Hal Winer Receives Award for 50 Years as Municipal Prosecutor

Hal-Winer-Award

On November 13, 2013, with his fellow municipal prosecutors at his side, Hal Winer was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award for his 50 years of service.  Looking around the room it was hard to believe that many of the prosecutors were either in diapers, or not even born yet, when in 1963 Hal started his career as a municipal prosecutor.   Bill Franks, President of the Lake County Municipal Prosecutors Association said that when it came to Hal holding the job for so long, that he followed the Army’s general order of “Hold your ground until relieved” and Hal is still holding firm.

It was in 1963 when Hal’s connection to Lake County developed.   A law school friend was the Village Attorney for Deerfield and several other Lake County municipalities.  A Trustee from one of their villages received a traffic ticket from Deerfield.  To avoid a potential conflict they asked Hal to act as outside counsel to prosecute the ticket.  He was so well liked that they asked him to return the next week.  One day led to another and informally Hal became Deerfield’s permanent prosecutor and is the longest serving prosecutor in Lake County history.

In the 1960’s, traffic court was held on Wednesday nights in the Highland Park City Hall presided by a Justice of the Peace.  While prosecuting one day, a Deerfield policeman approached to Hal with a problem. The officer, worked part time for Vernon Hills.  At the time there was only one traffic light at Route 60 and Milwaukee Ave.   The officer wrote a ticket but Vernon Hills had no prosecutor.  Vernon Hills was not incorporated until 1958 and didn’t have it own police force until the early 1970’s and used part time police officers from other departments.  Characteristically, Hal said, “Just bring the ticket to my court on the Deerfield date and I’ll prosecute it.” The Deerfield police officer was later hired by Vernon Hills and Hal has not looked back since.

Hal has seen Lake County grow beyond his wildest imagination from a small town atmosphere to a vibrant suburban community. The court system grew accordingly. But, as most veteran Lake County lawyers can attest, much of the early camaraderie and companionship has changed dramatically.  But Hal’s style of interaction with his colleagues has not altered. A cartoon posted on his bulletin board sums it up where an older lawyer says to a young associate   “Trust me, you may be impressed by all the technology, but nothing will ever replace the art of the schmooze.”

Although Hal has been a prosecutor for five decades, the job hasn’t changed his basic character. Over the years, due to his strength of spirit, easy smile and sense of humor, his interaction with adversaries is still informal in a system where formality is becoming the norm. When I was a young lawyer traveling to various courthouses I was often asked by judges and attorneys, “Are you Hal’s son? Your dad is a great guy.”  It is said with an unabashed sincerity that came from the heart.

Hal was born in Rochester, NY and dropped out of high school in 1942 at the age of 16 to work for Bausch & Lomb making optics for the military. Two years later he was drafted and sent to Okinawa where his Division trained for the imminent invasion of Japan and were to be amongst the first wave.  The atomic bomb saved his life.  Man years ago Hal met Fred Olivi, the co-pilot of the B-29 Boxcar, who dropped the second atomic bomb and personally thanked him for saving his life.    It was a very touching moment witnessing these two aged veterans embrace.   In 1946, Hal was then sent to Korea and was promoted to a military policeman.  His duties included guarding Japanese prisoners, patrolling roads to prevent reckless driving, and investigating vehicle accidents and crimes.  Ironically, fifty years later, he is still involved in law enforcement.

Upon his return from WWII, Hal moved to Syracuse, NY to work as a shoe salesman. The city of Syracuse, unlike his hometown of Rochester, is a college town. Hal recognized that unless he obtained an education, his future would be limited and selling shoes was not a great career choice. At 24 years-old, Hal finished a veteran’s GED course and entered Syracuse University under the GI Bill and graduated in 1950.   After moving to Chicago in 1956 he was offered a job as a Cook County Juvenile Probation Officer. For many years his area covered Maxwell Street (where the Hill Street Blues police station is located), China Town and most of the South side.   He soon started night school at John Marshall Law School while working full time as a probation officer. It was a grueling four years and Hal was one of only 10 students to pass the bar out of a class of 83.   As a child he would occasionally take us to court and I vividly remember everybody in the court system being so friendly and engaging.

Hal has been incredibly blessed to work in Lake County and watch its community, courthouse and fellow lawyers grow before his eyes. He goes to work knowing that his colleagues and Judges will treat him with the respect and dignity he earned after all these years. Hal loves is work and sincerely thanks everybody for creating such a wonderful environment in which to practice law.  Hal has no plans to retire as the practice of law and the interaction with his colleagues gives him an everlasting sense of vitality.  Hal is enormously proud and honored to be a Lake County lawyer, and after 50 years of practice he is a man that gives great encouragement to his children and colleagues alike.

David and Evan Winer proudly work with Hal at the Law Offices of Winer and Winer in Waukegan,