Sheila M. Murphy was born in Colorado to parents who instilled in her the importance of caring for others. Ms. Murphy graduated from Marquette University in 1959. Prior to graduating from DePaul Law School in 1970, she taught pre-school and grade school children. Ms. Murphy served as an Assistant Public Defender and as a Federal Defender Panel Attorney. In 1989, Ms. Murphy became an Associate Judge, one of 11 chosen and the only woman in a field of 257 candidates. In 1992, Judge Murphy ran as an independent Democrat and was elected by 1.2 million votes to the Circuit Court of Cook County. Judge Murphy served as Presiding Judge of the Sixth District from 1992 to 1999. During that time, a child care waiting room and domestic violence and drug treatment courts were opened. With a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, a school was opened in the lower level for children who had been suspended or expelled from schools.
As Presiding Judge, Judge Murphy did not limit her duties to judicial administration but heard cases as well including the post conviction petition of Verneal Jimerson who had been sentenced to death. She ordered DNA testing for Mr. Jimerson and co-defendants, which exonerated all of them. During her distinguished judicial tenure, Judge Murphy received many awards including the “Meritorious Service Award” twice from the Illinois Judicial Council. Judge Murphy is a recipient of the Kenneth Wilson Award, which honor was bestowed on her in June of 2009 by the Cook County Bar Association, the oldest black bar association in North America. The American Bar Association and the National Association of Women Judges jointly awarded Judge Murphy an award for her restorative justice work.
Upon retirement in 1999, she joined Rothschild, Barry & Myers LLP. Sheila Murphy assisted in the representation of Dominique Green on death row in Texas where he was executed despite the victim’s family’s pleas for his life. (Her representation is described in a book by Thomas Cahill, A Saint on Death Row.) She also helped Kenneth Foster escape the death penalty in Texas. His life was spared three hours before the planned execution. She actively lobbied for abolition of the death penalty in Illinois.
Sheila Murphy is past Chair of the International Bar Association Judge’s Forum. She was named as an Illinois State Bar Association Laureate in 2009. In 1993 Judge Murphy became an Adjunct Professor at The John Marshall Law School. She teaches Restorative Justice with Professor Michael P. Seng and has taught law students in China, the Czech Republic and Taiwan.