Commissioner, Gubernatorial Member
Appointment to Commission: 1997 —
Paula Wolff joined the Illinois Courts Commission in 1997 as one of its first two public members, the positions having been established by the Constitutional amendment of 1994. Wolff is currently the Policy Advisor to the Illinois Justice Project, a civic organization implementing policy initiatives and programs to improve the criminal legal system. Wolff has spent the last two decades focused on juvenile and criminal justice reform. At the Illinois Justice Project, she works to advance policies and practices that reduce violence, decrease recidivism, and make the justice system more equitable.
From 2000 until the creation of the Illinois Justice Project in 2014, Paula Wolff was Senior Executive at Chicago Metropolis 2020 and Metropolis Strategies, where she led the Justice and Violence Group, the predecessor to the Illinois Justice Project.
From 1992 to 2000, Wolff served as President of Governors State University. During her tenure at GSU, the budget doubled and enrollment grew by 22 percent to more than 9,000 students on the campus in Chicago’s south suburbs.
From 1977 to 1991, Wolff served as Director of Policy and Planning for Governor James R. Thompson. She directed development and implementation of policy for all areas of state government, serving with her staff as liaison to 57 state agencies. She also worked for Governor Richard B. Ogilvie from 1969 to 1971.
In 1990-91, she directed Governor Jim Edgar's Transition Team, as she had participated in Governor James R. Thompson's in 1976-77. In 2014-15, she co-chaired Governor Bruce Rauner’s Public Safety Transition Policy Committee; in 2018-19, she served on the Governor Pritzker/Lt. Governor Stratton Transition Committee as well.
Wolff has been a college professor and visiting lecturer at several universities. She lectured at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy from 1991 to 1992 and again between 2000-2012, and she taught a public policy graduate seminar regularly while President at GSU.
Wolff has a bachelor’s degree from Smith College and a master’s and doctorate in Political Science from the University of Chicago.
In addition to the Courts Commission, Wolff serves on numerous boards, including the Johnson Foundation, the Irving Harris Foundation, Ariel Investments, and emerita on the University of Chicago Medical Center Board and the University of Chicago Board of Trustees. Wolff is Vice President of the Chicago Police Board and the former chair of the City Colleges of Chicago Board and also the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority.
She was married to Wayne W. Whalen (deceased) and has five children.