They were a couple of Missouri Tigers new to Illini country — Anna Benjamin a first-year student at the UI's College of Law, Anthony Benjamin a database programmer at the Beckman Institute.
“Pretty typical college kids,” she recalls, 15 years and one major job title change later, “eating at all the latest and greatest spots on campus, doing our laundry at the laundromat on Green Street and riding the bus to campus.”
Being new to C-U, she sought out “double Illini” — like law classmate Gray Mateo-Harris, who’d earned her bachelor’s degree on the same campus and came to be a “kind, brilliant and always encouraging” friend.
Mateo-Harris is now practicing law in Chicago. Benjamin liked it here so much, she never left.
A career that started at Champaign’s Meyer Capel — where she clerked in college, then practiced family law for nine years — took a turn for the stupendous in 2017, when Benjamin, then 35, emerged from a field of 21 to become Champaign County’s newest associate judge.
“I had great professors at the College of Law, including Judge Arnold Blockman, and I think the fact that people like him choose to stay in this area is one of the things that make this community great,” she says. “Judge Blockman taught a family law practice class at the law school that was on par intellectually with every other class I had, and piqued my interest in family law despite the fact that I never anticipated practicing in that area.
“He brought local attorneys into one of the classes during the semester, and I specifically remember one of them, Jim Mullady, saying that to practice family law you have to have the heart of a lion. It was a turning point for me, and I will always remember that.”
Also on her most influential list: Harold Adams, who hired her as a Meyer Capel clerk — despite where she’d gone for undergrad.
“He didn’t have too much in the way of hard feelings that I was a Mizzou grad, even though he is about the greatest Fighting Illini fan you will ever meet,” she says. “Turns out I could never keep up with his sports knowledge, since I am really just a book nerd, but he and the rest of the law firm didn’t hold that against me, either.”