A Fighter for Social Justice: Antonio Romanucci JD ‘85
Luckily, Antonio Romanucci JD ’85 was not good at chemistry. Opting against medical school, he spent his undergraduate years at the University of Wisconsin in Madison turning his attention to the law. Intuition led him to determine attending UIC Law in Chicago would be his best decision long term, over options on the East and West Coasts. It was, he believes, the best decision he’s made for his career.
UIC Law gave Romanucci the background and training he needed for a career in litigation. He was trial ready and street ready when he graduated and prepared for what has proven to be a decades-long career of fighting for social justice and his clients’ civil rights. Today, he and his team are actively supporting litigation for police reform at the state and national levels.
In fact, they recently represented the family of George Floyd after an incident with a police officer on May 25, 2020, left him dead in Minneapolis, instigating one of the most visible police misconduct cases of our time. Romanucci and colleagues successfully settled with the city of Minneapolis for $27 million, and soon after the former police officer accused of Floyd’s murder was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison for second-degree murder.
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It solidified for me one of my guiding principles, that I work to ensure equality for people, that everyone deserves a chance to be treated fairly. I see myself truly as a fighter for social justice.
Romanucci’s path was somewhat set when he was assigned to the trial division during his time as a 711 law clerk (a law student approved to render legal services in Illinois under certain conditions) for the Cook County Defender’s Office. Specifically, he served in gun court and then drug court.
“I observed there a repeated narrative in police reports that indicated the marginalized people in Chicago who need our help most were being victimized,” said Romanucci. “It solidified for me one of my guiding principles, that I work to ensure equality for people, that everyone deserves a chance to be treated fairly. I see myself truly as a fighter for social justice.”
Among his proudest achievements, while not civil rights- or social justice- related, is his success in ensuring all aluminum bats are manufactured to behave like wooden bats. The issue came to his attention when a friend of his son’s was seriously injured from a hit off an aluminum bat. What Romanucci learned is baseballs travel off aluminum bats, unlike off wooden bats, at speeds high enough to kill or maim young players who don’t have the reaction time to move away. Romanucci took action, challenging a titan industry on behalf of three families, and the result has likely saved many children’s lives.
Romanucci has been working on wrongful death and police misconduct cases for years, long before they attracted the nation’s attention. In addition to achieving a historic settlement for the family of George Floyd—a milestone that will likely be seen in history as redefining police conduct—he’s recently joined the team representing the family of Daunte Wright, who was shot by a police officer on April 11, 2021, in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota.
“The execution of George Floyd will never not send chills down my spine, but today we feel a tremendous amount of joy and eternal hope,” said Romanucci after the former police officer who murdered George Floyd was sentenced. “I’ve been witness to the marginalization of Black and Brown people for 36 years and today I feel we’ve turned a corner. We are now on notice; we know police, lawyers, everyone will be held accountable for needless death.”
Romanucci believes that without George Floyd, Breonna Taylor—who was fatally shot by police in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 13, 2020—would have been a footnote. Instead, we’re seeing no-knock warrants and qualified immunity being reconsidered. And these developments are important, as Romanucci feels a greater sense of purpose beyond helping his clients. He wants to look at how he can expand his work to impact the bigger picture. In fact, he partnered with Ben Crump—renowned attorney in high-profile cases who fights for justice on behalf of the marginalized—to author a white paper recommending police reforms and to educate police forces and bar associations so they can also advocate for reform.
Another outcome of his handling misconduct cases for many years is a national organization called Police Misconduct Litigation Group, which Romanucci created after Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014. He decided the country needed lawyers who would fight police misconduct cases together as opposed to fighting each other to secure the cases. It’s since become a part of the American Association for Justice, and brings together like-minded people who share resources and counsel to achieve optimal results for clients.
“The real legal world isn’t just sitting at a desk, writing briefs or being in a courtroom,” says Romanucci. “Law students should be learning social justice work so they understand the duty, the obligation we have to represent all people and make sure the laws we’re fighting for are treating all people—Black, indigent or white corporate president—equally and fairly. We can’t have a one-sided view of life.”