Tim Cappellini retires Nov. 30 as La Salle County public defender, a position he’s held since 2005.
The Marseilles native, now 66, earned his bachelor’s degree from University of Illinois (he spent a year at the University of London, Queen Mary campus) in 1978 and graduated cum laude from New England School of Law in Boston in 1982. Earlier this month he marked 40 years at the bar.
Cappellini settled in Ottawa with wife Jan, with whom he has two adult daughters, and joined the public defender’s office in 1993 under Dan Bute, whom he replaced when Bute was made a judge.
Cappellini sat for a Shaw Media interview to reflect on the challenges of representing the indigent in La Salle County. He effusively thanked the judges, bar, court staff and sheriff’s office for their support over the years but saved his strongest praise for his family and for Bute.
Are you retiring from law altogether? If so, what will you do in retirement?
I might retain my license. I’m not going to open a law practice, though. If something comes along that interests me I might take it — if I keep my license. I haven’t decided yet.
Was this planned or was this a sudden change of events?
I’d been thinking about a while. I got my paperwork back in October of last year.
Did the passage of the SAFE-T Act move up your retirement plans or did that have no bearing on your decision?
No, that’s part of it. I think there are going to be a lot of changes. Some, I think, were overdue. Some, I think, are insane. I guess it’ll work its way out as they figure out what they’re going to do.
So this was a good time for you to leave?
Yes. This will also give whoever takes my place time to get involved in this new system and be able to know what they’re going to do in January. One of the biggest issues is if you’re ordered held without bond, you have the right to appeal. It’s going to be up to the appellate defenders to do those cases so you’re in a situation where you’re dealing with an appeal at the same time the guy’s on a 90-day clock for trial. I don’t know what they’re going to do. That’s going to put pressure on the counties to hire more personnel, which is going to be costly to them. I don’t think some of that stuff was thought out.
What advice do you have for someone coming out of law school and who wants to get into criminal law?
With the new system, I don’t know what that’s going to be like, to be honest with you. Most people are not going to be held (in custody). How they’re going to get them in court is beyond me. If there is a warrant out and the person is arrested in the state of Illinois then the county that issued the warrant has to get them in front of a judge within 48 hours. You could be here (in court) at midnight having a bond hearing. I don’t know how they’re going to do that.
You were adamant that your daughters not go to law school. Do you still feel so?
Mm-hmm. Everybody has the perception that if you go to law school, everything’s going to be gravy. Well, that’s not necessarily true. But you have to decide what you want to do. If you love it, that’s fine. I loved doing criminal law, so it was a godsend to be public defender.
What did you do before joining the public defender’s office?
I did a little bit of everything. I was a general practitioner but I did a lot of criminal cases. I just enjoyed it. It was a heck of a lot better than doing divorce cases.
What cases are you most glad to have behind you?
Any of the child molesters. I’ve had enough of that.
What will you do in retirement?
I plan on doing some traveling and I’ve got a 3-year-old grandson to chase around, so there’ll be a lot of that. I could do a lot of fishing again.
Rumor has it you’re a good cook, too.
I’ll be doing that. My family, going back 100 years, have made their own sausage and dried their own salami, so I’ve been doing a lot of that. I’ll still be cooking for the Knights of Columbus when they want me.