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updated: 1/18/2013 7:45 PM

Fitzgerald jumped at chance to be U of I trustee

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  • Patrick Fitzgerald

    Patrick Fitzgerald

Associated Press

Former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is taking on a new role as a University of Illinois trustee.

Gov. Pat Quinn announced Friday that he appointed Chicago's former top federal prosecutor and corruption buster to the university's board that oversees the three-campus university system.

Fitzgerald, best known as the tenacious prosecutor who helped put former Govs. George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich in prison, said Quinn approached him about the position earlier this month.

"He called me a week or so ago and asked me," Fitzgerald said. "I was sold at the question, so I told him I would be perfectly delighted to do it."

Fitzgerald said he comes to the job with limited knowledge about the university and the issues facing it, such as diminishing state monetary support and the effect the state government's financial troubles have on public higher education.

"I'll be rolling up my sleeves as the new guy on the block," he said. "It's helpful sometimes to have someone come in with more questions than answers."

Quinn said in a printed statement that Fitzgerald's appointment continues his service to the state.

"Patrick Fitzgerald has served the people of Illinois well and he will be an outstanding member of our outstanding leadership team at Illinois' flagship university."

Quinn also reappointed board members James Montgomery, a Chicago attorney, and Rockford anesthesiologist Timothy Koritz. Fitzgerald replaces first-term trustee Lawrence Oliver II.

The 13-member board oversees campuses at Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield, and a budget of $5.4 billion. Combined, the campuses have about 77,000 students and 22,900 employees.

Fitzgerald brings his reputation for integrity to a board that is four years removed from an admissions scandal that led most members to resign.

Then-university President B. Joseph White also stepped down after news reports revealed the flagship campus in Urbana-Champaign admitted some underqualified but politically well-connected applicants.

Montgomery, the sole remaining member of the board from that period, said Friday that Fitzgerald's appointment has no bearing on those problems, which he said are behind the university.

"I don't think that the board is in need, as a board, in beefing up its integrity," Montgomery said. "That was then and this is now."

He nonetheless called Fitzgerald "a great appointment."

"I think we could always use someone with his background and his integrity, and I think it will be a plus for the board."

As U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, Fitzgerald also oversaw the prosecutions of former Vice President Dick Cheney's top aide, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, and media mogul Conrad Black, as well as terror suspects and organized-crime figures.

Fitzgerald retired from the job last year and now works at the Chicago office of the Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom law firm. Fitzgerald is a graduate of Amherst College and Harvard Law School. His wife, Jennifer, is a University of Illinois graduate.

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