2012 – John Grossbart, Stephen D. Libowsky and Donna M. Welch

Julie LaEace (accepting on behalf of Donna Welch), John Grossbart and Stephen Libowsky

Julie LaEace (accepting on behalf of Donna Welch), John Grossbart and Stephen Libowsky

This year we recognize the collective work of John Grossbart and Stephen Libowsky, who are partners at SNR Denton, and Donna Welch, who is a partner at Kirkland & Ellis. While John, Steve and Donna each have exemplary individual records of pro bono service and leadership, this year we especially recognize their work on a groundbreaking trio of related class action cases (Colbert v. Quinn, Ligas v. Hamos, and Williams v. Quinn). These cases were so impactful that some have called them the “Brown v. Board of Education” for people with disabilities.

Working with Equip for Equality, the ACLU of Illinois and Access Living, these three individuals each took the lead as pro bono counsel on one of three related cases. The goal of these cases was to require the State of Illinois to provide real opportunity for people with disabilities to live in the community along with their non-disabled fellow citizens as required by the American with Disabilities Act and relevant case law. As a result of several years of work and thousands of hours of pro bono service, the recent settlements will provide thousands of individuals with disabilities in Illinois the choice to move from institutions into community placements. As stated by one of the named plaintiffs, “[m]ere words can never fully describe the joy and freedom I feel to live in my own apartment and [that] I feel knowing that hundreds of other people will now have the choice.”

These landmark settlements allow people with disabilities in Illinois tohave the freedom to live the lives that most of us take for granted every day. The remarkable results would not have been possible without John, Steve and Donna’s zealous and skilled advocacy, exemplary dedication, and strong leadership.