The DCBA’s new President, Fred Spitzzeri, is a multifaceted individual whose service as President is just one in a career of public minded activities. Born in 1954, in Chicago, Fred is a second generation immigrant and the first member of his family to graduate from college (although his siblings have all since distinguished themselves as well). Fred attended grammar school at Our Lady of Angels on Chicago’s West Side, high school at St. Ignatius Prep., and college at DePaul University. Fred began his career, as a School Psychologist, having earned a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology from DePaul. Fred earned his J.D. from Loyola University in Chicago and was licensed as an Illinois Attorney in 1986. Following are excerpts of an interview with Fred about his career, his interests and his ambitions for the DCBA:
JP: Fred, What got you interested in a career as a lawyer?
FS: I started out working as a school psychologist for the Berwyn School system. In that capacity I became involved with hearings conducted under the auspices of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act which mandated that all children with handicaps must be provided with a "free and app-ropriate public education." The objective in those cases was to conduct due process hearings to determine what would constitute an "appropriate" public education for the individual child in light of his or her handicap and limitations. It was my participation in those hearings which made me want to consider a career in law so I enrolled at Loyola.
JP: What influences did you have in law school that led you to your current practice?
FS: I took Torts from Professor [later Dean] Nina Appel. She really hooked me onto tort law as an area of practice. From law school, I took a job with Williams & Montgomery doing primarily insurance defense litigation. Ultimately, I opened the Williams & Montgomery Wheaton office.
JP: Williams & Montgomery is a pretty good firm, was it hard to get a job there?
FS: The funny thing is, that despite what I thought was a pretty good resume, the hiring partner, Craig Tomassi, focused on something I wouldn’t have ex-pected. While he was interviewing me, he said: "I see you play intramural softball, what position do you play?" Williams & Mont-gomery had a pretty active firm softball team at the time and I believe that tipped it in for me.
JP: Tell us about your practice.
FS: Well, I spent seven years with Williams & Montgomery in their DuPage County office and then determined to focus on the plaintiff’s side. In 1993, I started in private practice. I have been a sole practitioner with an emphasis on representing injured parties. As my practice has evolved, I have taken on more business litigation and am frequently appointed as GAL in adoption and probate cases.
JP: Does your practice have any other aspects?
FS: Something I’m particu-larly proud of is that my career has come full circle. I also am a hear-ing officer for the Illinois State Board of Education doing the same kinds of hearings that first sparked my interest in law. I’m just going into my third year as a hearing officer. The law is now called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. In that capacity, I get to help make sure that the individual gets appropriate ed-ucation to reach their fullest potential as a member of society.
JP: What do you like most about the practice of law?
FS: As a sole practitioner, I can choose to take other types of cases too. If you like learning, there’s always an opportunity to do that. I’m kind of a nerd in that way.
JP: What do you hope to emphasize as President of the DCBA?
FS: My theme for this year is Professionalism, Ethics and Civility. I like to say we’re building our "PEC’s" and we’re raising the bar.
JP: That is a nice aspiration. How do you propose to reach the people who are truly the problem?
FS: You’re right that most lawyers already are truly professional and civil for the most part. I think that just like drinking and smoking were much more socially acceptable and tolerated a generation ago but not now, we need to work to change the culture. If we keep our focus on the issue, we can effect a perspective change which will carry over to the behavior of all lawyers, including those most inclined to be uncivil AND those who are willing to tolerate it in the name of not rocking the boat. My mission is to keep that theme in the forefront of all we do.
JP: Do you have any specific ideas in that regard?
FS: I’m proud to say that our Chief Judge, Ann Jorgensen is also a strong proponent of this idea. In conjunction with the 18th Judicial Circuit, we’re assisting in the creation of a Commission on Professionalism. Its objective is to develop a code of professional conduct to which we can all aspire. SCR 799 established a statewide Commission on Professionalism. DuPage County has always been a model and innovator in the legal community and we want to continue that tradition in this area.
JP: Will this commission have some sort of enforcement auth-ority?
FS: I envision it being a profession wide sort of self-policing. We have to stop being enablers of the few, who are spoiling it for the many. As they say, "All it takes is for one good individual to not stand up." I view the legal profession as both a helping profession and a healing profession. We need to help people solve their problems and get on with their lives. That is why I have obtained my certification as an Arbitrator and Mediator and why I teach a course entitled "Conflict Resolution" at North Central College.
JP: How can this self policing help the individual lawyer?
FS: Historically, people liked and respected lawyers and reposed a great deal of trust in us. Once we show them that we are still a profession of healers and problem solvers for them, the public will again repose that deserved trust in us.
JP: Are there any other things you have in the works?
FS: I’m proud to say that we have filled all available spaces in our year long Academy of Bar Leaders program that we are presenting in conjunction with North Central College. It is clearly a successful inaugural attempt at that.
JP: What was the genesis of that program?
FS: It was an idea I had after attending an ABA conference where other bar associations discussed their attempts at building professionalism and developing future leaders for their associations. I tried to take the best of all of the ideas.
JP: A year long program seems kind of intense.
FS: We will meet once a month both at North Central’s Campus in Naperville and at the Bar Center or the ARC. The feed back I am getting is that people like the ability to schedule their CLE in advance and in big blocks. Participants will get all 20 of their CLE hours including all of the necessary Ethics credits. For those who did not sign up or who still want some Ethics credits we’re also presenting our Ethics Extravaganza this month.n
John Pcolinski, Jr., is a partner in the Wheaton, Illinois law firm of Guerard, Kalina & Butkus and Adjunct Professor of Business Law at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois. Licensed in Arizona since 1986 and Illinois since June of 1987, his practice is concentrated in all phases and types of civil litigation with an emphasis on chancery matters including trade secret and non-competition clause litigation.