Chicago's public finance community mourns loss of attorney John A. Janicik
Bond and government attorney John A. Janicik will be remembered for the mark he left on Chicago and Illinois through his dedication to good government practices, his integrity and legal acumen, sage advice and generous spirit.
That was the assessment offered by issuers and bankers, civic groups, former bosses including Gov. James R. Thompson, and former colleagues and longtime friends such as Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
Janicik, a partner at Mayer Brown LLP in the firm’s government relations and public law group, died Aug. 8 after a monthlong health battle following complications from heart surgery. He was 62.
Janicik received an early schooling in Illinois politics in his 20s at Thompson's side. He was one of the young traveling aides Thompson famously referred to as his “bag boys” and was among those who went on to enjoy prominent legal careers.
“John was really loved by everybody who knew him. It’s a rare person who can achieve that,” Thompson said. “He became a highly respected lawyer and he was just a wonderful person who maintained that and when I would get reports about him in the legal world of how great he was, well, that was something that made me proud,” Thompson said.
Janicik went on to law school at Loyola University and worked in various state positions under Thompson. He later joined the former Isham Lincoln & Beale, a law firm whose name bears that of Robert Todd Lincoln, the son of President Abraham Lincoln. The firm was dissolving in 1988 when he followed his friend and colleague, public finance attorney Julian D’Esposito, over to Mayer Brown.
“John was a fine lawyer but a better human being,” said D’Esposito, a retired Mayer Brown partner. “John left a legacy of good works and people who were inspired to do good things,” but he was not one to publicize those acts, he said.
Thompson had urged Tyrone Fahner, a former Illinois attorney general who served on Mayer Brown’s management committee and later went to become its chairman, to hire both men. Fahner said Janicik’s knowledge of government stood out and he aided Fahner in work involving the state’s launch of casino gambling.
“John did a lot of heavy lifting on licensing and he later became a gaming and gambling expert not just at the firm but nationally,” Fahner said. “Everybody liked him so much and he was always helping people.” Janicik didn’t say no, and it was hard to say no to him when he asked you to raise money for a good cause, Fahner added. “John was a real combination of kindness, intelligence and strength.”
At Mayer Brown, Janicik helped build an industry-leading practice in regulatory, government relations and public law matters and was a practice leader for the Government & Global Trade practice for 12 years.
Janicik’s clients covered a wide swath of regulatory, government relations, public law and municipal finance areas.
Janicik worked on some of those issues, including legislative redistricting, with an ambitious junior associate from a very different background who joined the firm in 1990: Lori Lightfoot. The two grew close through the years as Lightfoot moved around, taking jobs with the city and the U.S. Attorney’s office, but always returning to Mayer Brown in between.
“We immediately clicked,” Lightfoot said. “He was like a big brother and he taught me how to be a lawyer.”
Janicik, who sat on the board of the Chicago Civic Federation, a local watchdog research organization, tried to recruit her to join him. She told him “I’m thinking of doing something else,” said Lightfoot.
As she consulted with her “dear friend and trusted confidante” on a mayoral run, the two did what lawyers do, Lightfoot said: they made a list. It included the pros and cons, the upsides and the downsides. “He is someone whose advice I always trusted,” Lightfoot said. That advice included living life to the fullest and following your heart.
Lightfoot said the two talked over the course of her 2019 campaign and afterward about the challenges of the position and responsibility of moving the city forward and feels his beliefs in good governance, acting ethically and with integrity influence her now.
The Civic Federation and issuers who’d worked with Janicik called his death a loss.
"John was an active and valued member of the Civic Federation's Executive Committee and State Budget Committee … his thoughtful contributions strengthened the federation's policy positions and helped amplify the organization's voice. He was known to his family, colleagues and many friends for his good nature and sense of humor,” Civic Federation President Laurence Msall said in a statement.
"He was one of the finest public finance lawyers I’ve had the privilege to work with and know. He always had a smile on his face and kindness in his voice and was a real gentleman,” said Illinois Finance Authority executive director Chris Meister.
The young man mentored by Thompson and Fahner would go on to take on that role.
“Not all partners want to work with first-year attorneys, but John took great pride in doing so, working with — and helping to train — all of the new attorneys in our group over many years,” said Mayer Brown partner Joseph Seliga. “John had a formative impact on me throughout my career, from when I was a new associate, to a new partner, to transitioning the responsibilities of practice leader to me.”
Janicik was born in Belleville, Illinois, to Albert and Eileen Janicik. He attended Knox College, where he honed his wrestling skills. He liked to golf, work out, and was a St. Louis Cardinals fan, but his favorite hobby was his family, with his church next in line, said Fahner.
“John always wanted to get home to his family” and when working on a Saturday he came to the office with his kids in tow, Fahner said.
Janicik is survived by his wife of 36 years, Candie; three children, Sarah, Mark, and Rachel; and his first grandchild, Ella. Janicik’s volunteer and pro bono legal work included the Catholic Diocese of Joliet, Notre Dame Parish and the not-for-profit IMD Guesthouse. Services were held.