Attorney Dartesia A. Pitts has always looked to be of service to her community. In fact, since elementary school, it has been second nature for the Chicago South Side native to help others whenever she saw or sensed that a helping hand was needed.
Today Pitts is recognized as an Illinois Super Lawyer Rising Star, an Emerging Lawyer of Illinois, and as a Forty under 40 recipient for both the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin and the National Bar Association.
An experienced real estate and commercial law attorney, Pitts received a bachelor of arts degree in history with distinction from Kenyon College and her Juris Doctor from Northern Illinois University College of Law. She is admitted to practice law in both the State and the Northern District of Illinois.
Currently, Pitts splits her time with her duties as the President of the Cook County Bar Association (CCBA), and working in the office of Commissioner Larry Rogers, Jr. at the Cook County Board of Review.
She has also been seen on national television as a legal commentator on Fox’s Swift Justice with Nancy Grace, and the TV One programs Fatal Attraction and Justice By Any Means.
N’DIGO recently sat with Pitts to discuss her career beginnings, how voters can be better informed in navigating the judicial ballot, and all that goes into her tenure as President of the CCBA.
N’DIGO: What did you dream of becoming as a child?
Dartesia Pitts: I dreamed of being a teacher and a decision maker. So in that regard, I guess I have accomplished my childhood dreams even though this isn’t quite what I had in mind back then.
When did you decide that you’d pursue a career in public service?
I made that decision when I observed the urgent need to help, especially within the African-American community. That commitment came while I was in college, even though it was not realized until after college.
Take us down your path from when you decided to pursue law to officially becoming a lawyer. How did you get there?
I didn’t personally know any lawyers growing up. However, I believe my parents planted the seeds to my dedication and involvement in the community where I grew up and that led to my becoming an attorney.
I’m from the South Side and I became a lawyer to serve as a resource for my family. I knew at an early age that my family and community needed access to the law, remedies and real justice. I just wanted to help. I always advocated for those who needed help, even as a child.
I served in leadership positions in elementary school, high school and in college. I’ve always been involved in my community and its affairs. Who knew that my interest in making sure that people who needed it had access to legal resources would lead me to one day being elected president of the CCBA? I sure didn’t.
As a young black woman, people tend to discredit what you say for various reasons.
What are some of your duties as CCBA President?
The CCBA is the oldest association of Black lawyers and judges in the country. It’s celebrating 103 years this year. As the 17th woman to serve in this position, I serve as the spokesperson for the Bar Association and preside over meetings with a committed group of lawyers who serve as our board of directors that takes care of the business of the Bar Association.
That business is varied. We help our member lawyers and law students obtain access to legal education through providing continuing legal education and other programming. We review the qualifications of lawyers who are judicial candidates to determine whether they are qualified to serve in the judiciary.
We provide guidance to the community to help with their various legal needs, including providing access to pro-bono legal clinics. We assist law students in obtaining scholarships for law school and jobs at our annual Minority Legal Job Fair, which is the largest in the Midwest.
We serve as advocates on community and social justice issues. We mentor and address students on jobs within the legal profession and we enhance the network of our lawyers. Though you may not hear about it all, know that CCBA is working!
In your opinion, what needs to happen for Illinois to move past the political muddle and prosper once again?
The Cook County Bar Association is a non-partisan, voluntary membership organization. It is my personal opinion that for individuals and communities to move past any type of muddle to prosper, we need innovative and fresh ideas at the table, coupled with people who are unafraid to speak up and willing to serve to get the job done.
How can voters be more informed in regards to judicial candidates and navigating the judicial ballot? And why is that so important?
In general, the best way for voters to be informed about the judicial candidates on the ballot is to pay attention to those who are serving your community prior to asking for your vote. Judges, just like any other elected official, are public servants. Many who are good public servants have always, in some capacity, served the public.
In a more practical approach, voters must first register to vote! Registering is the first step in committing to the process and empowering your voice. Next, you need to download your sample ballot from the City of Chicago’s Board of Election’s, or the Cook County Clerk’s, website.
On your sample, you will see who will be on your ballot so that you are not surprised on voting day. There will be many pages of judges. You can utilize the Cook County Bar Association Judicial Ratings to determine whether a judicial candidate is qualified to serve as a judge.
We categorize our reviews with the marks of Recommended, Not Recommended, Highly Recommended or Not Evaluated. The CCBA does not endorse any particular candidate. So, in instances where there is a contested race and all candidates are rated “Recommended,” then the voter has to do additional research to determine who they want to elect.
There are many organizations that endorse candidates, and for a myriad of reasons, from political parties to unions to newspapers. However, in the age of Google, where information is abundantly available at your fingertips, the voter has the resources now to complete substantial research on any judicial candidate. So I encourage everyone to do their own research and compare and contrast what they read…and then vote!
Can you talk about some specific hardships you’ve faced as a young woman of color in your field?
Finding and asserting my voice has been a specific hardship for me in the practice. As a young black woman, people tend to discredit what you say for various reasons.
The elders may feel like you have not lived long enough for your experience to be validated. The men may tune you out because you are a woman, and the majority of lawyers may denigrate my voice because I’m black.
But lawyers are fighters. We advocate for those who are vulnerable before the scales of justice. You cannot be successful in this game if you cannot establish and solidify your voice at the table. You have to command respect and be ready for battle. That was my hardship initially and sometimes it still is a challenge. However, after thirteen years of practice, I have learned how to navigate through this.
What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
I love to dance, travel to foreign lands and eat good food! I am big on work-life balance and encouraging professionals to bring your authentic selves to the table.
Name a book that changed or really impacted your life.
The Bible. It shows that there is nothing new under the sun and it is one of the best references to get through life for me.
Best advice or words of wisdom to aspiring legal professionals?
Your network is your net worth. Be kind, cordial and open to all the people you encounter in this journey. You will see them again at another point. Find a mentor. Seek out those you want to emulate and ask for their help.
Protect your reputation at all costs. Your word and your reputation will precede you. Make sure to maintain your credibility. Give back. Every one of us is where we are but for the sacrifice of someone else. Remember that and never get too big to help someone.
Favorite quotes or affirmations?
“I come as one, I stand as ten thousand.” – Maya Angelou
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.
“There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Marianne Williamson
What’s next for Dartesia Pitts?
I’m still figuring it out. However, whatever it is, trust me, it will be helping someone in some way.