This month we highlight the distinguished career of prominent lawyer, litigator and government leader James P. Montana. Montana’s father, James Sr., was also a lawyer, highly respected attorney and community leader, truly beloved and well known and a moving force for decades in the successful growth of the 97-year-old Justinian Society of Lawyers.
Of his dad, Jim says, “He had a neighborhood office and one downtown. He mostly represented individual clients. He did a good job for them. That influenced me the most about becoming a lawyer.” One of the things that makes him most proud is when he walks down the street and runs into lawyers who knew his dad, and they say, “Boy, your dad was great. He helped me with this or with that.”
Montana completed his undergraduate degree at the respected Jesuit institution in the east, Georgetown. From there, he went on to study law at Northwestern University School of Law.
After law school, Montana went to work at the Wall Street firm of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. He joined the firm’s litigation department. After three years, Montana decided to return to Chicago and join the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
As an assistant U.S. attorney, Montana worked under former Gov. James R. Thompson who was then the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. “I not only served under him at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, but when he became governor, he appointed me to do certain things as outside counsel to the Governor’s Office.” Montana says Thompson respected Montana so much that he called on him to assist when the 1982 gubernatorial election was contested. He also called on him for important assignments while he was governor.
In 1983, Thompson appointed Montana to the Illinois Court of Claims.
After leaving the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Montana spent eight years in private practice focusing on white-collar criminal defense, parallel administrative proceedings, and litigation. Then in 1993, he became chief legal counsel to Gov. James Edgar.
Montana is very proud that he served two Illinois governors. “Governor Edgar was great to work with,” Montana says. “It wasn’t hard to be his general counsel. He listened to me. He paid attention to the things I said.”
When Montana left the Governor’s Office, he became senior vice president and general counsel at Bally’s Entertainment Corporation, a national gaming entity, which then was headquartered in Chicago even though they had no Illinois casinos.
Montana was also on the Bally’s compliance committee, which made sure the gaming company followed all of the regulations in all of the states where it operated. The committee also reviewed the backgrounds of people being hired in major positions to uncover any issues from the past.
Bally’s was eventually purchased by Hilton, which did not need a headquarters in Chicago, so the office was closed. “I was asked to stay on with the company, but I would have had to relocate to Atlantic City or Vegas,” says Montana. He declined.
After spending five years as a partner at DLA Piper, Montana joined Vedder Price. He served as the head of the litigation department for three years.
Montana also handles some gaming law because of his experience as general counsel at Bally’s. He previously represented Caesar’s in connection with their unsuccessful effort to secure the 10th casino license in Rosemont.
Shortly after he joined Vedder Price, he was elected as the litigation practice area leader (from 1997 to 2002) and served very ably in that role. “I have really been involved in a lot of different and varied things in my legal career,” says Montana, “and because of my experience, I get called on a lot at Vedder to help with various things.” For example, because of his former general counsel role to the governor, if someone has an issue with the state of Illinois, Montana gets called in by his fellow partners to assist with whatever issues they are having.
On July 1, 2015, Montana set up his own law office at 20 S. Clark, where he will continue to work on white collar criminal cases, litigation, gaming and government relations, as well as acting as an arbitrator.
Montana is an arbitrator with the American Arbitration Association assisting on commercial litigation matters. He works either as a single arbitrator or as part of a panel of three.
He is on the board of directors of the Chicago Special Olympics which meets monthly. “They are so dedicated. It’s a wonderful thing to watch. I help out in any way I can,” says Montana.
Montana has served on the board of the foundation and been a volunteer. He has also been a longtime participant in the Investing in Justice Campaign and a member of the Lincoln Circle.
Montana is member of Sen. Mark Kirk’s judicial selection committee, which makes recommendations to the senator for judicial vacancies for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago.
Most recently, during his tenure as Illinois Governor, Pat Quinn appointed Jim to be a public member of the Illinois Medical Disciplinary Board. The board meets twice each month to review complaints against Illinois physicians for violations of the Medical Practice Act and can recommend probation, suspension, revocation or other sanctions. Montana’s four-year appointment to the unpaid position began in February 2014, and was recently reappointed by Governor Rauner as a member of this board.
Mr. Montana is a frequent speaker and lecturer, having served as an Adjunct Professor of Law at Loyola School of Law, where he taught Advanced Trial Practice. For many years he served as an instructor in the Midwest Region and Boulder, Colorado, for the National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA), which trains lawyers in trial skills.
Montana has five children. None of them are lawyers. “I don’t understand it,” he says. He has a son who is a doctor in Ely, Minn., two daughters who are working moms, a son who works for a private equity firm in California, and a son who is a Tulane graduate. He has eight grandchildren. Montana’s wife, Lori, was director of the Illinois State Lottery for six years.