Press Release

NIU College of Law Honors
Alumni at Annual Golf Outing and Awards Dinner

July 12, 2011

DeKalb, Ill. --The NIU College of Law will hold its 7th Annual Golf Outing and Awards Dinner on Friday, July 22 from 12:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m.  The event will be held at River Heights Golf Course in DeKalb, IL.  Proceeds from the golf outing will go towards the NIU Law Alumni Council Scholarship, which is given to a graduating student each year at Commencement.

Following the golf outing, selected alumni and friends of the College of Law are honored for their career accomplishments, devotion to the public good, and continued service to the law school.  This year’s group of distinguished honorees come from the public and private sectors and are all dedicated to the communities they serve.  Tickets and sponsorship opportunities are available for the golf outing and the awards dinner.  For information visit the Golf Outing page.

Alumnus of the Year
Mark D. Gilwit '78

Mark GilwitUpon graduation from NIU Law, Mark began his career in private practice in Chicago. In 1983, Mark made the decision to move to South Florida where he started Gilwit & Associates, a boutique civil trial practice in Miami. His law practice has grown, and in 2000, he moved his offices from downtown Miami to Boca Raton. In addition to his Florida practice, Mark is associated with law firms located in both New York and Chicago and works with many other law firms throughout the country.  He is admitted to practice law in all three states as a member of the Florida, Illinois, and New York Bar Associations; the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Florida; and the Federal District Court for the Middle District of Florida. 

After being evaluated by his peers through Martindale Hubbell, Mark’s rating was determined to be AV, Preeminent, signifying an attorney who has achieved professional excellence and the highest levels of skill and integrity. Mark’s law practice focuses on civil litigation and trials in both State and Federal Courts on matters involving commercial and contract disputes, employment, business, insurance, real estate, personal injury, negligence, premises liability, wrongful death, products liability, and medical malpractice litigations and arbitrations representing both plaintiffs and defendants.

Several years ago Mark was on “Sixty Minutes” regarding an employment litigation case that received national attention. In the fall of 2010, after being nominated for his highly publicized jury verdict in the South Florida case of Kusherman vs Continental, Mark was selected as a finalist for the Florida Daily Business Review’s annual Most Effective Lawyers Award. The selections were made by the editors of the Daily Business Review based on criteria that includes results delivered to clients, obstacles overcome, impact of the case, and the track record of the nominees. On December 3, 2010 Mark won the award as The Most Effective Lawyer 2010 in South Florida.

On a personal note Mark is married to Randie, a social worker, and has two children. His daughter Dara graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and then law school and moved to Manhattan. His son Craig graduated from Washington University and also moved to Manhattan to work in the television and entertainment business. At the same time, he graduated from law school and is an entertainment lawyer.  Needless to say Mark is regularly in New York City for many reasons.

Young Alumna of the Year
Diana M. Law '04

Diana LawDiana M. Law, partner in the Aurora, Illinois elder law firm of Law ElderLaw, LLP, is the manager of the firm’s legal team.  Her practice focuses on serving seniors and those who love them.  Her concentrations are guardianship, estate planning, special needs trusts, nursing home Medicaid advocacy, wartime veterans’ long term care benefits, trust/estate/probate/guardianship litigation, and probate administration.  Most often, Diana’s clients are burdened by a long term care crisis.  With passion and purpose, she serves the frail, elderly, children with disabilities, and disabled adults. 

Diana is president of the 1,345-member Kane County Bar Association (KCBA). She was installed as the youngest president in the history of the association on June 2, 2011.  The Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA) named her Young Lawyer of the Year for 2010, an award given to only two individuals each year.  She has been selected in a statewide survey of Illinois attorneys as a “Super Lawyer Rising Star” in elder law.  Leading Lawyers Network also selected her as a top elder law attorney for 2010-2011.  

Diana is the co-chair of the KCBA Delivery of Legal Services/Pro Bono Committee.  As a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), she frequently serves on the planning committee for their national conferences.  She actively serves on the ISBA committees Elder Law Council and the Women and the Law Committee. She is a highly regarded presenter of continuing legal education seminars for the Illinois State Bar Association, Chicago Bar Association, National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, Kane County Bar Association, McHenry County Bar Association, and the Joint Task Force for Women as They Age.

Diana serves as co-chair, along with renowned Chicago attorney Kerry Peck, of the Task Force for Senior Fairness.  The task force is comprised of elder law firms throughout Illinois and the Cook County Public Guardian’s Office.  The purpose of the organization is to provide political advocacy to safeguard Illinois citizens who may need Medicaid nursing home benefits. 

Outstanding Service Award
Hon. Renee' L. Robinson '93 (posthumous)

Hon. Renee L. RobinsonHon. Renee’ L. Robinson set great standards of quality and excellence throughout her life.  She began her legal career as the first African American female prosecutor as an Assistant State’s Attorney for DuPage County (Illinois).  She served in both the Criminal Misdemeanor and the Felony Divisions. In 1997, under the umbrella of the Illinois Supreme Court, Judge Robinson became Litigation Counsel (Prosecutor) for the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.  She then opened her own law firm in 1999 where she concentrated in general matters including real estate, corporate, and criminal law; not-for-profit and religious organizations; tax preparation and financial planning.  After nearly ten years in private practice, Judge Robinson was appointed Deputy Chief Administrative Law Judge for the Illinois Department of Employment Security’s Appeals Division in Chicago in July 2008, where she served until her death in November 2010.

Judge Robinson desired to be a servant for the people and contributed her talents to society, not only through her career, but also through her volunteer efforts in her community.  She had been an active member of many organizations including her church home, Living Stone Christian Church; Kane County Bar Association; DuPage County Bar Association; Aurora Kiwanis; Heritage YMCA Board of Directors; Joseph Corporation Board of Directors; and Mutual Ground Certified Hospital Advocate Volunteer.  She also served as director for Big Brothers/Big Sisters DuPage Chapter. 

Judge Robinson found the time and strength to dedicate to her alma mater by joining the NIU Law Alumni Council in 2008.  She immediately took on leadership responsibilities and was elected second vice president, which would have eventually led to her becoming president of the Council.  She also was a member of the golf and awards committees.  Judge Robinson epitomized the finest qualities of a person – courage, humility, graciousness, and respect.  She is truly missed by her NIU Law family as well as all who knew her.

Distinguished Service Award
Hon. Ronald G. Matekaitis '85

Hon. Ron MatekaitisHon. Ronald G. Matekaitis was sworn in May 4, 2009 as an associate judge of the Illinois 16th Judicial Circuit.  He is currently assigned to the Family Law call and hears divorce, custody, paternity, and child support cases.  He had previously been assigned to misdemeanor and traffic, small claims, orders of protection, and statutory summary suspension hearings.

Prior to his appointment, Judge Matekaitis served as the DeKalb County State’s Attorney for nine years where he made a significant impact.  His efforts to balance accountability with fairness led to the development of numerous crime prevention programs and services. In 2007, his office implemented the county’s first drug court which included a counseling, intervention and rehabilitation program.  In 2009, his office initiated the first DUI treatment court in the state of Illinois.  Other programs initiated include a Diversion Program for misdemeanor offenses and a Domestic Violence Program in partnership with the Illinois Attorney General’s Office. Judge Matekaitis also established the Juvenile Justice Council, Children’s Advocacy Center, and the Juvenile Mediation Program.

Judge Matekaitis served as chairman of the Children’s Advocacy Center and DeKalb County Juvenile Justice Council; president of the DeKalb County Bar Association; co-president of DCP/SAFE; and member of the State of Illinois Sex Offender Management Board, Sexual Assault and Abuse Services, and the Family Service Agency Board of Directors. He is a former special Assistant Attorney General and served as a member of Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s transition team. In addition, he has held positions as an Illinois Appellate Prosecutor, DeKalb alderman, village attorney, and county board member.

Honorary Law Alumna Award
Mrs. Betty DeGunther

Betty DeGuntherMrs. Betty DeGunther has been an avid supporter of the NIU College of Law for many years.  She continued the legacy started by her husband when she endowed The Honorable Richard Neil DeGunther, Sr. Scholarship Fund following his death in 1999.  Mrs. DeGunther furthered her husband’s passion for teaching and his desire for students to receive a quality education by establishing this merit based scholarship used for incoming law students who are academically gifted and continuing law students who demonstrate exceptional academic merit.

Judge DeGunther was appointed to the Western Division of the Northern District of Illinois where he served for over 26 years as a widely respected bankruptcy judge.  He influenced the legal community through his court opinions and through 20 years of teaching Bankruptcy Law at the Northern Illinois University College of Law.  He brought a fascination with, a respect for, and a love of the law along with a desire to help others understand and respect it. 

Driven by her own passion for education and desire to help others, Mrs. DeGunther returned to college as a non-traditional student and graduated from Rockford College.  She has since retired from a long and established career in desktop publishing.  Although she recently moved to Wisconsin, Mrs. DeGunther spent most of her life as an active member of the Rockford community. She served as a member of the Mendelssohn Chorale in Rockford for nearly 40 years, served on the council of Trinity Lutheran Church, taught English as a second language, and taught men’s cooking classes.  Above all else, Mrs. DeGunther’s priority remains that of her family which includes seven children and eleven grandchildren.

Public Service Award
Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride
Illinois Supreme Court

Hon. Thomas L. KilbrideThe Honorable Thomas L. Kilbride is Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court.  He was elected Justice of the Supreme Court for the Third District in 2000 and then elected Chief Justice in 2010 following the retirement of Chief Justice Thomas Fitzgerald.

Justice Kilbride practiced law for 20 years in Rock Island, engaging in the general practice of law, including appeals, environmental law, labor law, employment matters, and other general civil and criminal matters. He was admitted to practice in the United States District Court of Central Illinois and the United States Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. He was elected to the Supreme Court of Illinois for the Third District in 2000.

A leader in his community, Justice Kilbride is a past board member, past president and past vice-president of the Illinois Township Attorneys Association, a past volunteer lawyer and charter member of the Illinois Pro Bono Center, and a member of the Illinois State Bar and Rock Island County Bar Associations. He has served as volunteer legal advisor for the Community Caring Conference, the charter chairman of the Quad Cities Interfaith Sponsoring committee, volunteer legal advisor to Quad City Harvest, Inc., and a past member of the Rock Island Human Relations Commission.  He is a frequent guest speaker at the NIU College of Law and is now one the newest members on its Board of Visitors.

Mentor of the Year Award
Rachel N. Hernandez Hoag ‘05

Rachel Hernandez HoagRachel Hernandez Hoag began her career with the Community Crisis Center, a not for profit domestic violence shelter and social service agency in Elgin.  Rachel has a passion for helping others and community building and attended NIU College of Law with that purpose in mind. 

After graduating, she served as an Assistant State’s Attorney handling a variety of criminal and civil matters in Boone and Winnebago Counties, having a particular passion for seeking justice for children and victims of violent crimes.  As an Assistant State’s Attorney, she managed a unit of 6 attorneys within the office, conducted bench and jury trials in civil and criminal court, and handled cases ranging from traffic and DUI to juvenile abuse and neglect, home repair fraud and murder.  She attended Trial Advocacy and Advanced Trial Advocacy training at the National Advocacy Center in Columbia, South Carolina.

Rachel left her position with the State’s Attorney’s Office in 2008 and has since worked part-time on a contract basis for both government and private attorneys handling various legal issues including criminal and domestic relations while raising two beautiful children with her husband Jonathon.  Rachel enjoys researching legislative changes in the law and had an article published regarding new hearsay exceptions in the DuPage County Bar Association Journal in July 2010. 

Rachel has served as a board member and volunteer for many not for profit organizations and still volunteers for the Community Crisis Center. She is a member of the Illinois State Bar Association, the Elizabeth Birt Center for Autism Law and Advocacy, and the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates.

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For more information, contact:
Melody Mitchell
Alumni Events & Public Relations
(815) 753-9655 or mmitchell@niu.edu