Meet the lawyer representing Jussie Smollett

By Staff | October 18, 2019

Published at Crain’s Chicago Business on October 17, 2019

Bill Quinlan? He’s got experience advising controversial characters (starting with Rod Blagojevich, Dan Rostenkowski and Michael Madigan, to name a few).

Bill Quinlan is nothing if not connected. His father, the late William R. Quinlan, was a judge and chief counsel for three Chicago mayors. His uncle is former Cook County Board President Richard Phelan. He’s worked for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, former U.S. House Ways & Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski and former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and has had dealings with the Daley family. Now Quinlan, 48, is representing actor Jussie Smollett, helping him fend off a city demand that he pay $130,106 for overtime costs police allege were spent on a hate-crime hoax. Quinlan, who is married with two teenage kids and lives in Old Town, is a Northwestern and White Sox season ticket holder.

What did you learn from working with your dad?

He used to say, “Be the lawyer.” He never tried to be the operator.

Why take on Smollett?

I get three phone calls a night from people that say they fought for this country, and they can’t believe that I’m representing someone like him. My response is, what we fought for is the right to a jury trial of our peers, the right to counsel and the right to due process. And God forbid that’s ever you and you’re entitled to have a hearing or a trial and everyone judges you guilty.

Do you believe his version of events?

In my dealings with him, Jussie’s been very honorable.

Here’s a lightning round. I’ll give you some names; tell me the first word that pops in your head. Dick Phelan.

Uncle.

How about an adjective?

Maybe it’s passionate, because everything he did was at 100 miles per hour. Zealous.

Mike Madigan?

Calculated. I don’t think I’m the only one who’s used that adjective to describe him.

Dan Rostenkowski?

Passionate. The goal was, don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good.

David Orr?

Believer.

Ed Burke?

Historian. I mean it broader than just knowing about the Chicago Fire. He understands how government works, from an ordinance level, a constitutional level, a practical level. He has this wealth of history to understand practically how to get things done through the different worlds.

Rod Blagojevich?

Caring. Part ward boss, part somebody who literally cared and wanted to make a difference. I think that conflict existed with him a lot. The best retail politician I’ve ever seen.

Rahm Emanuel.

Dogged.

Think you have a good shot with Jussie’s case?
Absolutely.

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