|Serving after retirement: Retired judges and attorneys continue to contribute their time and talent
Upon retiring in 2012, LaSalle County Circuit Court Judge James L. Brusatte had two options: (1) Enjoy a quiet life beyond the bench, or (2) renew his law license and practice.
“I didn’t want to get calls at 3:30 in the morning. I didn’t want to have clients that I was beholden to,” says Brusatte. “But I felt I still wanted to be involved in the legal system and helping people.” He decided to volunteer as the pro bono coordinator in Prairie State’s Ottawa office, and he continues to enjoy the position today.
“It’s 75% enjoyment and 25% work,” Brusatte says. “I like the people. It keeps me busy. It makes me feel relevant.”
Brusatte is not alone, as other seasoned legal veterans are finding a new purpose in retirement by volunteering for Prairie State. Ann Conroy, a former assistant Lake County State’s Attorney, volunteers in Prairie State’s Waukegan office and says volunteering is less stressful than being in private practice as she is free to accept cases she is able to handle and reject ones she cannot.
“Whereas in [private] practice sometimes you really have to dig to find the things that are important that you have not been told,” she finds that “people who come [to Prairie State] have no motivation not to tell you everything.”
David Black, a retired attorney volunteering in Prairie State’s Rockford office, only takes cases that require sealing and expungement of criminal records. He finds the work incredibly fulfilling. In 2018 and 2019, Mr. Black has worked with over 315 clients needing assistance, and in at least 110 cases, the court has granted an expungement or sealing.
“All the clients that I have served have done something in their past that they are not proud of and they are seeking a second chance in life,” Black says. “They are wanting to better themselves, they want to be able to get better employment or better housing and this seems to be the best mechanism to do that and they are very appreciative of getting this second chance.”
Thad Gruchot, a retired corporate attorney, volunteers in Prairie State’s Waukegan office. He says, “A few years ago I was at my 50th anniversary as a member of the Chicago Bar Association, and we had to write a brief statement about one’s self and I wrote something like, `After 50 years of chasing the almighty dollar, I’m having more satisfaction at Prairie State without getting paid a penny.’”