By Jane Ramsey
Executive Director, JCUA
Jerry Solovy, an advocate for social justice and a committed member of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs board of directors, was a great servant to the Jewish community, the city of Chicago and beyond.
Jerold “Jerry” Solovy was chairman emeritus of Chicago’s Jenner & Block law firm. He tried a number of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. As well, he led Jenner & Block in several key pro bono cases. He died today (Jan. 19) at the age of 80 at his winter home in Naples, Fla.
A keen observer of the Chicago political scene, Jerry was a trusted friend and advisor. He was a one-of-a-kind, charming and warm person, who gave of himself in a profound way to JCUA and many other organizations.
Jerry was a bridge between and among many groups. He was a good friend who stood by us, even when it was not easy to do so.
As the chair of JCUA’s annual Jurisprudence Dinner, it was Jerry’s role to select a member of the legal community to receive the Arthur Goldberg Social Justice Award. (The 2010 recipient was William A. Von Hoene, Jr., executive vice president of Exelon Corporation.)
Knowing Jerry, it’s no surprise at all that he was named as Chicago Lawyer’s 2007 Person of the Year for his “unbeatable passion, strong leadership, and unending commitment to pro bono work.”
His pro bono work ranged from voting rights of minorities to the rights of the criminally accused; and from free speech to protection of victims of international human trafficking.
In legal action well-remembered by Chicagoans, Jerry represented the adoptive parents of the child known as “Baby Richard,” in a adoption-rights case.
But it was his role in Witherspoon v. State of Illinois that he once described as “the biggest milestone in my life.” Jerry was on the Jenner & Block team that helped to block a planned state execution of Mr. Witherspoon on constitutional grounds, just a few weeks before the sentence was scheduled to be carried out. The team’s work eventually led to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that resulted in the re-sentencing of an estimated 350 people on Death Rows across the country.
Reforming the Judicial System
Jerry’s legal work notably included groundbreaking efforts to institute wide-ranging reforms in the judicial system. He chaired a special commission that, in 1993, issued comprehensive reports to the Illinois Supreme Court on how to improve the justice system in Illinois.
Among Jerry’s many awards, he received The American Lawyer magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award (2007), the Cook County Public Guardian’s Advocate of the Year Pro Bono Award (2007), the Decalogue Society of Lawyers Lifetime Achievement Award (2004), the American Inns of Court Professionalism Award (Outstanding Service to Clients and Community) (2004) and the Illinois Bar Foundation’s Distinguished Award for Excellence (2003).
In 2002, Jerry was the first lawyer outside of New York presented with the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Judge Simon H. Rifkind Award.
Other recognition from the Jewish community included the American Jewish Committee Judge Learned Hand Human Relations Award (1988), the Jewish National Fund Tree of Life Award (1997), the Anti-Defamation League Abraham Lincoln Marovitz Civil Rights Award (1996) and the Decalogue Society of Lawyers Award (1971).
Among his many talents was Jerry’s ability to support the group’s fund-raising efforts by connecting JCUA with people in the community who support its mission. He played a similar role for other organizations as well.
Jerry will be greatly missed by his friends, colleagues and the many people who admire his work.