The need for compassionate defense of the marginalized is a lesson former Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli learned at home. As the daughter of parents who lived their activism and insisted their children do the same, she grew up immersed in the complexity of Chicago’s struggle for equality and the failures of its existing systems. Throughout her now decades of dedicated work in criminal justice, Amy has maintained her belief that every positive change begins with people – with relationship, empathy, and a desire to honor each other’s full humanity.
It’s a creed backed by considerable experience. Prior to her term as Chief Public Defender, Amy spent years defending clients in Cook County’s Felony and Juvenile Trial divisions. She served as Deputy Chief of the Homicide Task Force in 2011, and Deputy of Suburban Operations from 2012-2015, directly and indirectly supervising 160 attorneys and public defenders. As Chief Public Defender, Amy was able to negotiate tangible progress toward a more humane system. She founded a Mental Health Unit to improve the care of clients with mental health needs, collaborated with the DOJ to hire an Education Attorney to represent young people in school expulsions and suspension hearings and advocate for their continued education, and established the nation’s first Police Station Representation Unit, which directly confronts systemic corruption by dispatching assistant public defenders to provide legal representation at police stations throughout Cook County.
Her vision for the future of criminal justice is committed to restoration and dependent on compassion and human capital. She’s witnessed firsthand the transformative power of LCLC’s approach, through years of partnership. Now, as LCLC’s VP of Restorative Justice, she believes that when every client is treated with care and dignity, the best outcomes are achieved for families, justice workers, and the community as a whole.
Amy holds a Juris Doctorate from IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, Commercial French, and Economics from the University of Illinois. A fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, she is a member of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Initiative Board, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and on the Steering Committee for the National Association of Public Defense (NAPD). In 2020, she received the Professional Achievement award from Chicago-Kent College of Law for outstanding public service, and she was honored by Chicago Lawyer Magazine’s Inaugural Class as one of 50 Exceptional Women in the Law, and by Chicago Magazine as one of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.