It is a sad time at Johnson & Bell. Long-time Johnson & Bell Shareholder, Thomas H. Fegan, passed away at the age of 72. Born and raised in Chicago, Mr. Fegan earned an undergraduate degree from Iona College in 1969 and his J.D. from St. John’s University in 1973. Mr. Fegan joined Johnson & Bell in October, 1977 and retired from the firm in August, 2004.
“He was a brilliant strategist, tireless worker, and was truly a giant in the field of appellate law in Illinois,” noted William V. Johnson, chairman of the Johnson & Bell Board of Directors. “He was highly respected by lawyers and judges alike. May he rest in peace.”
“There is no question that Tom had an excellent reputation as a very successful appellate lawyer, with significant success in cases such as Torres and Ralston, which helped J&B build our own reputation as a formidable trial firm with a strong appellate practice group,” added John W. Bell, vice chairman of the Johnson & Bell Board of Directors. “Thank you, Tom, for your professionalism and dedication that helped J&B enjoy the reputation it has today.”
Joseph R. Marconi, president of Johnson & Bell, added, “During his tenure, Tom was one of the best appellate lawyers in the state. He was involved in several important cases that made new law in Illinois. It is a sad day for Johnson & Bell. Keep him in your prayers.”
Within Johnson & Bell, Mr. Fegan was known for his intellect and a great sense of humor. Upon learning of Tom’s passing, a number of our attorneys shared their thoughts and reflections.
When Tom joined the firm, he didn't have much experience but quickly developed into one of the best and most widely recognized appellate lawyers in Illinois with an unparalleled string of victories. His trademark was innovative, unconventional, and original thinking along with tireless and meticulous research.
Tom was highly respected by the Appellate and Supreme Court Justices. As has been pointed out he made law, successor liability and intrastate forum non conveniens are two examples which had a profound effect on Illinois law. Most importantly he was a great colleague, a pleasure to work with.
For those at the firm who are too young to have known or worked with him, Tom indeed had many excellent appellate court victories and crafted new law on such issues as corporate successor liability, intrastate forum non conveniens, and other cutting-edge issues. Sad day for all of us who knew Tom and worked with him.
Of course, before spoliation cases existed, the ability to sanction a party for destruction of evidence existed, if at all, only in Section 219. I was tasked by a senior Shareholder to work on the 219 Motion to expand it for destruction of evidence and argue the SJ motions in the trial court.
To do that, I turned to Tom for guidance. Not only did he guide me, but his imagination showed me things that could be possible in the law, even when the law, as written, didn’t allow for it. As a first-year lawyer, he helped me think about the law in completely new ways, something that I would like to think has helped me immensely since then. The imagination that he showed there led not only to the order barring the evidence, but then to a later order granting summary judgment. It was new ground, that Tom invented.
Jamie Toohey --
I did not know Tom personally. However, while at my prior firm, my associate and I worked with Tom and the J&B team to establish new appellate law nationally on the issue of spoliation of evidence. Our firms represented co-defendants. We jointly argued in the trial court that plaintiff must be sanctioned because she altered the condition of critical physical evidence before defendants had the opportunity to inspect it. The trial court granted our motion to bar use of that evidence. We then moved for and obtained summary judgment because plaintiff could not prove her case without that excluded evidence. Tom took the lead on the appeal in which we obtained the groundbreaking published opinion, see: Ralston v. Casanova. It was always my belief that we prevailed largely due to Tom’s role and the respect he had earned with the appellate court justices.
Tom should have been on the appellate court. He is the only judicial candidate on whose behalf I have ever walked through the neighborhood, passed out flyers, and sought support for his election. He was an invaluable help when I argued appeals and he would often go to the hearings with me to lend emotional support and guidance. He really was a student of the law and a good-hearted man.
My office was next to Tom's when I first came to J&B. He was a great mentor on the law side of our practice. In those days, if a book was missing from our library it was likely on Tom's desk.
Tom was a breed that doesn’t exist anymore, and we’re all the poorer for it. Acerbic, to the point, but once he had a young know-it-all lawyer properly humbled, he was generous of spirit and intellect. He was central to our development as the best defense trial firm in town, protecting win after huge win for our trial teams. It feels right he’s remembered so vividly and respectfully by us now.
There were plenty of nights where he worked late and one evening, I was working on something late and didn’t leave until about 9 PM. As I was leaving the office, he slyly asked me if I was calling it an early night. Very nice man and always offered insight and guidance to new associates.
Tom Fegan was a great guy, brilliant mind, slyly hilarious, and always had time to help a young lawyer with a question or issue, me included on more than one occasion. Truly never too busy to listen, and pretty much always had the helpful answer.
I have some great memories of Tom holding court on 21. No question that he contributed to us and to the law, but he also contributed to the fun we had while practicing law.
As a young lawyer with a relatively empty briefcase and legal mind I was terrified when people said, “Go ask Tom Fegan.” Just to learn that Tom was always graceful when he was approached and absolutely loved being the “go to” guy not only in my younger years, but all through the time I knew him. As everyone said, he indeed was a terrific appellate lawyer, but in my mind his legacy lives on in the knowledge and wisdom he passed on to all of us ... which we use every time we stand up to make an argument. May God rest his soul.
Tom was one of the "go to" lawyers to seek an understanding of the law and a great resource for case authority for young J&B lawyers in the late 1980s and 1990s. Tom’s heart, empathy, and sense of humor were even bigger than his exceptional legal skills. I have to share one of my many stories about Tom.
Tom’s birthday was December 31st. I once told him, “Tom, your father must have loved the fact that you were born on December 31st for the following year’s tax return.“
Tom replied, “Chuck, my dad told me that was the last good thing I did for him.“ Much laughter followed.
Tom gave me my start in private practice appellate law -- sometimes a trial by fire. But, in every instance he was decent and kind. Tom literally wrote the book on appellate law in Illinois. (We've still got the books!)
Too bad there are no services due to the pandemic as he is someone that truly deserves an Irish wake!
Rest in peace, Thomas H. Fegan.