Reprinted from Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
By John Flynn Rooney
Law Bulletin Staff Writer
Joliet lawyer Laird M. Ozmon steps into his term as president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association with a proud legacy, following in the footsteps of his father and making them the first father and son to have served in that office.
Ozmon, who runs a small firm bearing his name, recently became the first Joliet attorney to serve as ITLA president. His father, prominent Chicago personal-injury lawyer Nat P. Ozmon, headed the association in 1969-70.
The younger Ozmon noted that his father often said, “You must pay a little rent for the space you occupy in life.”
“In that vein, being active in ITLA and rising to the presidency, I see it as rent for what this profession has provided to me and what this profession has provided to society,” Ozmon said during a telephone interview Tuesday.
Nat Ozmon noted that Laird was born shortly after he was licensed as an Illinois lawyer in 1954. “I guess he was indoctrinated in some way to follow the pathway.”
One of ITLA’s main priorities is to continue to broaden its political base during the next legislative election in 1998 by supporting Republican candidates who favor the rights of injured consumers, according to Laird Ozmon, the group’s 44th president.
The approximately 2,300-member association, consisting primarily of plaintiff lawyers, has for many years typically supported Democratic candidates in state legislative races, Ozmon said. But in the past several years, ITLA also has backed some Republicans, he added, saying he couldn’t recall how many.
“It has not been extensive enough,” Ozmon said of ITLA’s support of Republican candidates who are sympathetic to the rights of injured workers and consumers, Ozmon said. ITLA will try to educate the public on a race-by-race basis in the next round of legislative elections and expects to back GOP candidates when warranted, he noted.
“We will support Republicans who are akin to the interests we have,” Ozmon said. ITLA’s support “shouldn’t be simply because of party affiliation.”
The association is deemed one of the most influential lobbying groups in the state’s capital. During the 1996 election cycle, ITLA’s political action committee spent about $500,000, with the majority of the funds going to Democratic legislative candidates, said James M. Collins, ITLA’s executive director.
ITLA suffered a blow in 1994 when Republicans gained control of both the House and Senate as well as the governorship. One of the results was the Civil Justice Reform Amendments of 1995, or “tort reform,” which plaintiffs’ lawyers and consumer groups contend drastically reduced the rights of injured persons.
Ozmon said one of the lessons learned from that experience was too broaden the group’s support of political candidates. “We have [started] to look more at the person, rather than the politics,” he added.
Ozmon conceded that ITLA will try to help Democrats regain control of the Senate in the 1998 election, and maintain the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. Democratic legislators have traditionally been more supportive of injured victims’ rights than Republicans, he added.
ITLA will also continue its commitment to the constitutional challenges to the Civil Justice Reform Amendments as another of its top priorities, according to Ozmon. In March 1995, Gov. Jim Edgar signed the amendments approved by the Republican-controlled legislature that eliminated joint and several liability and placed a $500,000 cap on non-economic damages.
ITLA has reportedly raised more than $500,000 from members in a one-time special assessment to fund the constitutional challenges to the tort amendments. ITLA members also pay annual dues ranging from $10 to $1,000 depending on how long a lawyer has practiced.
Two trial judges have held all the tort amendments unconstitutional, while other judges have struck down specific provisions.
The Illinois Supreme Court heard oral arguments last month in a consolidated case from Madison County involving the validity of the amendments in their entirety. Best v. Allied Equipment Co., Nos. 1890-81893.
Ozmon said he hopes the high court decides the cases by late fall so that lawyers and judges know whether the amendments are valid.
Another project ITLA will pursue this year is establishing its own Web site.
Association officials are talking to consultants about developing the Web site and hope to have it running by fall, Ozmon said.
The Web site offers an effective way to communicate with members and also reach others with the group’s message, according to Ozmon, who replaced Geoffrey L. Gifford, a partner of the Chicago law firm of Pavalon & Gifford. Ozmon was installed at a June 13 dinner-dance attended by about 425 people at the Oak Brook Hills Hotel and Resort.
Following his graduation from Loyola University College of Law in 1979, Ozmon went to work for his father’s law firm, now known as Anesi, Ozmon & Rodin, Ltd. The younger Ozmon, while with the firm, represented plaintiffs in personal-injury cases in areas outside cook County, including Joliet, Kankakee and Aurora.
He liked handling cases in the outly8ing counties and decided to strike out on his own, much to the surprise of his father. Laird Ozmon invited his father to breakfast on a Saturday morning at the Bismarck Hotel to break the news.
“I think to this day he thought I was going to borrow money from him,” Laird Ozmon said. But shortly thereafter, the younger Ozmon opened his own office in 1983.
“I had mixed emotions about that,” Nat Ozmon said of his son starting his own practice. But the elder Ozmon said he is proud of his son and his successes.
Laird Ozmon, who turns 43 in early July, is single and lives in Plainfield. He has a daughter, Natalie, 7.