Geneva defense attorney Kathleen Colton, known for her courtroom tenacity and preparation as well as being a mentor for other lawyers, is retiring from practicing law.
Colton -- who will wrap up her final case next week -- said she's defended just about every type of criminal case possible during her 27-year career. Now she wants to pass the torch to a new generation of defense attorneys.
Colton says she doesn't make a personal judgment whether a client is guilty.
"My role as a defense attorney is to hold the state to its standard of proof (beyond a reasonable doubt), make sure my client gets a fair trial and their constitutional rights are protected," she said. "There is an element of standing up for people who can't stand up for themselves. They need an advocate."
A presentation about Constitutional rights by Jay A. Miller, former president of the ACLU of Illinois, that Colton saw in high school inspired her to eventually pursue a career in law over nursing school.
"I would have been a terrible nurse," said Colton, who graduated from the University of Illinois-Chicago in 1985 and earned her law degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1988.
The Mount Prospect native worked for several years as an assistant public defender before going into private practice in 1994.
Colton credited her husband, Tom, with running the business side of the law firm and developing relationships with clients.
"He's the best lawyer I know who didn't go to law school. He's the most valuable member of the Colton Law Firm," said Colton, who plans to volunteer as an attorney on Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and also intends to volunteer for the Obama Foundation, probably in fundraising.
While some prosecutors might be glad to see Colton depart, she will be missed by her peers, who she inspired and provided a standard for which to strive.
"She has innate talent and unparalleled skill as a defense attorney. She comes to court well prepared, tells it like it is and demands the right result," said Kim Bilbrey, an assistant public defender in Kane County. "Her relentless pursuit of justice is something I will always strive for in my legal career and I will forever be grateful to Kathleen as my mentor. She is not just a legal legend in my mind, but a friend I will genuinely miss around the courthouse."
D.J. Tegeler, who worked as a defense attorney before his election last year as a Kane County circuit court judge, said he admired the preparation and vigor Colton put into her clients' cases as well as her professionalism.
"She would fight tooth and nail for them," Tegeler said. "She treated everyone in the courtroom with respect, even if she was cross-examining someone she didn't believe."
Tegeler said Colton looked at her clients' cases from every angle. "A good attorney is always asking questions. You don't accept the status quo. If you're a defense attorney, you can't be scared," he said. "We will miss her, there's no question about it."