About the ISBA

2000 Laureate Award Winners

Kennard J. Besse

In 1974 as the Illinois State Bar Association began preparations to celebrate its centennial - Kennard J. Besse of Sterling - convened a meeting at Allerton House in Monticello to examine the future of the legal profession in Illinois. The meeting was to last three days and produced a remarkable action plan which would guide the activities of this association for more than a decade ... leading us to be more pro-active in our legislative program, to help improve the delivery of legal services to the poor and to middle income people, to fight to increase judicial compensation and improve judicial selection, and to welcome young lawyers, women, and under-represented constituencies to the governing counsels of our profession.

For his extraordinary vision and leadership, Ken Besse received not only our Award of Merit -- but also the satisfaction of helping to improve the administration of justice -- and providing direction for the work of the organized bar for years to come.

By that time, Ken had already served the Illinois Bar as its treasurer and a member of its Board of Governors.

Had already served his local bar as President.

Had already served his community as President of its School Board and Chairman of the Seven-City Task Force, which finally obtained a four-lane highway from Aurora to the Quad Cities.

Throughout it all, he has helped change the face of his community and the face of his profession -- the profession which he has served for so long -- in so many ways -- and with such distinction.

Robert E. Bradney

If the term "Gentleman & Scholar" did not already exist -- it would have to be created to properly describe Robert E. Bradney of Jacksonville.

The lawyers of Illinois benefited greatly from his wisdom, kindness and integrity in the late 1970's and early 1980's as the bar and bench replaced the Canons of Professional Ethics with the completely revised and entirely restated Rules of Professional Conduct.

It took six years and prompted a highly charged debate within the profession as we reviewed such contentious subjects as whistle-blowing on our clients, legal advertising, specialization and mandatory pro-bono.

As chairman of our Special Committee on the Code of Professional Responsibility and a long-time member of the ISBA-CBA Joint Ethics Committee, Bob became our surest guide to resolving the complex ethical challenges which faced our profession during a decade in which there were more changes to the practice of law than in the preceding century.

Somehow he got us through those difficult -- seemingly endless -- debates with his unique combination of legal statesmanship and collegiality -- and sometimes a touch of humor when the debate seemed its most intense. He once explained to the Assembly the ethical difference between marketing and advertising:

"It's marketing, if I do it," he said.
"It's advertising if the lawyer across the street does it."

He brought those same qualities to the practice of law. As an adversary he was demanding and rigorous -- yet somehow always able to infuse rigor with kindness, and his opponents were unable to regard him with anything but professional respect and personal affection.

One of the members of his firm describes him as a part of "a special class of lawyers whose qualities go beyond excellence and who practice with a touch of artistry -- thorough in preparation -- honest in assessment -- thoughtful in presentation -- ethical in behavior -- a shining example," he said, "of all that is good in the legal profession."

Philip H. Corboy

His law firm has been called The Corboy College of Law -- training ground to some of the foremost trial lawyers of our generation -- taught by one of the pre-eminent trial lawyers of any generation - Philip H. Corboy of Chicago.

Just as the New York cab driver -- asked by the confused motorist -- "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?" is reputed to have answered, "practice, practice, practice." So for 50 years, Phil's advice to his aspiring young protegees has remained the same -- "prepare, prepare and prepare."

If none of them ever saw the need to demand proof for the efficacy of that advice it's because they didn't need to. They saw it proven first-hand -- day after day -- year after year -- leading to some of the largest jury awards in Illinois history -- only one loss during the past two decades -- and even that reversed on appeal.

His work on behalf of the organized bar is equally impressive. He is or has been a fellow, a regent, a chairman or a president of just about anything worth being a fellow, a regent, a chairman or a president of, including his presidency of the Chicago Bar Association and his service as chairman of the Litigation Section of the American Bar Association - where he continues to be a guiding spirit even today.

He has also been generous in sharing his expertise with his fellow lawyers -- is the author of over 100 articles for bar or law school journals -- and has lectured on hundreds of occasions - in 6 countries, 45 states and 75 cities.

But we honor him most of all for his work in the Courtrooms in America -- as an advocate -- for some of the most vulnerable members of our society -- in a time of their greatest need.

In the words of Learned Hand: "He asked no quarter of absolutes and he gave none: Go ye and do likewise."

Ivan A. Elliott, Jr.

There aren't but 5,000 people in Carmi, Illinois -- down there on the paved road -- sort of half way between Burnt Prairie and Rising Sun.

And so it must have come as something of a shock - to some of his fellow lawyers -- in the big cities and the big firms -- when Ivan A. Elliott of Carmi -- a small-town general practitioner -- was named as one of the Best Lawyers in America by the national publication of that name beginning in 1983 and in every edition since then, one of only 17 Illinoisans so named in the category of Trusts & Estates.

But it came as no surprise to the community of estate planners across the state, for whom Ivan Elliott, if not the oldest member of their fellowship, is clearly the most revered.

Nor did it surprise the continuing legal education community -- where he had been a regular contributor for years -- an author of the definitive handbook on Revocable Grantor Trusts in Illinois -- a member of the Board of the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education for 13 years -- winner of its highest recognition, the Addis Hull Award in 1995.

Nor did it surprise a host of civic and charitable organizations throughout Southern Illinois, particularly in the field of education. He had served as a Trustee of Southern Illinois University for 24 years, five of them as chairman and a member of the State University Civil Service Merit Board for 23 years, nine of them as chairman.

And it certainly did not surprise his clients -- who experienced first-hand and for over half a century -- not only his professional skill and personal compassion -- but also his quiet influence for good in their lives and in the life of their community.

Thomas F. Geraghty

As the gatekeepers of the profession, the members of the faculty of the seven law schools of our state play a unique role in maintaining the highest standards of the bar by helping mold the "character and fitness" of the 2500 new lawyers who join our ranks each year. Thomas F. Geraghty, Professor of Law at the Northwestern University Law School and its Associate Dean for Clinical Education, is an example of the professoriate at its finest.

Although there is some ivy on the towers of the Law School at Northwestern -- Tom Geraghty is not your typical Ivy Tower intellectual, but brings a hands-on, learn-by-doing dimension to the life of today's law student.

The Legal Clinic at Northwestern was established in 1969. It began with two supervising lawyers and twelve students -- one of whom was a second-year law student named Tom Geraghty, who never left -- hired by Northwestern upon graduation -- first as staff attorney -- then as co-director and later director -- and for 17 years now -- Associate Dean for Clinical Education.

In the process, the Clinic has grown to include six tenure track professions, seven clinical professors and seventy-five students with a national reputation for its effective representation of its clients, its teaching of trial advocacy and its institutional reform activities, particularly in the Juvenile Court of Cook County.

Recently the Clinic initiated a project in which students and faculty represent prisoners -- many of them the subject of post-conviction, death penalty litigation -- of which the Clinic's recent representation of Rolando Cruz is an example.

Through his leadership of the Clinic at Northwestern and the wide range of his educational activities both within the law school and beyond, Tom Geraghty (like so many of his colleagues) continues to have a profound influence on the newest members of our profession.

As one of them said, "His high expectations of us prompted us to respond to talents which neither we nor anyone else ever suspected -- to become what he assumed we already were -- to live as usefully as he suggested we might."

Richard O. Hart

Everyone knew that the Southern Illinois region needed its own law school, that there weren't enough lawyers to meet the legal needs of the region, and that many of the young men and women of the region were unable to obtain a first-rate, affordable legal education.

But everyone also knew that actually getting their own law school was not inevitable. It was not even probable.

They would need the right person to convince the legal and educational establishment and then the General Assembly -- a person of vision and political skill. Someone like Richard O. Hart of Benton.

Like his father and uncle before him and their father before them -- Dick Hart's love of the law and reverence for the facts qualified him as the person to see when the men and women of the region had legal problems or faced a seemingly insurmountable challenge either individually or as a community.

And he did in fact make it happen -- resulting in an institution of ever-growing national status from which generations yet unborn will benefit in ways impossible to foresee.

There have been lawyers named Hart -- meeting the legal needs of the Southern Illinois region since 1887. Dick represents the third generation and happily the fourth generation of that noble family tradition is also represented in his firm.

For nearly 50 years now, Dick Hart has been a staunch believer in the efficacy of hard work and good causes:

  • President of his local bar association
  • Governor of the State Bar
  • Member of the Illinois House of Representatives
  • A Founder, Long-Time Director, Past Chairman of the Board of Attorneys Title Guaranty
  • A Founder, Long-Time Director of the ISBA Mutual Insurance Company

That he did it at all - is a tribute to his father and his father's father.

That he did it with professional skill and quiet eloquence is a tribute to his teachers in the schools of Illinois.

That he did it modestly and with a concern for other people is a tribute to himself.

John T. Holmstrom, Jr.

John T. Holmstrom, Jr. has won every recognition that a grateful community can bestow -- The Excaliber Award given to only one person each year for a lifetime's service to the community. The Lathrop Medal of his local bar association awarded only four times in 100 years for legal statesmanship. An award of merit of this Association as one of the founders and a tireless promoter of the law-focused education program established in high schools across the state.

For over half a century, he has provided leadership to the organized bar, has served the interest of his clients with high integrity and has enthusiastically shared his skills with countless civic and charitable organizations. And through it all, he has remained warm, straightforward and the very model of probity and judgment.

In recalling his years of devotion to the profession and the public, it would be easy to dwell on specific achievements, since there have been so many of them and since they have added a brighter luster to the practice of law -- but more important is his warm, human quality and special kind of gallantry which has brought particular joy to so many.

Generosity of spirit, kindness toward others, and unassuming friendliness are all qualities which came from deep within him and have contributed so perceptively to his quiet influence on the lives of people and his lasting influence on the law firm which bears his name.

That firm, Holmstrom & Kennedy in Rockford, plays a unique role in its community - not merely because it is the oldest and one of the best firms in town, but also because of its corporate culture...a legacy of its founders. In this time when so many law firms seem to be governed solely by arithmetic and are almost Darwinian in nature, firms like Holmstrom & Kennedy remain an influence for good in our profession. Firms where collegiality still exists -- where public service is part of everyone's job description -- where the quiet influence of those who have gone before them still prevails -- proving the truth of Emerson's observation that "every institution is the lengthened shadow of one man."

Warren Lupel

In his book, The Bramble Bush, Karl Llewellyn identifies three ways of living as a lawyer:

--those who want to do well

-- those who want to do good

-- and those who want to do both.

All of this year's Laureates have done good in all sorts of ways -- but not more so -- or in a more basic way -- than Warren Lupel of Chicago.

  • He tutors children in the housing projects
  • He reads for the blind
  • He packs meals at the Chicago Food Depository
  • He helps law students in academic jeopardy
  • Together with his wife, he provides the care and betterment of animals
  • And they have raised the children of others in their home, importing those values to their own children.

In December of 1997, Warren took a leave of absence from his firm to work among the poorest of the poor as a volunteer in an orphanage in India, and with children living on the streets of Delhi.

But most of all, he helps people in need of legal services -- regardless of their ability to pay a fee. As a former partner says of him, "One reason we no longer practice together is because Warren was more concerned with helping people than running a law practice/business. There were far too many situations where people needed help but were incapable of paying fees. This never caused Warren to waiver his dynamic energy in representing people in solving their dilemmas. Those who are familiar with the case of Gary Dotson and all that Warren did for that wrongfully accused individual, at his own person, professional and financial detriment, know that he took the case without fee, without any expectation of any benefit whatsoever, because he believed that Gary Dotson was wrongfully accused and incarcerated. For almost ten months he worked on nothing but this case without any compensation and without any other source of income. Mr. Dotson was released from prison and never served another day as a result of Warren's untiring and brilliant efforts as a lawyer on behalf of an indigent client."

Warren Lupel also happens to be an expert in legal ethics and former chair of the ISBA Committee on Professional Responsibility. Accordingly, he knows first-hand that the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct never included Model Rule 6.1 -- the Rule urging lawyers to provide 50 hours' pro bono or public service per year. The absence of Rule 6.1 should be a source of shame to us all and we should read the Code the way Warren does -- as if Rule 6.1 has been there all along.

The prophet Micah defines the good life thusly: To do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with your God.

For over 3 decades now, Warren Lupel has done more than practice law: He has done justice. Through a lifetime of service to the poorest of the poor and those in greatest need, he has demonstrated a love of mercy. And we honor him as a Laureate of the Academy with the hope that for many years to come - he will continue to walk humbly with his God.

Martha A. Mills

The State of Mississippi accused her of the unauthorized practice of law.

A judge sent her to jail for contempt after she asked him to recuse himself from a civil rights case, because of his membership in the Klan.

The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law had doubts about sending her there in the first place -- it was dangerous -- and they weren't entirely certain a woman lawyer could do it.

But she did do it -- first in Jackson, Mississippi for two years, then in Fayette, Mississippi, where she lived for four months under constant threat of fire-bombing or death. Then back to Illinois to serve for about three years as Chief Counsel of the Lawyers Committee in Cairo -- where in addition to handling a full-range of civil rights matters, she also began a program for migrant workers after first spending many hours with them in their camps.

Of her time in Mississippi, Hodding Carter of Frontline said:

What she did was consistently courageous, involving nothing less than a direct assault on a racist system which clothed itself in legalistic garb . . . In pursuit of that goal she faced physical threat and judicial harassment. It was occasionally frightening and frequently lonely but she persevered.

Following her time in Cairo, she returned to her home town of Chicago in 1971 -- first as a legal services lawyer, then in private practice, then as a judge, and finally as the guiding spirit of Restorative Justice -- a revolutionary approach to crime in which victims, wrongdoers and communities work together to help victims re-take control of their lives and to instill in wrongdoers an appreciation of the human impact of their behavior, promoting restitution to the victims and the community at large.

James Montgomery

Jim Montgomery of Chicago is no stranger to the battle for civil rights, having litigated in the area of civil rights and criminal law in Illinois, New York, California, Nevada, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, South Carolina, Missouri and Florida, including serving as lead counsel in the 18-month civil rights trials regarding the murders of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. He is a master litigator and worthy heir to the tradition of Clarence Darrow -- a man constitutionally incapable of ignoring the suffering around him, who for nearly 50 years has reached out, without fear or favor, to his brothers and sisters in need.

Between 1983 and 1986, Jim Montgomery served as Corporation Counsel for the City of Chicago, the city's chief legal officer.

But despite that distinction and the extraordinary success he has attained in private practice, as one of his nominators has said, "It is clear from his record of service to others that he never thought he had earned his way to success merely through his own combination of talent, aspiration and hard work. He always assumed that if it had not been for the major contributions and acts of kindness of untold others, he would not have been able to achieve all that he has. So he lives his life as if it were a struggle in which he himself will never fully succeed, unless hundreds of others are also helped–also given the chance to succeed."

Jim Montgomery is also a veteran member of the cast of the Chicago Bar Association's Christmas Spirits, and has cheerfully portrayed everyone from Jesse Jackson to Rhett Butler to Johnnie Cochran. Once he even portrayed himself. Anything for a laugh.

Perhaps because of that ability not to take himself too seriously, even though he takes his work very seriously, for over four decades people have depended on him. And that has been his burden -- and his joy.

Esther Rothstein

Our hearts were full and our sense of loss was great when the lawyers of Illinois learned of the death of Esther R. Rothstein of Chicago, the First Lady of the Bar of Illinois. But sadness quickly gave way to gratitude when we remembered her quiet influence upon our lives and the life of the profession which she loved.

The legal profession was not particularly receptive to women lawyers when Esther first joined its ranks, and she encountered her share of resentment and obstacles. To the extent that our profession has finally begun to remove barriers and open doors that too often had remained closed, credit belongs to Esther Rothstein, and others like her, who showed us the way.

In the process, she became a role model, nor merely for women lawyers but for all lawyers of good will, for whom the goal of equal opportunity remains a noble and worthy mission which our profession has the ability to lead, but only if we realize that it is a mission best led by example.

Esther taught us that lesson in her own kind and gentle way. But it was the kind of gentleness Sigmund Freud had in mind when he said, "The voice of intellect is a soft one–but it does not rest until it has gained a hearing."

As she broke ground for women lawyers everywhere, Esther attained high office and national recognition. Descriptions of her inevitably include adjectives like "first," "only," "best."

But tempting though it may be to point to particular accomplishments, for Esther as for most of us, the true tests of character come not in the context of some momentous task or attainment, but in the ordinary circumstances of living -- where the tests of character are daily and the results inexorable in their accumulation.

What were those results?

Esther Rothstein was an unfailing, unflinching exemplar of civic virtue and moral courage, and those who had the good fortune to have been associated with her in the cause of justice, carry away the memory of a devoted servant of law: patient and considerate; courteous and kindly; yet magnificently strong.

James R. Thompson

He is a large man in -- in every good way -- great hearted, full of purpose, all embracing. And before he was a great Governor, Jim Thompson was a great lawyer:

  • While a law professor at Northwestern, he also authored scholarly articles and casebooks.
  • While a state prosecutor, he argued over 200 cases before the Illinois Supreme Court and the landmark Escobedo case before the United States Supreme Court.
  • As Chairman of the ISBA Criminal Law Section, he helped revise the Illinois Criminal Code.
  • As United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois his performance set the standard by which all subsequent U.S. Attorneys in Chicago have been measured.
  • As the longest serving Governor in Illinois history, he became the very model of the Lawyer as Public Servant. For fourteen years, he ennobled our politics and enriched our lives.

Following his final term, he returned to his first love -- the law and since 1993, has served as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Winston & Strawn, one of the most respected law firms in the world.

And through it all, whether in the classroom, in the rough and tumble world of the criminal courts, in the Governor's mansion, or in an office high above Wacker Drive in Chicago looking down on the building which bears his name, he remains a large man -- in every good way -- great hearted, full of purpose, all embracing: as Shakespeare said in Henry IV, "A tall gentlemen, by heaven, and a most gallant leader."