When Margaret Mullen served as a juvenile court judge in Lake County in the ’90s, she saw the same heartbreaking, family-destroying cycle repeated like a broken record.
Roughly 90 percent of the women who appeared in her courtroom has substance abuse issues, and after going through rehab they would come back looking “like a shiny, new penny,” she recalls—only to return home to the same housing projects, fall back into their old ways, and end up back in court, looking bedraggled.
“It can be very sad and disheartening place,” she says. “I learned the best and the worst of people. You’re seeing man’s inhumanity to children.”
But instead of simply witnessing the cycle of abuse and neglect, the Lake Bluff native used her job—which is really a passion—to create change. She became one of the founders of Mary Pat Maddex Place, a home for women who are recovering substance abusers.
The nine transitional housing apartments provide a real home for up to two years for previously homeless women who have completed rehab programs, reuniting them with their children—who have usually been in foster care—in a supportive environment. There are support services on site to help them stay clean and sober, as well as find jobs and permanent housing.
Mullen is currently a presiding judge on the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit Court of Lake County, where she has served previously as Chief Judge, and she continues to use her office to do good both inside and outside the courtroom. Lately, since her division has been inundated with mortgage foreclosures, she worked with the local bar association to set up a volunteer-run mortgage foreclosure help desk to serve the many people undergoing this anxiety-ridden process.
Of her years in juvenile court and the opportunity they provided, Mullen is incredibly grateful: “Initially, I thought, it’s too much responsibility, it’s too hard, it’s so sad … it turned out to be was a greatest thing in my judicial life.”