On March 26, prosecutors dropped all 16 counts of disorderly conduct against Jussie Smollett, citing a lack of confidence that the “Empire” actor would be convicted. The dropped charges concluded one chapter of a months-long ordeal for Smollett, who has been in the spotlight since reporting himself to Chicago police as the victim of a hate crime—then being charged himself for allegedly staging the attack.
Throughout the investigation, Smollett retained top legal representation from Patricia Brown Holmes, managing partner of Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila in Chicago. Holmes’ long career far precedes her work on Smollett’s case, having served as a prosecutor, defense attorney, and a judge who has tried cases in state, city, federal, state appellate, and state supreme courts. Read on for everything you need to know about the celebrated litigator.
Who is Patricia Brown Holmes?
Before turning her practice to commercial litigation and white-collar crime, Holmes served as an assistant district attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and tried 26 felony cases before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. She also served as an assistant state’s attorney for Cook County and argued twice before the state’s Supreme Court. Then, she served for nine years as the associate judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County. After joining private practice, Holmes won a succession of significant cases, including in the defense of executive Mark S. Kipnis against charges of federal mail, wire, and tax fraud.
Notably, Holmes is the first African-American woman to achieve her position of leadership within a law firm of its size that is not women- or minority-owned.
What were her biggest cases?
Along with her defense of Smollett, Holmes made headlines for her role in these cases:
- In October 2018, Holmes served as the special prosecutor in a trial against three Chicago police officers over an alleged cover up of evidence against former officer Jason Van Dyke, who shot and killed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014.
- In 1995, Holmes tried the first “bankruptcy bust-out” case in the United States over a complicated scheme involving wire fraud, mail fraud, and bankruptcy fraud against creditors to violate income tax laws.
- In 1990, Holmes tried a series of drug trafficking and money laundering cases in what became one of the largest interstate narcotics trial in that Rockford, Illinois.
- In 1992, Holmes secured a conviction against three Nigerian citizens who had conspired to import heroin for distribution in Chicago. The conspiracy involved multiple defendants and was the first money-structure charge ever brought about by the IRS.
Holmes has received numerous awards and professional recognitions over her decades-long career.
- She is a past president of the Black Women Lawyers’ Association of Greater Chicago, Inc., as well as a founding member of the organization and the recipient of its 2005 Visionary Award and 2017 Vanguard Award.
- She is a past president of the Chicago Bar Association (2015-2016) and received its 2013 Dickerson Award.
- Holmes is a member of the Cook County Bar Association and received the Centennial Presidential Award for Dedication to the Bar (2014) and the Judicial Award (1998).
- Holmes was given the Distinguished Service Award from the Illinois Judicial Council Foundation in 2005.
- Holmes has been listed with Best Lawyers since 2011.
Where can I read her work?
Holmes is a frequent contributor to Best Lawyers and our Business Editions. You can read her 2018 article, “The Profit in Nonprofits,” and her 2017 cover story, “Benefits and Mechanics of Diverse Partner Integration,” on our website.
Check back for her forthcoming verdict column in our 2019 “Women in the Law” Business Edition.