If you have kept up with pressing legal issues in Illinois over the past three decades, chances are you have come across Tom Ioppolo’s name time and time again. As the supervising attorney for the Illinois Attorney General’s Civil Rights Unit, Tom has handled numerous headline cases regarding our State and federal constitutions.
Tom has been an Illinoisan his entire life. He grew up in Cicero, graduated from St. Ignatius High School, and completed his undergraduate degree at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Tom returned to Chicago to attend Loyola University School of Law and graduated in 1977. As a law student, Tom developed an interest in constitutional theory, focusing on interpreting the constitution and evaluating relationships between individual rights and government power.
Fresh out of law school, however, Tom accepted as his first job an offer at a small law firm that specialized in personal injury and workers' compensation cases. Although Tom gained valuable experience and had his first jury trial with the firm, he decided to return to what he fell in love with in law school–constitutional law.
Tom’s love for constitutional law, coupled with his desire to work in public service, landed him a career at the Office of the Illinois Attorney General in 1979. As a young Assistant Attorney General, Tom started out in the Illinois Department of Corrections Unit. It was there that Tom worked on cases involving prisoners' rights and constitutional issues. Tom later joined the Civil Rights Unit, which handles a broader range of cases involving various constitutional matters. Today, Tom is the supervising attorney for the Civil Rights Unit, overseeing eight Assistant Attorneys General and dozens of cases every year.
The cases that we read about it in the daily newspapers are the same cases that come across Tom’s desk on a regular basis. Tom handled the "moment of silence" case in Illinois that raised the issue of whether offering public school students a mandatory moment of silence to pray or otherwise reflect on their lives violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. Tom has also worked on several abortion rights cases, including a lawsuit that challenged the State’s abortion notification law, claiming that the law violates Illinois’ constitutional guarantees of privacy and due process. Tom feels very fortunate for having the opportunity to represent State officials in constitutional cases in State and federal courts. He also believes that if he had continued in private practice, he would not have worked on the same types of cases that continue to challenge him daily.
Tom’s dedication to public service, however, does not end with his position with the Illinois Attorney General’s Office. Tom also donates his time and experience to several community organizations. Perhaps the one service that Tom dedicates most of his extra time to is the Black Star Project, an organization that provides services to elementary and high school students in Chicago. The Black Star Project is a student motivation and mentoring program where volunteer "motivators" from business, government, and other professions talk to students about their jobs, the preparation necessary for their jobs, and what a student needs to do in school to be successful in the working world. As a Black Star Project Motivator, Tom takes the task one step further by performing a mock trial of a civil rights case involving a prisoner of Stateville Prison. After giving the closing arguments for both sides of the case, Tom lets the students act as the jury and deliberate the case. By doing so, the students not only remain entertained, they also get a glimpse into what it would be like to be an attorney. Tom thoroughly enjoys the reactions from the students and hopes that the program will inspire and motivate students to perform well in school. Tom is also involved in tutoring adult students in basic English at the Aquinas Literacy Center in the McKinley Park neighborhood of Chicago.
Tom’s dedication to his community, combined with his 30 years of working on headline cases, makes him not only someone whom you should know, but someone whose name you probably already do know. ■