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Attorney Joseph Garofalo

Joseph Garofalo

Joseph Garofalo

When an individual is suggested for highlighting in this column, a letter is sent requesting background information, ancestral background and the like. From time to time, the subject will provide a narrative, and on occasion one so compelling, so touching, oftentimes familiar, that with slight editing we produce this column in the subject’s own words – such as this month.

“My name is Joseph Garofalo and I’m going to tell you my story.

My Mother, Lorraine (nee Aigner) Garofalo was born to Joseph and Myrtle Aigner. Myrtle was born in Sweden and immigrated to the USA in the early 1900s as a teenager.”

My mother met my father, Denphon Joseph Garofalo, when they worked at the Daily Racing Form together. They were married around 1950 right after my Father joined the Air Force. He was stationed in Germany. After he returned, I was born in 1952. My parents were divorced shortly thereafter. I was raised by my mother and her parents on the North Side of Chicago in the Albany Park neighborhood. I only recall seeing my father two times: the first memory is of him at my 5th birthday party, and the second was at the funeral home when he died when I was only 13. He had remarried and had three more sons, Matthew, Mark and Christopher. So I have three half-brothers I’ve never met. I have no recollection of my father’s family. His father was also named Denphon. Denphon is an interesting name since there is no “ph” sound in Italian. I researched it and Demphoon was a mortal raised to be a God. It makes sense since my Grandfather, Denphon, was born in Naples where there are many Greeks. My father’s mother, Marie, was from Rome. They had two other children, Angelo (died when I was a child) and Henrietta (whom I never met).”

My mother and I lived with her parents in the “big house” on the front of the lot on North Bernard Street and my Aunt Charlotte and Uncle Leo (they were also my godparents) lived in the “back house” where a garage would be on most properties.”

I attended a public grammar school and worked evenings during summers selling newspapers at the corner of Montrose and Kimball. When I graduated, my mother enrolled me in North Park Academy where I played football, track (shot put and discus) and tennis. I studied French and was in the French Honor Society. The Academy closed its doors due to financial problems in 1969 and I then graduated from Luther North High School in 1970. Then I went right back to North Park College where I majored in Political Science. I was relieved not to be drafted as my number 329 in the first draft lottery was my ticket to proceeding with my education uninterrupted by military service. I graduated NPC magna cum laude. Although I was a poor test taker, the Dean of Admissions at DePaul University took me off the waiting list and admitted me on the strength of my GPA, as well as my demonstrated interest in the law by having written an undergraduate thesis titled: “The Uniform Code of Military Justice and The Due Process of Law.” It was a comparison of the rights of an accused in the military in front of a military courts martial compared to the rights of a citizen in a criminal court. I made quite an indictment of the entire military system of justice. I became interested in military justice since I had won the Louis Kokoris Scholarship in Political Science and Law while in college. Kokoris was a former North Park College grad who was murdered while serving in the US Navy while in the library of his ship. No one was ever brought to justice and that is what triggered my interest. I attended DePaul’s law school as a day student graduating in 1977, and am licensed to practice law in Illinois.”

I met my wife Toni in early 1971 on a blind date. The moment I met Toni, I fell in love with her and knew I would marry her. It was my “Culpo di fulmine” or Thunderbolt. Since that day we have never been apart. I was 18 and a freshman in college and she was 16 and a junior in high school. We were married in July 1976 and have been together ever since.”

After law school I took my first job as an associate in a small Chicago law firm. The boss owned the Bank of Hillside and Antioch Savings and Loan and would refer all the real estate business and clients of the banks to himself for legal work. My practice consisted of many residential real estate closings and mortgage foreclosures. I hated this job. I was earning $12,000 per year and he’d pay me an extra $6.50 per day if I’d work until 6:30 PM as a “dinner allowance.” I did it 4 days a week because we needed the money. Toni was working at an insurance company after graduating from Loyola University in 1976. On Christmas Eve of 1977, I was assigned attendance at a Sheriff’s sale on a mortgage where we had foreclosed on a family, which had busted out due to an injury suffered by the father. He worked in a traveling carnival, which did not have workers’ compensation insurance. I will forever remember his wife approaching me with her three kids in tow saying, “Please Mr. Garofalo, don’t proceed with the sale today, not on Christmas Eve.” That was the time I quit that job in my mind and a month later, I quit cold as between my boss and the kind of work I had to do, it was inconsistent with my nature and I couldn’t do it anymore.”

My second professional situation is one of the best things to ever happen to me. I worked for the senior partner, who was a gentle, kindly old lawyer. He needed someone like me to do his work for him and help make him look good. In exchange, he promised to teach me how to be a trial lawyer and introduced me to everyone he knew. It was the best deal I ever made in my life.”

Also, I started my own firm in 1984. In my first 6 years as a lawyer, I tried hundreds of cases and appealed many cases. Within my first year of practice, I argued a case in the Illinois Supreme Court. This is how I really learned how to be a litigator: not because I am brilliant, although I had great training, but experience turned out to be a great teacher. If you do anything enough times, you start to get pretty good at it. And the more cases I tried and appealed, the more clients I had seeking me out.”

Starting my own practice was like getting on a rocket. We quickly grew to 24 attorneys. Our practice concentration was always the defense of workers’ compensation cases and employers’ liability cases. We enjoy a sterling reputation throughout the State in the workers’ compensation community and have one of the largest practices before the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission.”

Throughout our existence, I have served as the managing partner and President of our firm. I have personally interviewed and hired every attorney and member of our support staff who has ever worked for our firm. Then they all practice with my ethic, which is essentially firm but fair. Every trial is a straight fistfight, with no low blows and no illegal punches. Everything we do is to make a record and we all behave like Officers of the Court. We do it all on the merits and we leave no stone unturned to aggressively represent the interests of our clients.”

Over the years, Toni and I would take annual vacations to Italy with her mother, Dina. Dina was born in Raino, Italy. She was orphaned and was raised in an orphanage in Raino, and ultimately in Rome before she came to the States. She worked her as a buttonhole maker for Hart, Schafner and Marx. Five years ago, Toni and I purchased property in Healdsburg, California, which is 60 miles north of San Francisco. After purchasing the property in 2008, we developed it by adding a small hillside vineyard (Zinfandel vines) and olive grove (Frantaio, Lechino & Manzanilla trees), pool and pool house, and lavender field. We’ve started producing wine through a local winery and call the new business Garofalo Family Vineyards. In 2012, we had our second release of a Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, which is available for sale in Chicago right now through Perman Wine Selections. Please check out www.garofalofamilyvineyards.com.”

We presently reside in Park Ridge, IL. My outside interests besides growing grapes and olives and making and selling wine, include reading about the study of mythology and Jungian psychology, religious studies, and anything that concerns politics. I am a news junkie and avid reader of the New York Times. I have my liberal Democratic leanings from my upbringing but am mostly a fiscal conservative and social liberal. I consider my firm to be my surrogate family, to which I get to show my fatherly affection. Since we never had children, my fatherly inclinations have always been directed particularly towards my partners, and also the associates and any of our support staff. For the most part, I love them all and they seem to love me back.”

Another example of the best our community has to offer.

About Leonard F. Amari

Leonard F. Amari is a founding, co-managing partner of Amari & Locallo, a law firm that focuses exclusively on real estate tax assessment issues. He is a J.D. recipient from The John Marshall Law School, with honors. Amari has been a John Marshall trustee since 2000 and was elected president of the board in 2007. He is past president of the Illinois State Bar Association, a member of the Chicago Bar Association’s State and Local Taxation Committee, and a member and past president of the Justinian Society of Lawyers. He has received numerous honors from many organizations recognizing his service.