Q: Tell me about the constitutional law
case Trimble v. Gordon.
A: [It] involved a young man from
Chicago who was shot to death in a poor
neighborhood. He had one asset to his
name: an automobile that was worth about
$2,500. He had a child that was born out of
wedlock. At that time, Illinois had a statute
in the Probate Act that prohibited children
born out of wedlock from inheriting from
their fathers who died without a will.
I represented the mother of the father
who died; and the Legal Assistance
Foundation, which is a poverty law firm,
represented the child and the child’s
mother. The case went all the way to the
U.S. Supreme Court. That’s where I got
involved. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a
5-to- 4 decision that was authored by
Justice Powell, declared that the Illinois
statute was unconstitutional, and Justice
Rehnquist, who later became the chief
judge, wrote the dissent.
Q: How did you get involved with this case?
A: The lawyer that was representing that
mother was not a lawyer equipped to do
that work. I was riding on the train with him
one morning, totally by coincidence, and he
told me about the case. I said, “How would
you like to get out of it?” He said he would
because he didn’t know what he was doing.
I was at the height of my appellate career
at that time, and I said to him, “Well, you’re
out.” He said, “But there’s no money.” I said,
“I’d pay you to get into the case,” and so that
was my one journey to the U.S. Supreme
Court. I wrote all the briefs, and I argued.
Q: What was that like?
A: Quite an experience. It’s very hard to
come down from it. I argued that case on
December 7, 1976, and it was decided in
April of ’ 77. It was a case decided under
the Equal Protection Clause. When you’re
standing and you’re doing the arguing,
you’re in the middle of the lectern, and if
you extend your hand and the chief judge
extends his hand, you’ll be able to shake
hands. That’s how close you are. Warren
Burger was the chief judge, and I will tell
you that I had a real colloquy up and back
with Thurgood Marshall. The toughest
questions I was asked were asked by John
Paul Stevens, who was an Illinois lawyer
like I was.
Q: Did you represent him or his wife?
A: I represented Bill, and you know, for all
intents and purposes, that case is over, and
it’s been over for a while. But I still have a
relationship with Bill that has nothing to do
with the case. As a matter of fact, we were
together—he’s a big Cub fan … at opening
day at Wrigley Field this year.
Q: Have you represented a lot of celebrities?
A: I was Michael Jordan’s lawyer when he
got divorced. It was a very, very private,
quiet thing. The celebrities, for the most
part—the ones that I’ve been involved with,
with one exception—are extremely private.
The one exception was Mr. T. He walked
in the office and all the girls here were
swooning over him. He had all his gold
chains on and everything.
I [also] represented Frank Thomas … the
famous White Sox ball player who’s going
to be in the Hall of Fame pretty soon. Frank
was just a dear guy. I represented William
Daley’s … wife. I represented Brian Urlacher’s
wife. And, of course, Bellow’s wife. A lot of
interesting people you meet along the way.
Q: What do you like most and least
about your job?
A: What I like least is [when] lawyers’ egos
get in the way, and the lawyer … is out to
prove something about himself. As I told
you before, I really try to make the divorce
what I call “a good divorce,” and there’s a
lot of lawyers that don’t do that.
What I like the most is helping people get
over these traumas. I guess the thing I like
the best about the whole thing, about the
whole ball of wax—forget about the Michael
Jordans, forget about the Sam Berger award,
forget about Trimble v. Gordon—I taught
school [at DePaul University College of
Law] for almost 20 years, and the biggest
gratification I’ve gotten is seeing my students
do well. As a matter of fact, the night I got
the Berger Award, there were five or six of my
students in the ballroom, and I made them
all stand up. I said, “Give them a round of
applause, because they got the best of me.” I
really feel that way.