Judge Ursula Walowski works at a pace that can only be described as frenetic. A judge in Cook County’s Domestic Violence Court, Walowski sets bonds, dismisses cases and imposes her judgments so swiftly that simply following along can become dizzying.
With so many cases on her docket, a visitor to her courtroom may wonder: Does going through cases this fast even make a dent? “We’re going to wipe out domestic violence,” Walowski explains with a smirk. She is only half joking.
Born in Poland, Walowski came to Chicago at the age of 8. While growing up in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, a freak first-hand run-in with the justice system inspired the young Walowski to pursue the law as a career.
Walowski, then in the eighth grade, was witness to a fatal shooting near the corner of 51st Street and Ashland Avenue, not far from her childhood home. Walowski testified against her neighbor’s killer and promised herself a career as a prosecuting attorney.
“I think that was when I first realized I wanted to be involved in law somehow,” said Walowski, now 41. “It all just seemed so interesting to me.”
Walowski attended Maria High School on Chicago’s South Side. She was awarded several college scholarships and graduated in only three years from the University of Illinois-Chicago.
Walowski then attended IIT’s Kent College of Law and after graduating spent the next 15 years as an Illinois state prosecutor. After nearly two decades of “putting away the bad guys,” Walowski began to consider becoming a judge.
“I eventually decided I wanted to be a judge because I got tired of just putting criminals away,” said Walowski. “I like trying to resolve issues between both sides and coming to a resolution that is fair.”
In 2008, Walowski ran in the 10th subcircuit and won her first six-year term as a judge. Following a brief stint judging traffic court, Walowski came to Cook County’s Domestic Violence Court, where she has been ever since.
Walowski’s days now consist of a seemingly unending onslaught of case after case. Working in the domestic abuse court means that Walowski often must oversee cases that may seem suspicious to the average person. These, Walowski insists, are among the most frustrating cases in her workload.
“Sometimes I’ll have a situation where a person who has clearly been the victim of abuse will go ahead and drop the charges anyway,” said Walowski. “Those are the cases that can really frustrate you because if the evidence is not there, we have to throw it out and move on.”
Luckily, if the evidence in a case is overwhelming one way or the other, the state can choose to continue to pursue the case even though the accuser does not wish to proceed.
As a prosecutor, Walowski has seen many defendants and witnesses turn their lives around, steering violent gang members away from crime and into college and productive careers.
“They keep in touch with me, and it’s really nice to hear from them,” said Walowski. “That’s the kind of thing that gives me the determination to keep going.”
Walowski now lives in the Lincoln Square area with her 4-month-old son.
Dealing with such unsavory topics as domestic abuse and child endangerment on a daily basis can undoubtedly take its toll. For Walowski, however, it is made bearable by keeping in mind al the good she is doing.
“I see a lot of really negative things, but I see so many positives as well,” said Walowski. “I just hope I am able to help by listening to both sides.”