Since graduating from JMLS in 1985, Antonio Romanucci has used his legal education to effect change. Now, with his unprecedented $100,000 gift to the Law School’s Pro Bono Litigation Clinic, he hopes to leave a legacy with other John Marshall students about the impact they can have on society. “Not only do I want the gift to help on a short-term basis funding the Clinic, but I also want the Clinic and students to help create change through new policies, so our society becomes better,” says Romanucci of Chicago’s Romanucci & Blandin. And he hopes other alumni will follow his lead “and support the Law School for the institution that it is in training lawyers to be great advocates for their clients.”
Working to Make Society Better
Long before he decided to become a lawyer, Romanucci worked to make society better, often one person at a time. In high school, he volunteered for causes to help others in need after his best friend was fatally injured while playing football. As a freshman at the University of Wisconsin, Romanucci became a buddy for a mentally challenged man, helping him transition back into society after he was released from a state institution. The experience was profound, Romanucci says, and made him even more focused on devoting his life to helping others.
Although Romanucci originally wanted to be a corporate and securities lawyer, an introduction to then-Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Harry Comerford put his life on a different track. Comerford invited Romanucci to intern with the public defender’s office, which led to him spending three years as a public defender representing criminal defendants at the courthouse at 26th and California.
A Transformative Experience
The experience was transformative. “It really taught me how little access poor people have to lawyers,” Romanucci says. His work also opened his eyes to policies and practices in his hometown of Chicago that encouraged segregation and poverty. “That was when I was exposed to what Chicago is and how little has changed in 30 years. We are a city of two cities. Segregation still exists. Poverty levels remain very high.”
After seeing how others in the legal system treated his indigent clients, Romanucci vowed to help change the lives of the voiceless and powerless through the law. He left the public defender’s office for a private civil practice to increase access to justice. “When you represent a plaintiff in a civil action on a pure contingency basis, you are still representing a person who does not have access to a lawyer.”
Romanucci has since helped scores of people seek and get justice. His practice focuses on catastrophic personal injuries arising from police misconduct, including civil rights actions, medical malpractice, workplace accidents, nursing home negligence, aviation disasters, motor vehicle accidents, and educational and sexual abuse. “We still represent that part of society, especially on the civil rights side, who have been seriously aggrieved and have no money. If not for us, there would be no justice.”
When Romanucci learned that his long-time friend J. Damian Ortiz was going to become Director of the Law School’s Pro Bono Litigation Clinic, “the wheels started spinning,” he says.
The Clinic offered him another avenue to promote justice for the city’s underserved and overlooked.
Romanucci also hopes to inspire JMLS students to fight for others. He plans to bring some of his police misconduct cases to the Clinic so students can work on them and learn how they, too, can create change.
“It all comes back to the lawyers. We are the greatest and best policy makers that there are.”