Judge Manuel Barbosa, first Hispanic federal judge in Northern Illinois

Illinois’ northern district bankruptcy court lost its first Hispanic judge this fall when Judge Manuel Barbosa of Elgin retired after 14 years on the bench.

Judge Barbosa was born in Mexico and came to America with his migrant worker family as an infant. He moved to Elgin at the age of 10. After law school at St. Procopius College and John Marshall Law School, Barbosa distinguished himself in both private practice and public service, including 18 years as Chairman of the Illinois Human Rights Commission during the Thompson and Edgar administrations. From there he was appointed to the federal bench in 1998.
As a bankruptcy judge, Barbosa encountered a diverse set of cases. Some involved large companies facing bankruptcy and all its implications for the company’s employees. Other cases revolved around individuals caught up in Ponzi schemes or the 2008 foreclosure crisis.

Judge Manuel Barbosa, the
first Hispanic federal judge
to serve on the bench
of the Northern District of Illinois
In an interview with the Daily Herald, Barbosa said the foreclosure crisis was particularly harsh on Latinos. “Perhaps the more notable thing is that a lot of Latinos didn’t seem to really know what was going on. It’s one thing when you’re in a financial bind, but you kind of understood how you got there. A lot of times these people seemed to be totally befuddled.”

He added that, “it’s difficult sometimes when you see the suffering that people are undergoing, and there is only so much you can do.”
In retirement, however, Barbosa is not planning to give up on helping people. He serves on the board of visitors at Northern Illinois University’s College of Law, and is in the running for a judicial reform training program in Peru. Barbosa also plans to become more active in non-profit activities, including the Club Guadalupano of Elgin, which he founded to help Latino students find college scholarships.

Last month, Barbosa was called back into public service when the Kane County Board unanimously appointed him to a seat on the troubled Metra board of directors. Board chairman Chris Lauzen called Barbosa “the personification of trustworthiness and integrity.”
Barbosa says one of his favorite stories to tell students and other audiences is about his unique link to Abraham Lincoln. He once shook the hand of a professor who had in turn shaken hands with another man who as a child had met Lincoln.

Through a life of public service which now enters another chapter, Barbosa never lost sight of the ultimate objective. “People are always trying to come up with new ways to help the public. That’s the goal.”