 629 points during 10 years with the Bears ranks fourth behind kickers Robbie Gould and Kevin Butler and legendary running back Walter Payton. Thomas also played for the Detroit Lions, San Diego Chargers and New York Giants.

Second District appellate justice Michael J. Burke has been appointed to replace Thomas on March 1. He will served until Dec. 5, 2022.