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It is with profound sadness that Jenner & Block announces that Jerold S. Solovy, Chairman Emeritus of the Firm and a legend in Chicago’s legal community, died this morning at his home in Naples, Florida with his wife Kathleen at his side. He was 80.
Jerry joined Jenner & Block in 1955 after graduating from Harvard Law School and practiced at the Firm his entire career. Jerry represents the very highest ideals of Jenner & Block and of the legal profession. He was among the leadership that founded Jenner & Block’s renowned pro bono program and was instrumental in furthering our firm’s unrivaled commitment to serving the communities in which we practice.
“Today we have lost a great colleague and dear friend. Jerry is one of the finest attorneys I’ve ever worked with. He was a fierce litigator with the heart of a public servant who took great pride in the fact that much of his work was based on referrals from former opposing counsel. His commitment to pro bono and public service was legendary, and I know he has inspired scores of attorneys to make community service central to their career. We are deeply saddened – Jerry will be missed,” said Anton R. Valukas, Chairman of Jenner & Block.
“I started my career at Jenner & Block at a time when Jerry Solovy and others had already established themselves as lions of the legal profession. Even though he was practicing at the highest levels, he always took time and energy to invest in the development of younger attorneys,” said Susan C. Levy, Managing Partner of Jenner & Block.
Throughout his career, our community turned to Jerry in times of great need. Most notably, at a time in which corruption in Cook County’s judicial system was commonplace, Jerry led groundbreaking efforts to institute wide ranging reforms. In 1984, he was appointed by Harry J. Comerford, then-Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County, to head the commission that investigated ways to protect against another Greylord judicial corruption scandal. In 1992, he was appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court as Chairman of the Special Commission on the Administration of Justice to study the justice system in the State of Illinois. In 1993, the Commission issued two comprehensive reports to the Illinois Supreme Court as to how the justice system in Illinois could be improved.
During the course of his career, Jerry has been involved in an array of difficult and important civil rights and pro bono cases that have run the gamut from rights of the criminally accused to free speech to voting rights of minorities to protection of victims of international human trafficking. It is telling that, although he is a renowned commercial litigator who, over the years, has either won or saved billions of dollars for clients, represented some of the largest companies in the United States and handled cases with important political ramifications, Jerry describes his role in Witherspoon v. State of Illinois as “the biggest milestone” in his life. In Witherspoon, Jerry was part of a Jenner & Block team that helped stop a planned state execution of Mr. Witherspoon on constitutional grounds, just a few weeks before the sentence was scheduled to be carried out. “As Jerold Solovy studied the voluminous transcript of Witherspoon’s trial, he noticed that of 96 persons questioned during the selection of the jury 47 were excused for cause because they had scruples against the death penalty,” notes author Burton H. Wolfe in his 1973 book, Pileup on Death Row. “Although the procedure was normal, somehow it struck Solovy as being ‘impermissible’ and ‘unconstitutional.’” After the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1968 ruling in the case, an estimated 350 people on Death Rows across the country were re-sentenced. Mr. Witherspoon won his freedom in 1978 from a parole board, and he went on to become a respected advocate for reform of the criminal justice system before his death in 1990.
Jerry has regularly been cited in The National Law Journal as one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America, most recently in 2006, and has been repeatedly recognized for his advocacy of equal rights for all and his efforts to ensure the effective and fair administration of justice. In 2005, he was honored with the American Bar Association’s John Minor Wisdom Public Service and Professionalism Award and in 2007, he received The American Lawyer’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Also in 2007, Chicago Lawyer named him its “Person of the Year.” In 2009, Mr. Solovy received the Unity Award in recognition of his “exemplary commitment to diversity, justice and civil rights.”
In further recognition of the esteem in which he is held by the bench and bar, in 2007, Jerry was appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court as the first Chair of the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission. Jerry has also served as a Member of the Board of Trustees for the United States Supreme Court Historical Society since 1993.
Jerry is survived by his wife Kathleen Hart Solovy; his sons, Stephen Kohl-Solovy, Jonathan Solovy and Scott Reading; his daughter Kelly Peters; and his grandchildren Elizabeth Mary, Abigail, Nina, Anna Jayne, David, Abraham, Alexandria, and Michael.