Cook County assistant public defender bids farewell after 30 years
When he decided to become a lawyer, Joe Gump knew for certain the field he didn't want to practice: criminal law.
That changed when he was in law school and his parents were sentenced to federal prison for protesting at a military base. Their experiences galvanized the Inverness attorney, who retired last month after 30 years as a Cook County assistant public defender, the last 17 of them in the Third Municipal District in Rolling Meadows.
Gump's mother, Jean Gump, marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama, protested the Vietnam War and handed out leaflets for Eugene McCarthy's presidential campaign. She and her husband, also named Joe Gump, participated in the Plowshares movement made up of Christians opposed to war.
In 1986, Jean Gump was arrested while protesting nuclear weapons at an Air Force base in Missouri. She served 49 months in federal prison for causing $420 in damage, a sentence her son describes as outrageous.
Gump's father was sentenced to 30 months in 1987 for participating in a similar protest that authorities say resulted in $12,000 in damage, a figure his son disputes.
His parents' convictions inspired Gump "to do something supportive of the poor, the oppressed and the powerless."
"It gave me a whole different understanding of the criminal justice system," said Gump, who said his great satisfaction has come from getting outcomes in which defendants "are not paying for a mistake for the rest of their lives."
Gump grew up in Morton Grove, the ninth of 12 children.
A University of Illinois alum, he graduated from the DePaul University College of Law in 1987 and spent two years working for a consumer protection firm.
In 1989, he joined the Cook County public defender's office, where he worked for more than 11 years in appeals before switching to the felony division. Gump, 60, said there was no better place to learn criminal defense.
Among Gump's notable cases was the defense of Edwin Paniagua, ultimately sentenced in 2014 to 26 years in prison for killing Jean Louis Wattecamps of Mount Prospect, a crime Paniagua committed when he was 15, and of Juan Torres, convicted in 2017 of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl who bore his stillborn child.
In defending clients, Gump leaves no stone unturned, said Assistant Cook County Public Defender Linda Uttal, supervisor for Rolling Meadows' Third Municipal District. "Joe takes a very realistic look at cases and evidence. He's honest about what is before him and he conveys that to clients so they can make the best decisions," Uttal said.
Gump praises Cook County's specialty courts, which offer treatment and intensive supervision in some cases involving nonviolent offenders.
"Many of my clients' (behavior) is motivated by mental health issues or drug or alcohol addiction. I'm grateful we have courts that are dealing with the underlying problems," said Gump, who is guardian to a brother struggling with mental illness.
In 2012, a judge acquitted one of Gump's clients, a then-21-year-old man with schizophrenia and ADHD who Gump argued could not form the intent to commit a crime.
In 2018, he argued a Schaumburg woman with a history of mental illness was legally insane when she attempted to run down her husband with her car. The judge disagreed, found the woman guilty and sentenced her to six years in prison.