2001 Laureate Award Winners
James J. Ahern
To anyone who practices traffic law in Illinois, it is well known that the "dean" of the traffic bar is James J. Ahern, senior. His law firm – Ahern, Maloney, and Moran with primary offices in Skokie –concentrates in the defense of DUI and representation in other traffic matters.
His reputation in the law has several dimensions. He is, first and foremost, an outstanding lawyer. He has appeared frequently in the Appellate and Supreme courts. He represents his clients' interests fully, professionally, and with compassion.
He also is known far and wide as an unselfish teacher. For over twenty years, he has been a member of the Executive Committee of the Illinois Traffic Court Conference. His development of scenarios faced by traffic law attorneys and the panel discussion of these fact situations is a highlight of the annual conference. That part of the seminar is now referred to as "The Ahern Panel."
Additionally, Jim Ahern has given generously of his time to lecture at continuing legal education seminars at ISBA, the Chicago Bar Association, and the Illinois Institute For Continuing Legal Education.
He is sought out for his testimony before legislative bodies considering changes in traffic laws.
And he provides significant volunteer services. He has been a member of the Committee on Alcohol and Other Drugs of the National Safety Council since 1975. He has served as a member of the Illinois Department of Transportation Division of Traffic Safety DUI Advisory Council. He has participated in DUI education programs for New Trier High School. And he is also a member of the Illinois Supreme Court Committee on Judicial Performance Evaluation.
One of his nominators summed up Jim Ahern's career: He exemplifies the type of lawyer everyone wanted to be when they started law school.
One could use the phrase "lawyer's lawyer" to describe all of the Laureates, and that is certainly true of Eugene Crane. But he might prefer being called a "people's lawyer." He has spent his career trying to even the odds, if only a little, by helping the have-nots take on the haves of this world.
Like many of us, Gene went to law school with lofty ideals – he wanted to use the law to make the world a better place for everybody, especially the underdog who needed help in getting equal access to the courts. Unlike most of us, Gene has lived this ideal throughout his career.
In the early, dangerous days of the civil rights movement - ten years after he received his law degree - Gene spent the summer of 1964 working as a volunteer attorney with the Committee for Legal Assistance's Mississippi Summer Project. He represented civil rights workers who had been improperly arrested and incarcerated.
Back in Chicago, he represented civil rights groups during the tumultuous period immediately preceding enactment of the Civil Rights Act. He was a consultant for the Office of Economic Opportunity, which was commissioned to establish legal aid offices across the Midwest.
Of course, he also had a family to support, and civil rights law wasn't exactly lucrative. So he chose representation of individuals and small business debtors in bankruptcy cases. Lucrative? Not really, unless you excel in the field, and Gene Crane and his law firms always excelled.
More importantly to Gene, this choice of a practice area enabled him to earn a living while continuing to help people better their lives.
Over the years, he has worked to improve the bankruptcy law and its application. A long-time bankruptcy trustee, he is past chair of the Trustee Advisory Council, which serves as a liaison between trustees and the bankruptcy court. Recognizing that litigation is not always the best solution for people's problems, he is a member of the Panel of Mediators for the United States Bankruptcy Court.
Gene also demonstrates his tremendous professionalism by volunteering through Chicago Volunteer Legal Services Foundation – they say he never turns down a case. He has authored and administered pre-paid legal services programs as a way to make legal help available to everyone. And he shares his knowledge with fellow lawyers through bar associations and the Midwest Workers Association.
Through it all, he has maintained a devilish sense of humor. As one of his nominators described him: he is quiet, gentle, kind and funny.
James J. Elson
The practice of law in a small firm in a small town is extremely time consuming. You wouldn't know that from reading the activities and accomplishments of James J. Elson, senior.
Very little happens in the civic life of Canton, Illinois, that doesn't have Jim's fingerprints all over it. Let me run through just a sampling of his involvement: City Attorney since 1991, more as a matter of civic involvement and participation than a money-making endeavor; Chamber of commerce – president and director for twelve years; Library trustee the last sixteen years; Boy Scouts executive council, and a ready counselor for boys earning merit badges on the law and citizenship; Member of the Illinois Humanities Council; Co-chair, along with his wife, Nancy, of the fundraising committee for his church's million dollar plus building project.
No wonder he was named Canton Citizen of the Year. That was in 1985, but it probably could be for just about any year.
Beyond Canton, Jim has made his mark on his profession. He was one of the founding members of the Attorneys' Title Guaranty Fund. He's been a director since 1968 and has held the offices of Secretary, Vice President, President, and Chairman of the Board.
He served on the Board of Governors of the Illinois State Bar Association for all but two years between 1980 and 1990. He was a trustee of the Illinois Bar Foundation, a director of the Clients' Security Fund of the Bar of Illinois, chair of the Lawyers Political Action Committee, and served on numerous committees and sections. He helped found the ISBA Mutual Insurance Company, has served as a director since 1988 and currently serves as Secretary-Treasurer.
There's a coffee shop in Canton where a cross-section of the community pauses in the morning on their way to work. When Jim Elson stops by, he exemplifies the best of the legal profession to his fellow citizens.
Thomas A. Foran
The word "fighter" and the name Thomas Aquinas Foran seem to go together. He was a U.S. Navy torpedo bomber pilot in the Pacific theater in World War Two. As a trial lawyer throughout his career, he fought for his clients and he fought for the causes he believed in. And when he was struck by cancer, he fought with all his strength, even working up until six weeks before his death last August.
His wife of nearly fifty years, Jean Foran, said "He viewed going on trial as going to war. Tom was the ultimate warrior." Former Chief U.S. Court of Appeals Judge William Bauer called him the "consummate litigator."
Thomas Foran practiced law for fifty years. Many people know him as the prosecutor in the trial of protestors following the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, and that was certainly a landmark event in his career. While he was U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, he also successfully prosecuted more than 150 members of the organized crime community, he successfully integrated the first segregated school district north of the Mason Dixon Line, and he corrected the discrimination in the Iron Workers' Union.
In private practice, he represented countless political subdivisions in eminent domain procedures, and through these efforts, helped build the Chicago Circle campus of the University of Illinois, the Stevenson Expressway, and expansions of O'Hare Field, as well as many other projects.
A major part of his lasting legacy is his mentoring of young lawyers. He mentored countless lawyers, many of whom are now in prestigious firms or on the state and federal benches. What he taught other lawyers was to love the law and to strive to achieve justice for their clients.
Not too long before his death, and upon being honored at a tribute to his career, Thomas Foran called being a lawyer "a magnificently satisfying life. I have had the honor to serve my country in war and peace and fought hard in my profession for what I thought was right. I have loved the sea, the sky, little children, my profession and all of nature. The fire of passion still burns in me. Until the fire fades, I am not ready to depart."
We hope his designation as a Laureate will enable his ideals to live on for other lawyers to see.
Theodore A. Gottfried
There are few lawyers about whom it can be said – "he has perceptibly improved the quality of justice in Illinois." You can say that about Theodore A. Gottfried, and you would be right.
Ted Gottfried is not only the best State Appellate Defender Illinois has ever had, he's the only one. It was because of the pioneering efforts of Ted and a handful of other young, committed lawyers that the Office of State Appellate Defender was created in 1972. Ted was appointed State Appellate Defender by the Illinois Supreme Court, and has been re-appointed every four years since.
Under his leadership, the State Appellate Defender's Office has become the model in this country for delivering legal services to indigent persons who stand convicted of crimes. Ted brings to the agency a relentless commitment to provide high quality representation to the poor, and he instills that commitment in the excellent staff of attorneys he has recruited and developed. He also leads by example, personally briefing and arguing more than 250 criminal appeals, including a number of death penalty appeals.
The impact of the Office of State Appellate Defender on criminal justice in Illinois cannot be underestimated. A review of Supreme and Appellate court decisions from all five districts clearly demonstrates the magnitude of cases that are handled by the office, and the impact the office has in making certain that our basic Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights are preserved.
One prominent criminal defense lawyer calls Ted "the most important attorney in the State of Illinois."
In addition to his service as State Appellate Defender, Ted donates his time and services to other efforts to promote competent, professional representation of the indigent accused. Not surprisingly, he currently serves on the Governor's Commission on Capital Punishment. Lesser known is his support for civil legal services for the poor. He also has been a leader on bar association committees, a gifted instructor of continuing legal education, and a model to more than a generation of lawyers in Illinois and nationally.
It can be said, as one of his nominators did: "The Office of the Illinois Appellate Defender is truly the lengthened shadow of one man – Ted Gottfried."
"The trial of a lawsuit with the highest degree of skill, with unrelenting advocacy, with integrity and civility so ever-present that they are always assumed by opposing counsel – these are the traits that paint the portrait of Harlan Heller, trial lawyer." Those were the words of a circuit judge in support of Harlan's nomination to be a Laureate.
And from a seasoned trial lawyer comes this: "I am often asked to describe what it is that makes the practice of law a profession. If only each of those inquirers had known Harlan, I would respond to the question by saying, 'imitate, if you can, Harlan Heller.'" And he goes on: "He has always been a gentleman whose word was his bond, a pleasant but too often rare commodity in a bright, tough, successful lawyer."
Harlan Heller is about to begin his fiftieth year in the practice. From his office in Mattoon in east central Illinois, he has had great success in representing clients with devastating injuries. His distinguished litigation career includes hundreds of jury trials in state and federal courts, including complex medical malpractice, products liability, wrongful death, railroad, aviation, environmental, and many other causes of action. He is legendary in Illinois for the great variety of litigation in which he has participated and the success he has had for his clients.
Throughout his career, he has been a superb role model for other lawyers. He combines professional excellence with professionalism. His civil demeanor is contagious, even to opposing counsel who say they strive to live up to the standard set by Harlan in the courtroom.
For twenty-three years – 1973 to 1996 – he served on the Illinois Supreme Court Committee on Civil Jury Instructions, compiling the longest tenure of any trial attorney to serve on the committee. He has also served as chairman of the Rules Committee of the District Court for the Central District of Illinois, as a member of the Civil Justice Reform Act Committee in the Central District, and on the Nominating Committee for new federal judges in the Central District.
His instructional video on effective cross-examination prepared for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy has assisted thousands of law students and beginning attorneys throughout the country. He has also taught trial advocacy courses at Harvard Law School and the University of Illinois College of Law.
As one of his nominators said: "No lawyer that I know has ever had a finer reputation as a person, a lawyer, and as a mentor to younger lawyers."
Harold A. Katz
Few people are able to include public service in all three branches of government in their résumés. Fewer still can lay claim to having spawned a new legal concept that has saved countless lives. Harold A. Katz can put both those items – and much more – in his personal biography.
First, about saving lives. In 1956, Harold authored an article in the Harvard Law Review stating that "Nothing in law or logic insulates manufacturers from liability for deficiencies in design any more than for defects in construction." That assertion, backed by meticulous research and analysis in the article, became the basis for adoption in many states, including Illinois, of the so-called "crashworthiness doctrine" – that manufacturers have an obligation to market automobiles that are reasonably designed to protect occupants in the event of crashes.
It is equally interesting to note that Ralph Nader was a second year law student at Harvard at the time the article appeared, and of course he later played a critical role in the passage of federal legislation that imposed far-reaching design changes on auto manufacturers. In 1966, the Chicago Sun-Times quoted Nader saying "If anybody is responsible for Ralph Nader, Harold Katz must take a major share of the responsibility."
In his long and varied career, Harold served in all three branches of government: as a legal consultant in the early 1960's to Governor Otto Kerner, as a Master in Chancery at the trial court level in Cook County, and for nine terms, he served with distinction as a member of the Illinois House of Representatives.
The public service aspect of his legal career has been carried on while he has been actively and continuously engaged in the private practice of law. He is still managing partner of Katz, Friedman, Eagle, Eisenstein and Johnson, which concentrates in labor and employment law, worker's compensation, and class-action litigation.
For Harold, being in the right place at the right time, but most importantly, with the right idea has led to an incredibly valuable service to the law, the profession, and the public.
Mary Lee Leahy
Two years after she graduated from law school in 1966, Mary Lee Leahy was principal attorney in the first of several landmark cases she has won in her distinguished career.
Pickering versus Board of Education, argued in the U.S. Supreme Court, established the right of public employees to publicly criticize their employers.
Perhaps her most familiar case – Rutan – was a class action decided in 1990 by the U.S. Supreme Court. It established the right of public employees to support or not to support a political party or candidate for public office without being denied promotion, transfer, recall from lay-off and employment due to a political patronage system. As the saying goes, "this changed everything."
In 1997, she won the Denton case in which the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the absolute preference for veterans in state government hiring.
Mary Lee Leahy graduated from Loyola University in Chicago in 1962, received a Masters of Arts from the University of Manchester in England as a Fulbright Scholar in 1963, and attend the University of Chicago's Law School where she qualified for law review.
Upon being licensed and joining a Chicago law firm in 1966, she began her work on affirming the constitutional rights of public employees.
The Sixth Constitutional Convention of the State of Illinois in 1969 brought her to Springfield as a delegate. She was chief sponsor of the Environmental Rights Article and major handler of the Rights of the Handicapped provision at the Convention.
She moved to Springfield in the 1970's, first to work in state government – she was assistant to the governor and Director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services – and then to continue in the private practice of law.
Today, she is widely regarded as one of the finest civil rights lawyers in Illinois. She was recently listed as one of American Lawyer Media's "Ten Most Influential Women Lawyers in Illinois." Inclusion on this prestigious list was due to her work against Archer Daniels Midland on a harassment case. She obtained a four million dollar verdict against ADM for their practices not once, but a second time, on retrial.
A lawyer who has worked with her on cases sums up her style: "She is unfailingly professional and compassionate; intelligent and insightful; zealous and practical."
George N. Leighton
The likelihood that he would graduate from Harvard Law School was pretty slim when George Leighton had to drop out of seventh grade to take a job on an oil tanker sailing from his native Massachusetts to the Dutch Indies. His public schooling was at an end, but his quest for knowledge and learning was just beginning. He was never far from books, reading everything he could acquire or borrow. By the time he was twenty-four, he resolved to try for a formal education, and persuaded the Registrar at Howard University to admit him as an "unclassified" student. He had to prove he could do college work. Armed with little more than his determination, he began his studies at Howard, and at the end of his first semester, made the Dean's Honor Roll, where he remained for four years, graduating in 1940 magna cum laude.
A scholarship to Harvard Law followed in 1940, and after an interruption for active duty in the Pacific Theater in World War Two, George Leighton was awarded his LL.B degree in 1946. In a few months, he had moved to Chicago and been admitted to the Bar of the State of Illinois.
Throughout his career, George has been a stout supporter of civil rights and equal opportunity, and just as stout an opponent of capital punishment. On numerous occasions, at great risk to his life, he handled controversial cases, both in Illinois and in the South. Many of these cases were prior to the Civil Rights Movement and before landmark decisions in those same areas. For instance, he obtained an injunction ordering desegregation of a southern Illinois public school system in 1950, four years before Brown versus Board of Education was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
A housing discrimination case in Cicero in 1951, in which he advised a minority family that they had the right to move into the apartment they had rented, quickly got out of hand. It led not only to a riot, in which the apartment building in question was burned down, but a politically motivated grand jury issued an indictment with George as the principal defendant. The charge: conspiring with people he did not even know to cause a race riot, based on his advice to his client. To their credit, many leading Illinois lawyers appeared in court in his behalf, and Thurgood Marshall came all the way from New York to argue a motion to dismiss the indictment. The motion was promptly granted.
During the 1950's and early ë60's, he was engaged with a series of distinguished partners in the private practice of law in what was considered to be one of the largest predominately minority law firms in the country. George Leighton the lawyer handled many cases involving the conviction of men whose constitutional rights were infringed. The most famous of these was the case of Earl Howard Pugh, who spent seventeen years of a life sentence in prison for a murder he did not and could not have committed. At trial Leighton was able to show the police had eyewitness statements identifying someone other than Pugh as the murderer. Not only was Pugh released, but the Illinois General Assembly passed an unprecedented bill authorizing payment of fifty-one thousand dollars in compensation to him.
From his unlikely educational start, George Leighton went on to become a judge of the circuit court in Cook County, a justice of the appellate court, first district, and a judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District, by appointment by President Gerald Ford.
Throughout his legal and judicial career, he was known for integrity, humanity, and courage. That was indeed a long journey for a seventh grade dropout, but a journey we're very glad he made.
Francis X. Riley
It's been said that Governor Jim Thompson created Northern Illinois University College of Law specifically for Francis X. Riley. Thompson, himself a Laureate of the Academy, served under Frank Riley in the U.S. Attorney's office in Chicago from 1959 to 1961. That's the kind of loyalty he inspires in those he has encountered in the practice of law and in teaching.
Frank has been a colleague and mentor to some of the most remarkably accomplished lawyers in Illinois, both from his days in private and public practice, and through his teaching at the former Lewis University College of Law.
In part because of his vigorous urging, the College of Law was moved to Northern Illinois University. Frank has been a professor there since 1975, and he is now Professor Emeritus. NIU has established a yearly speaker series in his name on the subject of professional ethics, and the school's courtroom has been named the Francis X. Riley courtroom.
His career in the law began in 1937, and he has been just about everything a lawyer can be, including hearing officer, public servant, private practitioner, law school professor, role model, and mentor. Through it all, he has taken the time to share his expertise and professionalism with others. An impressive array of supporters – prominent lawyers, federal and state judges, and colleagues in practice – attest to the positive influence he has had in their lives. Said one: "The list of lawyers, judges, and clients who have learned from Francis X. Riley throughout the United States is a staggering one. He taught while he practiced, he taught his opponents, he taught the judges before whom he appeared, and he taught his associates and co-counsel."
His knowledge of Illinois Civil Practice law is encyclopedic. A computer search on Frank Riley will reveal his participation in literally hundreds of precedential cases establishing that law – to be more precise, more than five hundred published Illinois Appellate and Supreme Court opinions and fifty federal court opinions in which Frank Riley was listed as counsel. That is simply an astounding career.
Because of his long and highly successful career, and because of the mentoring he has always performed, he has shown that he is a true servant of the law and an example for other lawyers to follow. He has made a significant mark on the legal landscape of Illinois.
Jerold S. Solovy
There is, perhaps, no other lawyer in private practice in Illinois who has had more of an impact on the availability of pro bono legal services for indigents than Jerold S. Solovy. As a result, his firm – Jenner and Block – provides more pro bono representation to indigents than any other firm, of any size, in the United States. According to a survey by the American Lawyer magazine, Jenner and Block was first in the country in its pro bono work in both 1998 and 1999.
This is not surprising, given Jenner and Block's historic commitment to serving the needy. As Co-Chairman of the firm, Jerold has devoted substantial time to pro bono representation of indigent clients, and has influenced the policy of the firm, and other large firms, to encourage all lawyers to engage in pro bono work as an important aspect of their legal practice.
Many of his own efforts have been in test cases with broad impact. For example, of the five cases he has argued before the United States Supreme Court, three of those cases were on behalf of indigent persons. Of particular note is his work with now deceased partner Albert Jenner and current partner Tom Sullivan on the appeal of Witherspoon versus Illinois, a landmark Supreme Court decision on the death penalty.
Outside the firm, Jerold is better known for his continuous and unwavering commitment to the improvement of the civil justice system in Chicago and Illinois.
In the wake of the Operation Greylord scandals of the 1980's, he was asked to chair the Special Commission appointed by the chief judge of Cook County to investigate and make recommendations for change in the court system. The Solovy Commission, as it came to be known, rendered fourteen interim reports and a final report in September, 1988. Many of the Commission's proposed remedies were later adopted.
He also chaired studies of the criminal justice system in Cook County which led to improvements to the system. These commissions and the name Jerold Solovy have become synonymous with "good government" in our judicial system.
Through his active involvement in the Illinois State Bar Association, the Chicago Bar Association, and national legal organizations, Jerold has devoted substantial time to the betterment of the legal profession and the education of lawyers. He served on the Illinois Supreme Court Committee to draft pattern criminal jury instructions. Prior to the work of that committee, Illinois did not have the benefit of pattern instructions in criminal cases.
Anyone who has appeared opposite him in court can attest that his lawyering skills are exceptional and, despite his always-aggressive representation of his clients, he does so with civility and professionalism. He is the type of lawyer respected by his opponents, his clients, and the court.
Willis R. Tribler
This modest, self-effacing man Ö this outrageously funny man Ö this intensely serious leader in the profession, has set an example to which every Illinois lawyer may aspire. With that introduction, we could be talking about none other than Willis R. Tribler.
Bill lives, breathes, and sleeps his law practice and the management of his law firm to immense satisfaction of his clients far and wide. The example he sets for others in his firm and the profession is that of a consummate practitioner, combining a tireless work ethic with his intellect, creativity, and genuine humanity.
Beyond his record of exemplary practice, Bill has devoted enormous time throughout his career to a lengthy list of lawyers' organizations. Another way of putting that is to say that Bill is a bar junkie, and we are all the better for it.
His work on behalf of the Illinois State Bar Association was duly recognized in June, 1999, by presentation of the ISBA Medal of Merit, a rare recognition reserved for extremely meritorious service. Bill often undertakes bar assignments involving some of the thorniest problems, and we are genuinely appreciative.
He also has volunteered considerable time to other organizations. He was president in 1984-85 of the Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel. He has been active in Chicago Bar Association committees for many years. And since the mid-1960's, he has been a prolific contributor to the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education – writing and updating more than two dozen chapters in IICLE handbooks. At a difficult financial time for the Institute, Bill served as chairman of its board. His determination, personal commitment, and sense of humor were vital factors in the Institute's ability to survive and regain its strength.
Through all his career and in all his associations, Bill Tribler has been a genuine friend and valued counselor to many leaders of our profession. And we have all benefited tremendously because of his involvement. It's been said before but deserves repeating here: Bill Tribler is one of the great treasures of the Illinois bar.