On September 18, 2018, I had the privilege and honor of arguing a case before the Illinois Supreme Court in Springfield, Illinois. It was a bittersweet experience.
It was bitter because I was not able to share the experience with my dad, Stanley C. Czaja. My dad passed away on May 2, 2018, a few short months before I argued the case before the most distinguished panel of jurists in this State.
What a remarkable experience. The only thing missing was my dad. He deserved to be there with me. He never had the chance to argue a case in the Illinois Supreme Court. He deserved the honor more than I did.
My dad was a lawyer. A real lawyer, not the kind you see in movies, but the kind who did the right thing. Every day, in everything he did. He was a true lawyer, the kind that led not only by his work, but by his example in how he counseled his clients.
My dad was my mentor. He was the best advocate and lawyer I ever met. Always doing the right thing, never overstepping the boundaries of the law. Nothing he did, or counseled his clients to do, was improper.
My dad worked with me and was instrumental in developing the strategy and arguments for the case that I had the amazing opportunity to argue before the Supreme Court in Springfield.
Had the arguments been set for anywhere else, they probably wouldn’t have had the exact same significance. But, Springfield was a very significant place for me and my dad. Before he became a lawyer, my dad went to medical school in Springfield. And, Springfield was a place he and I often visited together. We went on road trips there to handle business affairs for his clients.
Now, it is important to mention that my dad never really needed to go to Springfield to handle these affairs. My dad seemed to wait until the very last minute to incorporate or reinstate a business for his clients so that he would no other option but to drive to drive to Springfield to handle those things. And, he always asked me to go there with him.
This was not an accident, or poor planning on his part. In fact, looking back, I think it was just the opposite. I think my dad purposely waited until the very last minute to handle his client’s matters so that he would have no choice but to drive to Springfield so that he could spend time with me, his son.
We had the best time on those road trips to Springfield. I remember them vividly. We talked about anything and everything. Golf, basketball, football, politics, cases we were handling, our clients, hypothetical cases, and the law. We always made time for a good meal when we were in Springfield, too. And, no cell phones. We never looked at our phones, nor did we conduct any business other than the business we had with the Secretary of State in Springfield (which usually took less than 15 minutes once we arrived).
The road trips could have been avoided if my dad planned ahead a few weeks, or if he faxed or email his documents to the Secretary of State and paid a few extra dollars in fees (which probably would have been less than the gas money spent driving to Springfield), but that wasn’t the point. The point was spending time with son. That was my dad. That’s how he operated. He loved his sons and he did anything he could to spend time with us.
My dad did the same type of thing when I was in high school. When I was in high school, my dad didn’t like how the basketball coaches were treating me, so he convinced me that if I practiced more and played against better basketball players, I could start on the high school varsity basketball team. So, he made it a point to take me to a gym in Mount Prospect (we lived in Harwood Heights, but he chose a gym in Mount Prospect – I now live less than a mile away from that gym, which has now been converted into a school for gifted children) where we could work on my basketball skills and play some of the best pick-up games in the area.
But, our daily workouts had nothing to do with basketball. Sure, we talked about it and it seemed that the sole reason we were going to the gym, but now that I look back on these things, I realize it was really about spending time with one another, bonding, and becoming best friends.
My dad would have been proud of me, how I handled myself in the Supreme Court in Springfield. He always told me that, “This practice is not about you, it is about your clients.” This thought reverberated through my mind as I prepared for arguments. In fact, it was the only thing that calmed me down when I thought I wasn’t going to be able to make it (I literally couldn’t sleep or eat the day before the arguments).
I had the fortunate opportunity to conduct my first Appellate oral arguments in the Illinois Supreme Court. Sure, I had won several cases in the Appellate Court prior to my case in the Supreme Court, but not a single one of those cases went to oral argument.
Was I nervous? Of course. But 5 minutes before our case was called for argument, an instant and intense sense of calm came over me. 10 minutes earlier, I could literally feel my heart beating out of my chest and I was literally planning my escape from the Supreme Court building. But, as our case was about to be called, I felt a strange calm come over me. Like I went into the “zone.” I was no longer nervous and I felt a strange sense of confidence. I attribute this to those heavenly things words simply cannot describe.
Everyone who knew my dad, absolutely loved him. Clients, Judges, opposing counsel and, most importantly, his family. He remained a devoted dad and loved his one and only wife, my mom, Christine (most people know her as “Barb” – her middle name). They had the best relationship. Kind. Loving. And, always with a sense of humor.
My dad and I had a very close relationship. I adored him. I wanted to be just like him. He was my dad, but he was also the best person I ever met. He was always kind. Not just to me, but to everyone he met.
My dad taught me to treat every human being with respect. I was raised by my mom and dad without prejudice. In fact, I had no idea what such things like anti-Semitism were until I went to law school. Of course, I heard about the Holocaust, but I didn’t think any anti-Jewish sentiment still existed. I never thought to think of a person who believed in the Jewish faith any differently from anyone else.
Maybe I was sheltered. But, I don’t think that was the case. My childhood was filled with a variety of experiences. Instead, I think I was raised to be kind. My parents were kind and they raised me to be that way.
I always remember the stories my dad told me. My dad told me of a Jewish family who welcomed him as a son. They brought him into their family when he was struggling in medical school (yes, before law school, my dad went to medical school). He told me about their compassion, their kindness and how they treated him so warmly. I will never forget that.
Now, decades later, I reflect on the stories my dad told me. A Jewish family, welcoming a young Catholic student, my dad, as their son.
They say that God sometimes takes the best ones away from us. I now believe that to be true.
But, I feel that all of us can all learn something positive from my dad’s life. We can learn to treat people kindly. Smile. Give them a hug. Our lives are too short to foster hostility.
A very wise man once said, “You can either view the world as a warm, friendly place, or a place filled with hostility.” I choose to view the world as my dad did. He saw good in every person. Even those who treated him unkindly. If someone was mean to him, he would always say, “Maybe they are just having a bad day, don’t worry about it.” And, his kindness was never overlooked, nor was it forgotten.
At my dad’s wake, and it still gives me chills to talk about this, the one person who my dad thought hated him, cried more and more loudly than anyone at the wake. This man exclaimed to me how much he respected and loved my father.
To me, this speaks volumes. Enemies, crying. I am not exaggerating or embellishing the truth. I was equally shocked. A man who could make his enemies cry, that is the man my dad was. The same man I am proud to call my dad and my best friend.
Dad, I love you. I miss you every day. If only you were with me in Springfield. It would have meant the world to me. You would have been so proud of me, and I would have been so proud of you. This was our case.
On November 29, 2018, a unanimous panel of the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Court’s decision and reversed the trial court’s order of summary judgment against our clients.
I am so happy the esteemed Justices of the Illinois Supreme Court agreed with us.
Dad, this one is for you. I know you were there with me. I couldn’t have done it without you.
l have always been deeply moved by the song "Never Tear Us Apart" by INXS. The words, the way Michael Hutchence sung those words, "I was standing, you were there," is so profound to me. I could listen to that verse over and over. I've only heard one person sing those words as Michael did. I search all the time for someone who can do them right - few and very far between have done it.
I thought it would be fitting to have my favorite watch inscribed with the following words from my favorite song for my dad:
“I was standing, you were there. Dad” Illinois Supreme Court, 2018.
Thank you all who read this. The law is my passion. Please consider me if you are in need of a lawyer. I will do my very best to serve you.