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Judge Has No Law School Degree But Party’s Nod For State Supreme Court

March 16, 1988

CHICAGO (AP) _ Horace Calvo doesn’t have a law degree or even a bachelor’s, but he does have the Democratic nod for a seat on the Illinois Supreme Court and the example set by another Illinoisan - Abraham Lincoln.

″As a matter of fact, I believe (Lincoln) studied law by the firelight,″ Calvo said Wednesday, a day after he won a four-way Democratic primary race. ″The test, to me, seems to be what you have done after school and passed the (bar) exam.″

And Calvo says there’s another counterpart who went far without the kind of academic credentials now usually expected of anyone presiding over a courtroom.

″Robert Jackson didn’t have a law degree and he was a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court in the ’40s and 50s,″ Calvo said.

Calvo said that like Lincoln, becoming a lawyer was not easy for him.

He attended St. Louis University and Lincoln College of Law in Springfield, taking 1,200 hours of classes, but left both schools without a diploma.

″I did it at night law school for four years, and I worked 40 hours a week and I had my family to support,″ Calvo recalled.

The 61-year-old Glen Carbon jurist began practicing law in 1956 after passing the bar exam on his third try.

Since 1967, state Supreme Court rules have required that candidates for the bar have a law-school degree before taking the test.

Calvo has been a Madison County circuit judge since 1975 and last fall was temporarily assigned by the Supreme Court to hear cases on the Fifth District Appellate Court.

Two of his rivals, Circuit Judge Robert Hill of Benton and East St. Louis attorney Charles Kolker, made an issue of Calvo’s academic background.

″Getting less than a law degree is an indication of lack of qualifications,′ ′ Hill said.

But Calvo dismissed the importance of his credentials for representing the 37-county district from Southern Illinois.

″I think, perhaps, the people may have found out the lack of a law degree was somewhat of a false issue,″ Calvo said.

Lincoln himself, who never graduated from law school, once said of a legal education: ″It is but a small matter whether you read WITH anybody. Get the books and read and study them ... that is the main thing.″ Reading the law with an established attorney, a sort of apprenticeship, was an accepted form of legal training until recent decades.

With all the vote in, Calvo had 49,894 votes, or 33 percent; Circuit Judge Carl Becker had 42,245, or 28 percent; Hill had 39,582, or 27 percent and East St. Louis attorney Charles Kolker trailed with 17,428, or 12 percent.

Calvo, who has the advantage of an overwhelmingly Democratic district, will face Republican Thomas Welch, 48, of the appellate court in Mount Vernon, in the November general election.

Welch said he did not expect the academic credentials issue to come up in the race for the $93,000-a-year job.

The winner will succeed retired Justice Joseph Goldenhersh, who resigned last September at age 73 due to poor health.

The high court appointed Circuit Judge Joseph Cunningham, 63, of Fairview Heights, as an interim justice to serve through December. He did not seek a full 10-year term.

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