News Gazette Article: Matthew Lee Swearing In Ceremony

When Matt Lee got word three weeks ago that he had been picked as Champaign County’s newest associate judge, it probably didn’t strike him as historic.

But that’s how his boss, Chief Judge Randy Rosenbaum, put it when he welcomed guests to Lee’s swearing-in Thursday at the courthouse in downtown Urbana.

“Once Matt is sworn in, that completes the turnover of the entire judiciary,” said Rosenbaum, noting that in the last six years, all 11 veteran circuit and associate judges had retired and been replaced by younger members of the bar.

“We’re a good team. We get along well. Matt … fits in very well,” said Rosenbaum, who along with the other nine Champaign County judges and two from other counties in the Sixth Circuit welcomed the 43-year-old Champaign man to the bench.

Lee was chosen from a field of 23 applicants to fill the vacancy created in mid-January by the retirement of John Kennedy. He’ll get down to business Monday, hearing juvenile abuse and neglect and misdemeanor cases.

DeWitt County Circuit Court Judge Karle Koritz, a former assistant state’s attorney in McLean County with Lee, swore in his friend. Lee was a prosecutor in Bloomington for almost 11 years before joining Meyer Capel in Champaign in 2014 as a criminal defense practitioner.

Koritz recalled the first time he heard Lee make a closing argument in a case where a man stabbed his paramour, pretending he was about to seduce her.

“They locked eyes. The defendant closed the distance between them. He wrapped his arm around her and instead of whispering sweet nothings in her ear, he plunged the knife into her side,” said Koritz, parroting Lee’s argument.

“Wow. That’s poetry,” said Koritz, calling his friend effective and persuasive.

Koritz said Lee, a University of Illinois Law School graduate who excelled academically, could have chosen any place in the nation to work but decided to stay in the county where he met his wife of nine years, Jennifer, in a Bible study class.

Lee is the son of a minister and his wife who are serving overseas and because of COVID-19 were unable to be present for their oldest child’s career milestone. He thanked his parents for instilling the faith and values that make him want to serve others.

Besides his wife and three sons, ages 7, 5 and 18 months, Lee’s in-laws drove in from Denville, N.J., to witness his swearing-in.

Also present was his only brother, Mike Lee and his family, Mike’s in-laws, several colleagues from Meyer Capel, and friends from college and his church, Covenant Fellowship, where Lee has been a member 25 years.

Lee said one of his favorite lines from Scripture is that the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.

“I have tried very imperfectly to emulate that in my life. That’s never more important or appropriate than today,” he said. “I know I’m not here to be served but to serve, to make sure that every person is given a fair shake in the justice system. I will give my heart and soul to strive to live up to this worthy calling.”

Lee recalled that his father-in-law, Henry Jiaa, had a “horrible” experience with a traffic court judge in New Jersey who made Jiaa feel “small and mistreated.”

“I hope if I have someone like you in my courtroom, they come away feeling the system is fair and just,” said Lee to his father-in-law.

Lee thanked his work partner, Mark Lipton of Meyer Capel, who he said is “old enough to be my father — actually older than my father by several years.”

A lawyer for 46 years, Lipton was celebrating his 74th birthday Thursday and beamed like the proud father until hearing Lee’s dig. The veteran criminal defense attorney turned his smiley face mask upside down to display a frown before Lee continued.

“I tell you that because I respect you the same way I respect my father. Thank you for being the consummate example of an excellent attorney, aside from the cursing,” said Lee.

Lee’s college roommate, Joseph Yun of Savoy, a business professor at the UI, joked that his friend is “ridiculously smart” and one of those people who didn’t have to study hard to understand and retain complex information.

“I would say he’s one of the most loyal people I ever met in my life,” Yun said.

Yun said Lee would never publicly disparage him but would privately confront him if he thought Yun needed correcting.

“He would both respect me and do what’s right,” Yun said.

Good qualities for a judge.