Edward J. Underhill
Democratic candidate for Cook County Circuit (6th Subcircuit (Cooke Vacancy district)
Responses to our questions
Please submit an essay that explains your legal background, why you are qualified for this position and why you seek this position.
I was raised on the Southside of Chicago, the youngest of five kids. My father was a union lineman for Illinois Bell and my mother a stay-at-home mom. I attended public school, including Bogan High School.
I can't recall a time when I did not have a job, going back to when I delivered the Tribune and Sun-Times every damn morning. I worked on the docks at Wieboldts while in high school. I then went to NIU for undergrad and law school. I paid my way through college and law school, and had many jobs on campus, including resident assistant in Douglas Hall and reporting for the NIU student-run newspaper, the Northern Star.
I also worked for the DeKalb County Midweek newspaper and was a stringer for the Rockford Register Star. In my opinion, newspaper writing is great training for many kinds of writing, including legal writing. During my last year in law school, I was an assistant state's attorney for DeKalb County under what is typically called a 7-11 license.
I have been an attorney in Chicago for more than 30 years, maintaining a general litigation, mostly focused on civil litigation, but with some regular practice in criminal and probate matters. I have practiced in nearly all of the divisions of the Circuit Court of Cook County. I have also handled appeals in the Illinois Appellate Court. Several of the cases I handled created law in Illinois that is still controlling. As part of my commitment to my community, I have mentored and coached students at Simeon and Austin High Schools in connection with the Mock Trial Program sponsored by the Circuit Court of Cook County.
I am certain that I have benefited as much from the experience of working with these students as they have from their participation in the program. I have lived in Bucktown for about 18 years, and during that time, I have been an active member and leader of the Bucktown Community Organization. I have very positive bar ratings from all eleven bar organizations, including the Chicago Bar Association. All of the bar associations have rated me "qualified, "recommended," or "highly recommended. I think these ratings reflect both my commitment to the legal profession and to my pro bono and community work.
Of all my pro bono service, the work I've done to protect student press rights at NIU has given me the most satisfaction. For nearly thirty years I have provided free legal assistance to the NIU student newspaper, the Northern Star. In 1987, the president of NIU, unhappy with editorial coverage of his unorthodox spending projects, attempted to take control of the paper's Publication Board by firing its long-time faculty advisor. Along with two other Star alumni, Jim Slonoff and Mike Burke, I formed a group of Star alums ("Alumni for a Free Press").
The pressure we applied to the university's governing board resulted in the reinstatement of the faculty adviser and the removal of the restrictions placed on the paper. The university president also promptly resigned, which was an unexpected but not unwelcome development.
I am gay and married to Liam Nolan, a pathologist assistant at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Chicago. I married my husband as soon as same-sex marriage became legal in Illinois. As a gay man, I certainly don't take our constitutional or civil rights for granted. I know that we have to fight to maintain them every day, more now than ever. So, I think it's important that we elect judges who have a deep knowledge of the law and the realities of discrimination and bias.
Tell us something we would be surprised to learn about you.
I am a playwright and short story writer. Several of my plays have been produced here in Chicago, including my first one-act play, "Curse the Darkness." My play, "On a Certain Morning" about a family who discovers that the valuable painting they've inherited might actually be stolen Nazi looted art was inspired by an article I read in the Sun-Times. In 1987, I won the Chicago Lawyer's first annual legal fiction writing contest with my story, "Call the Next Case." So I guess I am the Chicago legal fiction equivalent to Jay Berwanger.