Enters private practice after judicial career
Palos Heights attorney David Sterba never served as a juror in his life.
“I was called but never chosen,” he said.
That’s one of the few things the man has never done in the courtroom. He has done just about everything else.
Sterba is now a part of the reorganized Walsh, Fewkes and Sterba Law Firm, which has offices in Palos Heights at 7270 W. College Drive and in Chicago.
Matt Walsh has been a trial lawyer for 45-plus years. Dave Fewkes has been at it for 30 years. They are parlaying that three-quarter of a century wealth of experience with a guy who knows the ins and outs and many sides of the courtroom and court system.
The 55-year-old Sterba has been a criminal defense lawyer and worked with personal injury litigation from 1984-1996. For 12 years, he was a circuit judge for Cook County and served as a felony trial judge in the Fifth Municipal District based at the courthouse in Bridgeview.
He was appointed Presiding Judge of the Fifth District in 2008 and was the boss over 24 other judges. In 2011 the Illinois Supreme Court appointed him as a Justice on the Illinois Appellate Court and in 2012 the South Suburban Bar Association named him “Jurist of the Year.” He’s also used his lofty position to teach and give lectures to his peers, college students and high school students.
And now he is heading back into the trenches.
Sterba resigned as a judge July 1 and will be back in action in the courtroom as a lawyer again.
“I’m back in the battle,” he said. “I found being a judge stimulating and challenging and that part I will miss. But with every new opportunity I look for a new host of challenges. My life is one where I like to climb mountains. I’ve climbed a few and that was one of them and now I will climb another.”
The former judge can’t wait to get back to his roots.
“I like litigation and trying cases in a courtroom,” Sterba said. “I look forward to getting back into the well of the courtroom and arguing before juries. I miss that. I use this analogy — trial lawyers are to the law what surgeons are to medicine. It’s very stimulating to get into the court and litigate like that.”
He said his style is to be “authentic” and “genuine” when he is litigating and “not to try to be someone I’m not.”
Sterba grew up in Alsip and attended Richards High School and started to grow an appreciation for law at an early age.
“I read books and watched television programs and found the law to be very intriguing and interesting,” he said. “I enjoyed a composite of the television lawyers and the real life lawyers. I liked reading biographies of lawyers from Abraham Lincoln to Gerry Spence to Clarence Darrow. I loved reading all of those books. I tried to learn something from all of them because those lawyers certainly had a lot to offer and teach young aspiring lawyers.”
He grew up with his brother, Bob, who was a longtime Palos Heights policeman and is now the police chief in New Lenox. David also picked up some police training as he was a deputy sheriff in the Cook County Court Services Division.
Sterba attended St. Xavier University and the John Marshall Law School and has lived in Palos Heights since 1991. He is married to Patricia and they have three children — Lisa, Ashley and David. He is a parishioner at St. Alexander Catholic Church in Palos Heights.
Sterba admits that there is a lot more to law than the exciting trials seen on television and in movies. There is the preparation work, which is not very glamorous. But he said he enjoys that aspect of law because “the best lawyer in the room is the one who is best prepared.”
He can’t wait for his first case, he said.
“Everything I have done provides and advantage to me and an added perspective,” he said. “From being a deputy sheriff in the courtroom when I was a law student to being a prosecutor, a defense attorney, trial judge and appellate judge … all of those things give me an added perspective and allow me to be as good as I could be.”