September 1, 2011

Magnificent Reasons for Keeping Involved

By Ronald S. Miller

I just celebrated my 80th birthday. A few months ago I completed 50 years with my law firm. For over 15 years I have chaired, in our firm’s largest conference room, a monthly discussion group titled the Public Affairs Roundtable. Discussion leaders at our round- table sessions have included many prominent individuals, including judges, government officials, journalists, a Nobel laureate, three Pulitzer Prize winners, and a Peabody Award winner.

Also, for the past 10 years, as chair of the Illinois American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Advisory Committee, I have arranged for and conducted interviews at ACLU headquarters with some of the legal community’s outstanding practitioners and commentators. However, as I am now 80, I have pondered whether this age milestone might be an appropriate time to wind down my involvement in the roundtable and ACLU discussion sessions.

After much deliberation, I have identified seven individuals whose current activity patterns inspire me to continue. My admirable role models, whom I also count as friends, are Judge Abner Mikva, age 85, Newton Minow, age 85, Bill Gates Sr., age 85, Hon. Dawn Clark Netsch, age 85, Judge William Bauer, age 85, Judge Milton Shadur, age 87, and Judge George Leighton, age 99.

Abner Mikva. Ab was born on January 21, 1926, four days after Newt Minow. In 2006, when Ab and Newt each turned 80, we had a roundtable session honoring the two of them.

Among Ab’s many accomplishments, while in private practice from 1951 until 1969, he served for 10 years as a member of the Illinois General Assembly and chair of its Judiciary Committee. In 1969, he was elected to the U.S. Congress, where he chaired the Democratic Study Group. After eight years in Congress, Ab was appointed in 1979 to the D.C. Court of Appeals. He served there for 17 years, retiring as chief judge when President Bill Clinton asked that he become White House counsel.

Returning to Chicago approximately 15 years ago, Ab has remained extremely active. He serves as an arbitrator or expert witness on some of the most complex national and international disputes. Until several years ago, he was senior director of the University of Chicago’s Mandel Legal Aid Clinic.

In recent years, he has chaired three separate panels dealing with (1) a major fire in a Cook County, Illinois, building involving multiple losses of life, (2) a dispute concerning issuance of a controversial casino license, and (3) investigation of alleged political favoritism in granting admission to the University of Illinois.

In addition, Ab and Zoe, his equally activist wife, are founders and directors of the Mikva Challenge, a hugely successful program sponsoring bipartisan and “hands on” political activism by Chicago’s high school students. Ab has been the roundtable discussion leader on several occasions. Last May at ACLU headquarters, I interviewed him on his incredible career. Ab’s awards are numerous, including the ABA’s 2005 Thurgood Marshall Award.

Newton Minow. Newt, a long-time partner at Sidley & Austin in Chicago, has a career that in many ways parallels that of Ab Mikva. Both were born and spent their youth in Milwaukee.

Each became editor in chief of the law reviews of Chicago’s two premier law schools (Newt at Northwestern and Ab at the University of Chicago). After law school, they clerked at the same time for two separate Supreme Court justices. In 1961, at age 35, Newt became the youngest chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Among his many subsequent positions, Newt has been chairman of the Rand Corporation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and Chicago Educational Television and was the first Jewish trustee of Notre Dame University. Newt also participated in arranging the first ever televised presidential debate, which was between Nixon and Kennedy.

He remains active in this area and, in 2008, he coauthored Inside the Presidential Debates. Last April, Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and the Carnegie Corporation sponsored a panel discussion and reception commemorating the 50th anniversary of Newt’s famous “Vast Wasteland” speech. Newt’s fellow panel members included Judy Woodruff of the PBS NewsHour, and Virginia Heffernan, the New York Times television critic and columnist.

Working from his Sidley & Austin office, Newt remains active in a variety of community activities, including assisting in the formation of and securing financing for the recently established Chicago News Cooperative, which furnishes Friday and Sunday “Chicago” sections to the New York Times. In 2006, Newt joined Abner Mikva, Dawn Clark Netsch, and George Leighton as the American Constitution Society’s first class of “Chicago Legal Legends.”

Bill Gates Sr. I met Bill Gates Sr. seven years ago when he was the keynote speaker in Chicago at the annual dinner of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. In 2007, Bill led a fascinating roundtable discussion on the importance of charitable foundations and on programs of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, by far the world’s largest philanthropic organi- zation. My wife and I visit Seattle fairly frequently because one of our daughters resides there with her family. There- fore, I have met with Bill Sr. on a number of occasions and have come to respect him immensely.

In addition to having fathered and counseled the world’s wealthiest philanthropist, Bill Sr. also was a founder of the prominent international law firm now known as K&L Gates. At various times, Bill Sr. has been president of the Seattle and the Washington State Bar Associations. Two years ago, he received the ABA Medal (its highest award). Along with his son and daughter-in-law, Melinda, Bill Sr. is a cochair of the Gates Foundation.

In 2009, he authored a book aptly titled Showing Up for Life (Thoughts on  the  Gifts  of  a  Lifetime).  This past June, I had the pleasure of meeting him at his office in the very impressive new headquarters of the Gates Foundation. As usual, he was actively involved in various foundation programs.

Dawn  Clark  Netsch.  Among her manyaccomplishments, Dawn was an Illinois state senator, the Illinois comptroller (becoming the first woman elected to statewide  office); and the first female candidate for Illinois governor. For many years, she has been a professor at the Northwestern University Law School (her alma mater), where she teaches a course on state and local government. A true community leader, Dawn remains very active in a variety of “good government” organizations, including the Illinois ACLU, Business and Professional People for the Public Interest, the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, and the American Judicature Society. Last year, a biographical book entitled Dawn Clark Netsch: A Political Life commemorated Dawn’s career. In November 2010, I had the pleasure of interviewing her on that subject at an ACLU meeting.

William J. Bauer. Bill Bauer has occupied just about every position in the law. He was a private practitioner, assistant DuPage County, Illinois, state’s attorney, DuPage County state’s

attorney, DuPage County judge, Northern District of Illinois federal judge, Seventh Circuit federal judge, and chief judge of the Seventh Circuit. Since 1994, he has remained an active Seventh Circuit senior judge. A gifted orator with a wry sense of humor, Bill is a much sought-after keynote speaker and panel participant. Two years ago, he was the keynote speaker at the Annual John Paul Stevens Awards luncheon.

A bust of Bill is prominently displayed in the DePaul University Law School (his alma mater), where he served as a member of the Board of Advisors. He has received numerous high honors, including the designation of a DuPage County judicial office facility in his name. Also, the William J. Bauer Mock Court Room became a component of the new Homeland Security Education Center at the College of DuPage.

Milton Shadur. Shortly after World War II, Milt graduated first in his class from the University of Chicago Law School as editor in chief and Order of the Coif. Eschewing opportunities to join any

of the large established law firms, he decided instead to join the new three-lawyer firm of Goldberg, Devoe and Brussell, now known as Miller Shakman & Beem. This firm was formed in 1946 with a view toward encouraging active pro bono participation, an almost unheard-of concept in those days. Milt soon became one of Chicago’s most  respected lawyers.

Taking full advantage of the firm’s encouragement of pro bono, he served as an officer and member of the Board of Managers of the Chicago Bar Association, fellow of the American Bar Foundation, and member of the Governing Council of the American Jewish Congress. Among his litigation activities, Milt was, until ascending the bench, cocounsel in the famous Gautreaux litigation, which ultimately established judicial decrees against the segregating of poverty-stricken minorities in crime-ridden high-rise buildings.

Milt also served as counsel to the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board. In 1980, he was appointed a U.S. district court judge for the Northern District of Illinois. Now, as a senior judge, he continues to carry a heavy caseload. Consistently rated among the most highly respected jurists in annual bar association surveys, he is much sought after in other federal circuits and often sits as a visiting judge on various U.S. appellate court panels. In 2007, Judge Shadur was honored by the American Constitution Society as a “Chicago Legal Legend.”

George N. Leighton. In my recitation of outstanding performers, I have arguably saved the most remarkable individual for last. George Leighton was born in the city of New Bedford,

Massachusetts (where the main federal post office now bears his name). His parents, immigrant Cape Verdean strawberry and raspberry stoop laborers, spoke only a Cape Verdean dialect similar to Portuguese.

Because he could only attend school during the non-picking season, his formal education ceased when he was at a sixth-grade level. Self-educated, and without either a grammar or high school diploma, he was nevertheless able to secure admission and a scholarship to attend Howard University on a one-year conditional basis. He ultimately graduated from Howard as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He then received a scholarship to attend Harvard Law School, where his studies were interrupted by World War II. After serving as a decorated captain in an “all-Negro” unit in the South Pacific theater, Judge Leighton completed his Harvard Law School studies.

He chose to practice in Chicago, where he had never visited, because his research indicated that Chicago was the only city at that time with an African American in the U.S. Congress. After a career as one of the city’s top litigators in criminal law and civil rights, George was elected in 1964 to the Circuit Court of Cook County. Subsequently, he ascended to the Illinois Appellate Court, and after nomination by President Gerald Ford, he served from 1976 until 1987 on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

Since that time he has been associated with the firm of Neal & Leroy in Chicago, where he practices civil rights and appellate law. At age 97, Judge Leighton was featured in a New York Times article about his representation in court of a client in connection with a long-standing piece of major litigation. In April 2010, George provided a wonderful career review when I interviewed him at an ACLU meeting. Among his many awards are the ABA Medal (its highest award) and the first Honorable George N. Leighton Justice Award from the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission.

The careers of these seven outstanding individuals have inspired me and convinced me that so long as I enjoy good health I should continue my Public Affairs Roundtable and Illinois ACLU activities. I hope that this recitation will have a similar effect on other members of the Senior Lawyers Division who might also be approaching a retirement-decision stage. 

Ronald S. Miller is a partner at the Chicago law firm of Miller Shakman & Beem LLP.