The best lawyers get the biggest assignments. And no assignment is bigger in Illinois today than pension reform. It’s no surprise, then, that John Fitzgerald, an appeals and commercial litigation attorney with Chicago’s Tabet DiVito & Rothstein, is representing members of the Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System in the state’s contentious pension reform debate.
At the trial level in Heaton v. Quinn, Fitzgerald described exactly how pension reform litigation violated the rights of the retired teachers whom he was representing. Fitzgerald and the legal team working the case earned a summary judgment from the Circuit Court of Sangamon County declaring the state’s efforts to rework the pension process to be unconstitutional.
The Illinois Supreme Court unanimously affirmed that judgment. “Crisis is not an excuse to abandon the rule of law,” the state Supreme Court ruled.“It is a summons to defend it.”
Grace Liu, an attorney with the University of California who co-authored an article with Fitzgerald on the future of legal education, said that she isn’t surprised that Fitzgerald has taken a high-profile role in such an important issue.
“John has all of the skills that make a top litigator,” Liu said.“He spots nuanced issues. He frames those issues in understandable and personal terms. He is a highly effective writer. He argues concisely and persuasively in court.”
In another significant case, Fitzgerald worked with his law partner Gino DiVito and attorneys from Winston & Strawn to successfully represent Abbott Laboratories in an appeal by Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London, from a judgment concerning insurance coverage for a pharmaceutical product recall. The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the Circuit Court of Cook County’s award to Abbott of more than $80 million in damages.
Fitzgerald has made an impact with other cases, too. In 2013, he successfully argued a significant appeal before the Illinois Appellate Court concerning the scope of Commercial & General Liability insurance coverage, thus winning affirmance of a judgment in favor of his client, an independent business.
“When I recently learned of John’s age, I was surprised,” said John Shapiro, with Chicago’s Freeborn & Peters. “I thought he was older. His legal acumen and abilities, the manner in which he navigates complex legal issues and situations, and the maturity with which he carries himself all suggest experience beyond his years.”
Despite a busy career, Fitzgerald has found time to contribute to his profession. He has long been an active member of the Appellate Lawyers Association, and has been a member of the association’s board of directors and co-chair of its Rules Committee since 2013.
As co-chair of the Rules Committee, Fitzgerald has proposed amendments to the Illinois Supreme Court rules governing appellate practice and procedure. Two of these amendments have been adopted by the court. He has worked to amend Supreme Court Rule 23 to permit the citation of unpublished orders as persuasive authority. The Illinois Supreme Court declined to adopt this change. But the court did request a comprehensive review on the continued relevance of distinctions between published and unpublished decisions.
“His effort is unstinting and unselfish,” said Michael Reagan of the Law Offices of Michael T. Reagan. “There has never been an instance where he sought to avoid work that had to be performed. His is very adaptable to changing dynamics in a case. One of the things that impresses me the most is that he works on his cases with the same steadiness and calm demeanor no matter how long the work has been going on or how trying the circumstances.”