Video: Amy Campanelli, a veteran attorney who's worked in the public defender's office in different capacities for many years, has been confirmed as Cook County's newest public defender. We speak with Campanelli about her priorities for the office, which include reforming bonding to reduce the jail population.
Last week, veteran defense attorney Amy Campanelli was sworn in for a six-year term as Cook County Public Defender. She started working in the Public Defender’s Office in the late 1980s, and will manage a $60 million budget and oversee more than 500 attorneys who represent clients unable to pay.
Campanelli, who most recently oversaw suburban operations in the Public Defender’s Bridgeview office, started working as a clerk for the office while in law school.
“I knew I wanted to be a public defender. I loved the people, I loved working with clients,” Campanelli said. “It was very exciting for me to be in the courtroom and working with judges.”
She started her career representing parents accused of abusing or neglecting their children before moving to a division representing juveniles charged with serious crimes like murder and rape.
“It was very busy. We worked hard and worked long hours. I think there were 10 of us in one office,” she said. “We shared phones, didn’t have computers, went to work every day at 7:00 am and left at 9 at night.”
Campanelli says despite the challenges she faced, the work was rewarding. She spent eight years representing felony clients before taking several years off to stay home with her children and work part-time. She returned to the public defender’s office full-time in 2003 as a manager, though she has continued to try cases while working in a management role.
Her priorities for the office are well-aligned with goals outlined by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle: reducing the population of the Cook County Jail by working toward lower bond amounts for clients and ending automatic transfers of juveniles charged with a crime.
“I’m sure there will be pushback on that, but in my opinion, all children should be treated like children no matter what the charge,” she said.
Campanelli also wants her office to engage in more community outreach. She says many of the attorneys already do, but hopes to create an organized outreach plan. Campanelli’s hope is that more community outreach can help end stigmas around public defenders that they’re not real attorneys or not good at their jobs.
“When you hear our lawyers talk about what they do in court every day, fighting for their clients, [their passion] comes across,” Campanelli said. “It’s so genuine that everybody listening who hears it will hopefully talk to someone else and they’ll talk to someone else, and that’s how the conversation gets started, right?”