About Us

Who We Are

Sheila Bedi, Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center Attorney

Sheila Bedi is an Associate Clinical Professor of Law at the Northwestern School of Law and an attorney with the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center. Her work focuses on ending mass imprisonment and enforcing the rights of people caught up in the criminal and juvenile justice systems. Previously, Bedi served as the deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center in New Orleans and Mississippi where she represented people who are imprisoned in federal class action litigation challenging abusive prison conditions and worked on community-based policy campaigns aimed at reducing incarceration rates, ensuring fairness in the administrative of justice, and improving access to public education and mental health services. Bedi worked with people who were formerly incarcerated and their families on hard fought campaigns that closed abusive prisons and jails, protected people who were imprisoned from sexual violence, improved access to counsel for poor defendants and people living behind bars, developed alternatives to imprisonment and reduced the number of children who are tried and convicted in the adult criminal justice system. Some of her honors include the Public Voices Fellowship, the Heroes for Children Award, the NAACP's Vernon Dahmer Award, the NAACP's Fannie Lou Hamer Award.

Locke E. Bowman, Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center Executive Director and Clinical Professor of Law

Locke Bowman believes "that our principal role, in addition to being teachers and lawyers, is to be public advocates. We have a remarkable opportunity as clinical teachers to expose students to new ideas, to new ways of thinking about the legal system. We have a responsibility to be leaders in our community."  Bowman has handled a variety of civil and criminal litigation, including police misconduct litigation, civil suits seeking damages for the wrongfully convicted, cases about the rights of the media in the criminal justice system, suits seeking resources for indigent criminal defendants, firearms control litigation and suits on a variety of other topics. Bowman was named an Illinois "Super Lawyer" in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 for his work in constitutional law and civil rights. He also is a recipient of the "First Defender Award," presented by the First Defense Legal Aid (FDLA) annually  to someone who has helped to advance the cause of providing effective representation to indigent persons in the criminal justice system; the "Citizens Alert Rev. Willie Baker Award, given by Citizens Alert for contributions toward community justice; the Clarence Darrow Award, given by the Clarence Darrow Commemorative Committee for leadership efforts to reform the death penalty system; and the Illinois Public Defender Association Award for Excellence and Meritorious Service, among other awards and honors.

David J. Bradford, founding attorney of the MacArthur Justice Center

A senior partner in the Chicago law firm Jenner & Block, and general counsel to the J. Roderick MacArthur Foundation, Bradford has successfully litigated death penalty cases in trial, post-conviction, and federal habeas corpus proceedings. In 1997, he taught a seminar on habeas corpus and death penalty jurisprudence at the University of Chicago Law School, from which he graduated cum laude in 1976. He clerked for Judge Alvin B. Rubin of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit before joining Jenner & Block, where he specializes in complex litigation.

John Conroy, Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center Senior Investigator

John Conroy joined the Justice Center in November 2015 after working as Director of Investigations of the DePaul Legal Clinic and teaching Fact Investigation at the DePaul University College of Law. He previously worked as an investigative reporter, and his work has been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Boston Globe, Mother Jones, Granta, Village Voice, The Nation, Chicago Reader and Chicago Magazine. He is the author of two books, Belfast Diary: War as a Way of Life and Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People: The Dynamics of Torture, and the play My Kind of Town, which premiered at Chicago’s TimeLine Theatre in May 2012. The play is set against the backdrop of the Chicago police torture scandal, which he was instrumental in exposing. He has won numerous awards for his journalism, including the Promotion of Social Justice Award from the Illinois Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Edward R. Murrow Award, the Studs Terkel Award for Excellence in Reporting, the John Bartlow Martin Award for Public Interest Magazine Journalism, and many others.

Vanessa del Valle, Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center Attorney and Clinical Assistant Professor of Law

Vanessa del Valle joined the MacArthur Justice Center in November 2015 after serving for two years as a law clerk for U.S. District Judge Rubén Castillo in the Northern District of Illinois. In 2013, del Valle received a law degree from Stanford Law School where her experience included serving as managing editor for training at the Stanford Journal of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and representing clients as a certified law student at the Stanford Community Law Clinic and the Stanford Criminal Defense Clinic. She also was a board member of the Stanford Latino Law Students Association. She majored in political science at Yale University where she received a bachelor’s degree, cum laude, in 2010.

David M. Shapiro, Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center Director of Appellate Litigation and Clinical Assistant Professor of Law

David M. Shapiro serves as the Director of Appellate Litigation for the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, where he represents clients deprived of civil rights by the criminal justice system. Examples of Shapiro’s cases include: Berger v. City of Seattle, 569 F.3d 1029 (9th Cir. 2009), in which the en banc court struck down speech restrictions imposed on street performers in the Seattle Center; Jamal v. Kane, 105 F. Supp. 3d 448 (M.D. Pa. 2015), a First Amendment case in which the court invalidated in toto a state statute that silenced people with criminal records; Prison Legal News v. DeWitt, No. 2:10-cv-2594 (D.S.C. 2012), which restructured the censorship regime of a correctional facility; and Benkahla v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, No. 2:09-cv-00025 (S.D. Ind. 2009), the first major litigation to challenge the creation of Communication Management Units, a new type of unit designed to radically restrict the communications of federal prisoners allegedly connected to terrorism.

Prior to joining the faculty at Northwestern, Shapiro was a staff attorney at the ACLU National Prison Project, where his litigation and advocacy work focused on immigration detention, privatized incarceration, access to information about jails and prisons, and prisoners’ First Amendment rights. Before joining the ACLU, he worked as an associate at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, focusing on First Amendment cases, and as a law clerk to Judge Edward R. Becker, United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Shapiro also studied Russian literature in Moscow as a Fulbright Scholar.

Alexa Van Brunt, Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center Attorney and Clinical Assistant Professor of Law

Since 2010, Alexa Van Brunt has served as an attorney on the Roderick MacArthur Justice Center team working on key cases, including litigating on behalf of victims of the Jon Burge police torture scandal and other police misconduct.  She also has been lead attorney on suits to address such issues as conflicts of interest within the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and the violation of prisoners’ rights in Illinois correctional facilities. In 2014, she and her colleague, Sheila Bedi, settled a class action suit in which the State of Illinois agreed to appoint lawyers to youth facing the revocation of their parole and imprisonment in the Department of Juvenile Justice. Van Brunt also instructs teams of students in the MacArthur Justice Center’s civil rights litigation clinic and manages their participation as junior counsel on the Center’s cases. She is the recipient of the Illinois Voters of Illinois Independent Precinct Organization (IVI-IPO) “Legal Eagle” award for her work on the David Koschman case.  Prior to joining the Justice Center, she clerked for the Hon. Myron Thompson, U.S. District Court – Middle District of Alabama. Van Brunt received a law degree, with distinction, from Stanford Law School, and a bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude, from Brown University.

Founding of the MacArthur Justice Center

The following is adapted from a longer article about J. Roderick MacArthur, founder of the MacArthur Justice Center, that appeared in the August 1984 issue of Chicago Lawyer, shortly before Mr. MacArthur's death.

If J. Roderick MacArthur weren't J. Roderick MacArthur, he would be a good candidate for one of those genius grants his father's foundation gives out. Everyone agrees he is a genius—mad genius, say his critics.

Not only is Rod MacArthur, 63, the son of a billionaire, he also is a self-made multimillionaire. He made his money in just a little more than a decade in the collector's plate business.

MacArthur is the genius behind the Bradford Exchange, "the world's largest trading center for limited-edition collector's plates, the most widely traded art form."

The Bradford Exchange, in north suburban Niles, looks like a miniature New York Stock Exchange. It has a computerized "instaquote" trading system that "handles more than 11,000 transactions each business day."

The genius of the Bradford Exchange is that it establishes an orderly secondary market for this "art form," which MacArthur happens to be heavily into producing and selling. His plate sales in 1983 totaled about $90 million.

Using some of the profits, he established the J. Roderick MacArthur Foundation, with assets currently of about $22 million. Known as "Little Mac," as opposed to "Big Mac," its purpose is "to foster democracy" by helping persons "who are inequitably treated by established institutions."

One of Little Mac's principal beneficiaries is the American Civil Liberties Union, which honored MacArthur recently with its Roger Baldwin Award for supporting human rights causes worldwide.

In accepting, MacArthur, who is dying of cancer, told the group that at one time he thought civil liberties were important just because they guaranteed the survival of antiestablishment viewpoints.

"But now I believe I was wrong," he said. "Civil liberties are really more than that. They are really ends in themselves. They are part of what makes us personally human with human integrity. They need no further justification. Standing up for civil liberties is simply part of our loyalty to our human race."

After thanking the ACLU and everyone present, he concluded: "I know you know that my time is short. I wish I could be with you, shoulder to shoulder, in all the coming battles. But I have to be content with our footprints briefly mingling on the line of march. There is much to do. I am reassured by the knowledge that any empty ranks I and others leave will be filled by those who believe that civil liberties are not just a means but the essence of ourselves as humans."

© 1984, Chicago Lawyer, All Rights Reserved

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