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Crain’s Chicago Business recently named Jenner & Block Partner Debbie L. Berman to its prestigious “40 Under 40” list, recognizing her representation of media giants like CBS and Paramount Pictures, and for her exemplary community and pro bono work.
Ms. Berman, Co-Chair of the Firm’s Trade Secrets and Unfair Competition Practice, was the only private-practice attorney to appear on the 2005 edition of the list, which honors 40 Chicago-area “high-achievers” under the age of 40 in various fields including business, government and the arts.
The profile highlighted Ms. Berman’s representation of Paramount Pictures to defend against a $30 million defamation lawsuit brought by a little league coach who claimed the movie “Hardball” was based on his life. An Illinois federal district court recently granted summary judgment to Paramount, and the case is now on appeal.
Ms. Berman told Crain’s that one of her most significant experiences was serving as co-lead counsel in a 1994 pro bono death penalty case where a woman had been charged with scalding her infant daughter to death. The mother maintained that while bathing her daughter in the kitchen sink, she briefly left the room and, in her absence, the water suddenly became hotter, as it often did without notice. After the state of Illinois sought the death penalty, Ms. Berman spent over 350 hours preparing briefs and arguments to defeat the state’s request. The judge ruled that the death penalty was inapplicable, and Ms. Berman’s client, whose IQ was one point above mental retardation, pled to the minimum sentence for first-degree murder.
In addition, the Crain’s editors singled out Ms. Berman’s “passionate” community work on behalf of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. Among other things, Ms. Berman serves on the organization’s board of directors and chairs its Leadership Development Committee. In May, she served as chair of the Flossmoor “Walk with Israel” as part of the JUF/Jewish Federation’s celebration of Israel Solidarity Day. One of eight neighborhood walks, the event attracted over 500 people for the day’s activities. For her efforts, she was recently honored by the JUF/Jewish Federation with its coveted Davis, Gidwitz & Glasser Award.
In 2002, Ms. Berman was also named as one of the “40 Under 40 Illinois Attorneys to Watch” by the Law Bulletin Publishing Company.