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Cook County Judge Anthony Burrell dies after battle with kidney cancer

Judge Anthony Burrell left with Judge R. Eugene Pincham.

Judge Anthony Burrell, left, with Judge R. Eugene Pincham.

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Updated: June 18, 2014 6:11AM



Cook County Circuit Court Judge Anthony L. Burrell, a high school dropout who went on to graduate from law school at Cornell University, died Wednesday after battling kidney cancer.

He died at a hospice facility in Glenview.

“He had been ill for quite some time,” said Judge E. Kenneth Wright, Jr.

Mr. Burrell, 52, had cancer about a decade ago, and “he told me it had returned,” said Wright, presiding judge of the first municipal district.

Mr. Burrell dropped out of Austin High School as a freshman, but studied to get his GED and went on to Loyola University, according to biographical information he supplied to a political action committee, the Illinois Committee for Honest Government. He earned his law degree at Cornell University, said Sullivan’s Judicial Profiles. He was awarded a full scholarship at Cornell, said his sister, Pamela Burrell.

He dropped out of high school because “he was being pressured by gangs, being pressured by bullies to do their homework,” she said. “My mom just felt it was just too much peer pressure and she didn’t want him to get hurt.”

Mr. Burrell had always been a reader. As a youngster, “he went through half the dictionary learning words,” she said.

After dropping out of school, he went to the library and obtained a preparation book for the GED. “He went to Loop College [now Harold Washington College] and took it, and no one helped him,” his sister said. He pursued criminal justice classes at Malcolm X College, she said, “and that’s when he said, ‘I’m going to be a lawyer, and then I’m going to be a judge.’”

From 1989 to 1994, he worked as a Cook County prosecutor. However, the court’s child abuse cases wore on him, and he needed a break, according to his sister. He then worked at Maryville Academy, a home for troubled youth, as a resident adviser and counselor, she said. From 2000 to 2002, he was a marketing consultant for the Chicago Public Schools. He was first elected a judge in 2002. He won re-election in 2008, spending about 12 years on the bench.

Mr. Burrell also made a stab at being a TV judge by trying to mount a cable show, “Have Gavel, Will Travel.”

He served in the Civil Non-Jury Section of the First Municipal District, which usually involves cases where people are seeking damages of less than $30,000.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown wrote about him in 2007, when the judge scheduled a visit to a Garfield Ridge bungalow to investigate a neighbors’ dispute about an allegedly noisy air conditioner. “Trust me, I don’t want to go out there. The case calls for it,” he told Brown. “I try to look at it as if it was my problem.” The judge did not arrive, explaining he had a scheduling conflict, and the neighbors asked for a new judge.

“What a nice man,” said his former campaign manager, Richard Barnett. “He really helped his mother and his sisters. If he’d see someone in need or they needed food or something, he would buy it. A couple of times when a neighbor told him about a neighbor who was down on their luck, he took them shopping” for groceries.

As a young teen, he defended his sister from robbers. They were returning home from getting food at McDonald’s. “We were robbed and they were about to stab me. He fought them off,” she said. “He just started swinging.”

His family plans to cremate his remains and spread his ashes off the coast of Florida because he liked to vacation on the Gulf of Mexico, Pamela Burrell said. Survivors also include another sister, Lavette Bradford; his nieces, Tamika Burrell, Samara Wiley, Alicia Wiley and Jasmine Wiley; his nephew, Shaun Burrell, and eight grand-nieces and four grand-nephews. A memorial service is being planned at a later date.

Mr. Burrell enjoyed Chicago Chop House restaurant. Peter Gabriel was his favorite singer.

He loved comic books, his sister said, including “The Avengers,” “Fantastic Four,” “Spider-Man” and “Superman,’’ and had been hoping to live long enough to see the new Transformers movie, which is coming out in June.

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