Assistant Public Defender, Martha Marie Fitzsimmons (1952-2010).



Wake and Funeral Mass Arrangements for Martha Fitzsimmons

 Wake:  Thursday Evening    February 25th, 2010 McDonough Hall  (Gleason Building)  2nd floor 1101 Columbian Avenue Oak Park, Illinois  60302

Visiting hours: 6 pm through 9 pm At 7:30 pm, there will be a special service with prayer, sharing memories, and music. Everyone who wishes to share a “Martha story” is asked to write up a reflection and bring it on Thursday evening to share with family and friends. All stories are being collected to create a memory book for Rafa.  

Memorial Mass:  11 AM  – Saturday , February 27th, 2010  St. Giles Church  (Columbian and Greenfield) Oak Park, Il. 60302

 Reception:  McDonough Hall immediately after the service.

Some thoughts on Martha from Larry Spivack, President of the Illinois Labor History Society and Regional Director, AFSCME Council 31 and an AFSCME organizer who helped start this Local.

About 25 years ago Martha Fitzsimmons joined a zealous group of advocates. They were Cook County Public Defenders, but they were more than that. They were a band of activists who sought to bring a Union to the Public Defenders Office. In doing so they were able to bring a much greater sense of dignity to the job, not just in material terms, but also in creating a sense of community that had been lacking for some time. By September of 1987 a ground breaking Agreement between the Public Defender and AFSCME’s newest affiliate, the Cook County Public Defender’s Association had created something almost unimaginable: It was a contract between the parties that made a pathway for a financially durable career as a Public Defender and made an organization that lives to this day with one of the best contracts for attorneys who are sometimes referred to around the country as the Peoples’ Lawyers. Public sector lawyers around the country can, in part, thank Martha Fitzsimmons if they have competitive wages and benefits.


This Agreement would not have been reached or lasted as long without Martha Fitzsimmons. Martha was a hard bargainer, known to never mince words or to compromise without cause. Despite her strong opinions and ideas, Martha was one of the few who walked the walk and lived by her own words. Martha stayed active in the Union for the entirety of her career. If not out front on a bargaining committee or on the leadership team of the local union, Martha was a steward the entire time AFSCME represented our office. She was always a resource for younger attorneys who realized the idea of union representation was a natural role for an Assistant Public Defender but had no idea how to get there. Martha’s actions in helping build the union into a vibrant institution is not unique, but nevertheless unusual when it comes to Attorneys. Martha was one of the few who made the connection between unionization and social justice for the indigent and less fortunate. For Martha, defending the Constitution and defending her union contract were one in the same. And it wasn’t just about making more money. The connection to good working conditions and an office that promoted career service and the best criminal defense attorneys anywhere is not a simple concept to conjure. But Martha understood this quite well.


It may seem a bit hyperbolic to compare Martha to some of our early heroines in labor history. Mother Jones who fought to end child labor and the dehumanization and  degradation of coal miners; Elizabeth Gurley Flynn who helped bring justice to textile workers; Delores Huerta who struggled for farm worker’s rights or even Jane Adams who marched in nearly every worker’s cause. But we would be remiss if we didn’t think of Martha Fitzsimmons when we think of some of the women today who have advanced the cause of workers in general and women and children in particular.


I am sure that Martha will be remembered by many of her clients for how she helped them. It is my hope that any PD who has benefited from Martha’s lifetime of service to the office and her union will realize that their standard of living today, their ability to provide a extraordinary service to “the people” is in a large part, due to a women named Martha Fitzsimmons.

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  1. Bruce Mosbacher
    Posted February 20, 2010 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    Martha was a fierce and brilliant advocate for anyone who needed her; her son, her clients, and her Union brothers and sisters often received the benefit of her talent. I will miss her advocacy and her always wry sense of humor.


  2. Justice Cardozo
    Posted February 21, 2010 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    I will never forget when she came to 26th Street and became my partner…Before meeting her, people in the Office gave me the impression that she was some sort of hand holding liberal flake….They were dead assed wrong…she was the ultimate street fighter in a courtroom…

    I still can’t figure out where she found the time to give all this effort to EVERY case….whether it was Murder or a PSMV….
    Clients that had her as their attorney will never know the amount of blood, sweat and tears she expended on them.

    I don’t think I will find anyone who was as selfless as Martha Fitzsimmons…she had time for everyone and everything…

  3. Christa Petty
    Posted February 21, 2010 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Martha and I attended the same church. I will never forget when she had everyone in the church praying that Sacks would give her client life. I wonder if Stanley knew what he was up against.

  4. Kristina Menzel
    Posted February 22, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    I first joined the office in January 1999 and became a steward almost right away due in large part to the efforts of both Martha and Jack Carey. Through out my time as Chief Steward she was a constant source of knowledge and strength and this office will not be the same without her. I can not even begin to express the loss this represents. I do hear, though, that she was talking union business to the end. She loved us almost as much as we love her.

  5. Johanna Ryan
    Posted February 22, 2010 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    Condolences to all the public defenders who are mourning the loss of a sister and a fighter. She sounds like an amazing human being. We were all moved by your contribution in her honor, and we will take her spirit with us on the road to abolishing the death penalty. Johanna Ryan, ICADP

  6. Pat Warren
    Posted February 23, 2010 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    I met her in the fall of 1976, in her college dorm room. Full of incense and Stairway to Heaven was playing. I was a total geek from an all-girl high school and Martha was the epitome of 60s cool. Throughout the years when we met on too rare occasions, I would be amazed how the time between instantly melted. Martha, always cool, incredibly funny, and forever generous with her time and friendship. You gotta love her.

  7. stu smith
    Posted February 23, 2010 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    I will miss her incredibly. She was a great lawyer and a great union leader and most of all, a great human being.

  8. amber
    Posted February 24, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    my very first job as a union steward was with martha at a pre-disciplinary meeting. she managed to be really firm and set boundaries, yet still be very kind and nurturing to a difficult “client”. the phrase “help me help you” came up many times. she set a very clear example of how an attorney can merge not taking any shit, with still being effective and caring.

  9. The Dark Side
    Posted February 26, 2010 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    While Martha Marie’s “style” wasn’t exactly the “textbook” role model for how to become the ultimate litigator (her approach was far too idiosyncratic), she possessed a warrior’s spirit that was almost impossible to duplicate or even approach.

    The story of Martha Marie vs. The People of the State of Illinois v Eduardo (Eddie) Estremera, captures the essence of her “spirit”, and its effect on that perverse universe which is 26th & California.

    Eddie Estremera was charged with a rather pedestrian capital offense: the kind that drugs & guns & money frequently give rise to.

    The assignment wheel of fortune spun Eddie to the call of Michael Buckley Bolan. Also on Judge Bolan’s call was one Edgar (Ace) Hope, on one of his numerous remands and respites from Death Row
    Judge Bolan’s courtroom was one of the “fishbowls”, with a lock-up to match. Ace was a 26th Street “legend”, and a lock-up provocateur. When Ace felt he was in need of a new lawyer and perhaps a change of venue, he slugged his Homicide Task Force attorney, Kevin Peters, in open court. Ace remained on Judge Bolan’s call, but Richard Kling (a professor at Kent & late of the Homicide Task Force), with a full complement of “klingons”, was appointed to represent him.

    Eddie Estremera was big on bravado, but not so much on brains – he was, in short, no Edgar Hope. In awe of Ace, Eddie decided that he’d like to have a downtown lawyer with an entourage too, rather than a “MUDD” (as Mrs. Fry, among others, referred to the Multiple Defendant Division) lawyer. Having a lawyer from “MUDD” didn’t exactly inspire the confidence that having a ‘paid’ lawyer, or even a Task Force one, did.

    Andy Berman (now of the Circuit Court) was Eddie’s “MUDD” lawyer. Eddie professed to like Andy, and didn’t want to actually hurt him, so Eddie chose the less drastic approach of grabbing Andy’s tie and threatening to choke him .

    Judge Bolan rejected our numerous attempts to “lujack” the case. To the Judge it was more about regaining control of his lock-up and authority, than insuring the safety of a fungible PD or two. Eventually Eddie resigned himself to the reality that he was “stuck” in “mudd”. Eddie informed the Judge that he’d take “Punkin’s” lawyer.

    “Punkin” was one Lawrence Jackson. Mr. Jackson had been convicted of a quadruple murder, and sentenced to death (twice): Martha had been his lawyer the second time around.

    Martha was neither Rich Kling, nor, for that matter, Mary Lambert (the co-defendant’s Task Force lawyer); but she possessed a warrior’s heart and reputation.

    Like the Court, but with a greater level of impotence, the PD’s Office likes to say it has the right to assign attorneys to cases, not vice versa. None-the-less, Martha “volunteered” to take the case on.

    From then on the pre-trial matters flowed rather routinely: I believe there was a trip to Puerto Rico in search of mitigation, and perhaps some “priceless” photos that “went missing” – &, oh yes, the Judge took Martha into custody a time or two. The friction between the Judge & Martha had infinitely more to do with Martha’s “gestalt” than the case itself: Martha stated that Judge Bolan talked to her like her brother Joe, and she wouldn’t tolerate that. In Eddie’s mind, however, what was going on was, of course, all about him.

    Eddie’s trial went the way so many of ours do, with the jury unwilling to suspend its disbelief in the defense. The bench sentencing, however, went better: with Judge Bolan rejecting “death” in favor of the overly excessive “life” option.

    Martha approached the bench and engaged the court in some spirited post-sentencing discussion. Eddie took exception to how the judge was addressing Martha (but it was actually just “lawyer stuff”, nothing personal or pertinent – the case was over). Judge Bolan directed Eddie to sit back down. Eddie attempted to urge the court not to talk to his lawyer that way. The Judge repeated his admonition; but added that if Eddie didn’t desist, the Court might change its finding.

    Eddie didn’t – and the Judge did.

    Eddie was unfazed, but Martha was verklempt: the first lawyer to have a client sentenced to death merely for defending the lawyer’s honor. Neither chivalry nor the wise-guy rule was dead, but Eddie might be.

    After almost three months of backdoor maneuvering and cajoling, Judge Bolan relented and granted Martha’s Motion to Reduce Sentence; thereby relegating The People v Eduardo Estremera to the status of a bizarre, if forgotten, footnote in the annals of capital litigation.

    This “slice” of her life captures so much of the “force” that was Martha Marie – the impact that she had on us all – why she will be so sorely missed, and dearly remembered.

  10. K. S. Galhotra
    Posted February 26, 2010 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    And the words to Dona Dona:
    Translation by Kevess & Schwartz

    On a wagon bound for market
    There’s a calf with a mournful eye.
    High above him there’s a swallow
    Winging swiftly through the sky.

    How the winds are laughing
    They laugh with all their might
    Laugh and laugh the whole day through
    And half the summer’s night.
    Dona, dona, dona…

    “Stop complaining,” said the farmer,
    “Who told you a calf to be?
    Why don’t you have wings to fly with
    Like the swallow so proud and free?”


    Calves are easily bound and slaughtered
    Never knowing the reason why.
    But whoever treasures freedom,
    Like the swallow has learned to fly.


  11. Jan
    Posted March 2, 2010 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    Wanted to give kudos to the Union for sponsoring the lunch after the Memorial Mass last week.
    Martha’s passion and spirit will be sorely missed.

  12. Posted March 2, 2010 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

    Sounds like we’ve lost one of the great ones.

  13. Tom Fitzsimmons
    Posted March 3, 2010 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    This is a very nice article about Martha. On behalf of Martha’s son Rafa and our entire family I would like to thank AFSCME Local 3315 for the beautiful flower arrangement and for hosting the luncheon after the mass. We’re also grateful for the tremendous outpouring of love and support by all of her wonderful co-workers, especially the many many visits with her in her final weeks.

  14. Catherine FitzSimmons
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Thank you all for your support of my sister, both in her profession/avocation and her long illness. I especially liked The Dark Side’s story about one of Martha’s many battles; I remember that Puerto Rico (she brought back a pineapple pitcher for my collection) but I did not hear the rest of the story. When I was working as an assistant appellate defender in Ottawa and then here in Chicago I came across many different defense attorneys. But none of them could hold a candle to my big sister.

    • Nancy Hess
      Posted February 9, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

      I am Martha’s former massage therapist and had no idea she was even ill. Could you or someone please tell me what happened, how she died? I was shocked to find this post.

      Thank you.

  15. Justice Cardozo
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    It is impossible to match her dedication to humanity as a whole…let alone the job.

  16. Posted December 15, 2010 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    Matchless topic, it is pleasant to me

  17. Labpdkatn
    Posted January 3, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    I cannot tell you the impact this wonderful person had on my life and my career. She is the paragon of virtue.

One Trackback

  1. By CCPD : Blog » Blog Archive » Holiday Message on December 7, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    […] In Martha Marie Fitzsimmons’  memory, we are creating a special award to be given from time to time to an individual who […]

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