November 18, 2013

Jenner & Block Partner Thomas P. Sullivan received the 2013 George N. Leighton Justice Award, presented annually by the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission.  Tom received the award at a ceremony at the Illinois Supreme Court on November 18, 2013.

The award was created in 2009 to honor retired U.S. District Court Judge George Leighton.  It recognizes an outstanding member of the legal community who exhibits the qualities that personify Judge Leighton's character, service and legal career.  Judge Leighton received the inaugural award in 2009.  In 2010, former Illinois Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Miller, now firm of counsel, received the award.  In 2011, retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, a firm alumnus, was the recipient.  No award was given in 2012.

Tom has spent his entire 59-year career at Jenner & Block, with the exception of the four years (1977-1981) that he served as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.  Not only has he had an outstanding commercial practice, but, he is one of the creators of the firm’s pro bono program and has personally devoted thousands of hours to representing those who would otherwise not have a voice in the legal system.  In recent years, this has included prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

He has argued many cases in the Illinois Supreme Court, federal courts of appeal, and the United States Supreme Court, and been involved in landmark decisions such as Witherspoon.

He is also a vocal advocate of reform of the legal system, known for initiating Operation Greylord when he was U.S. attorney and later for leading statewide commissions investigating the capital punishment system in Illinois.  The findings and recommendations of these commissions persuaded then-Governor Ryan to commute all death sentences and, ultimately, helped lead to the abolition of the death penalty in Illinois.

Most recently, Tom has been writing and speaking out to expand the use of electronic recording of police interrogations to prevent false confessions and wrongful convictions.

The awards ceremony included introductory remarks by Governor James Thompson, a video message from Judge Leighton and remarks by the justices of the Illinois Supreme Court.