Hon. Louis Garippo—“A great Judge, but a greater man”

That description was from Judge Michael Kane’s eulogy at the funeral mass for Judge Louis Garippo. Kane described Judge Garippo as a lawyer and judge with great perspective and impeccable judgment.

Judge Garippo died at age 84 following a long illness. During his career as a prosecutor, Judge, and private practitioner, Judge Garippo was a mentor to many, who describe him as “the go-to guy” for advice in the State’s Attorney’s Office. Retired Judge William Kunkle, the lead prosecutor in the John Gacy murder trial, agrees. He said there was no need when facing an ethical question for attorneys to check the Code of Professional Responsibility or for a judge to refer to the Code of Judicial Conduct, when all they needed to do was ask: “What would Garippo do?” There was the answer.

One of those mentees was Judge Michael Toomin, now the presiding Judge of the Juvenile Justice Section in the Circuit Court of Cook County. Toomin told me Judge Garippo was down-to-earth and a very good teacher with an encyclopedic knowledge of cases. Toomin described Jude Garippo as a punctual, professional jurist who preferred bench trials to jury trials. In bench trials, Judge Garippo had a “one finger rule” as described by former Assistant State’s Attorney Robert Egan, one of the Gacy prosecutors. Egan and Kane described the rule this way: If there was only one witness who placed the defendant at the scene of a crime, it would be very difficult to convict beyond a reasonable doubt unless there was some other corroboration in the evidence.

Judge Toomin tried several cases before Judge Garippo. Later, Toomin told me, Judge Garippo appeared before him and he recalled that Garippo put on a strong and convincing case for his client – the defendant in a probable cause hearing.

Judge Garippo headed the State’s Attorney’s criminal division and became First Assistant State’s Attorney during the investigation and trial of Richard Speck. Speck prosecutor William Martin described Garippo as a terrific person who led by example and not by dictating a result or through formal instruction. He called Garippo “a fantastic human who was caring, giving, compassionate, down-to-earth, and an extraordinary mentor.”

Martin also described Garippo as a hands-off supervisor who was available for discussion on issues but did not second-guess decisions. Martin gave three examples of that support of his decisions during the Speck trial: 1) to not oppose the public defender’s motion to move the trial to Peoria; 2) to not tell the investigating police officers they had a right to refuse defense requests for interviews; and 3) to allow defense counsel to depose the surviving nurse before trial.

Martin also described Judge Garippo as “one of the greatest judges ever to take the bench.” Gacy prosecutor Kunkle agreed, adding that Garippo was the perfect judge for the Gacy trial – knowledgeable in the law, extremely fair, and hard-working. He said Judge Garippo required the parties to have their witnesses ready to begin at nine o’clock and that they often worked until five or 5:30 p.m., and also on Saturdays from nine to four. He wanted the case concluded expeditiously. Gacy’s defense lawyer, Sam Amirante, called Garippo the “epitome of a good judge” who was fair to everyone and kept a handle on everything and the courtroom “under control with kindness.” Amirante added, “If not for his patience, kindness and guidance, the trial would not have gone as well.” Amirante and prosecutors Kunkle and Egan all noted that with the years of appeals in the Gacy case, not once was there any suggestion for a new trial.

Prosecutor Egan provided an example of Judge Garippo’s calm, but firm, control of the courtroom. In the middle of the prosecution’s rebuttal case with psychiatric witnesses to counter Gacy’s insanity defense, Gacy suddenly spoke up that he did not know what was going on – saying he did not understand the proceedings. As Egan described the situation: Judge Garippo immediately sent the jury out of the courtroom and called Gacy before the bench and asked several questions to probe Gacy’s understanding: Do you understand the witness who just testified and you spoke with Dr. Cavanaugh. Do you understand you have the right to speak or not to speak? Do you understand you have the right to speak with your attorneys? Are you satisfied they are doing a good job?

Egan told me Judge Garippo calmly and thoroughly asked these questions and others to protect the record and the trial by demonstrating through Gacy’s answers that he understood the proceedings and was fit to stand trial. To Egan, that exchange demonstrated Judge Garippo’s complete mastery of the law and procedure with an eye on the ultimate goal – a fair trial for John Gacy.

Another example of Judge Garippo’s concern for people was his treatment of the Gacy jurors who were from Winnebago County and brought to Chicago and sequestered for the seven-week trial. On Saturdays after the court work concluded, Judge Garippo arranged for dinner for the jurors, as well as a movie or other relaxation. On Sundays, Egan said, Judge Garippo arranged for close family members to be bussed from Rockford so the jurors could spend some time catching up with events at home.

Kunkle said he was greatly moved at the end of the Gacy trial when Judge Garippo thanked the jurors. When we spoke, Kunkle quoted Judge Garippo from the trial transcript: “A couple of months ago, a group of prosecutors from another country came and couldn’t understand how, in the United States, you could try a person who was arrested in this type of situation. A lot has been said about how much this case has cost. It’s a small price. My voice is cracking because I really, truly feel it’s a small price that we paid for our freedom. What we do for the John Wayne Gacys, we do for everyone.”

“A great Judge, but a greater man.”

In 1980, the author was a law student and a reporter for NBC Radio who was assigned to cover the Gacy Trial from beginning to end.

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June 2016Volume 46Number 9PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)