Richard Parsons

PEORIA - Richard H. Parsons, 77, of Peoria died at 7:40 a.m. Wednesday, March 26, 2014, at UnityPoint Health-Proctor.

Richard was born June 9, 1936, in McAlester, Okla., to Alfred Richard and Veronica Cecilia Parsons. He married Catherine Logan on Aug. 9, 1958, in Peoria. She preceded him in death in 2011.

He is survived by his children, Karen Voss, Anne Muren and A. Richard Parsons II, and eight grandchildren.

Both his sisters, Helen Murphy and MaryAnn Caster, preceded him in death.

Mr. Parsons graduated from Taylorville High School in Taylorville, Ill., in 1954, where he participated on many athletic teams, including football, basketball, baseball and track and field. However, he was most proud of the fact that he was elected captain of the first Taylorville High School varsity tennis team.

Tennis continued to play an important part of his life. He played well into his 60s, when spinal problems forced him to quit playing the sport he loved the most.

After high school, he played tennis for Bradley University for two years. After graduation, he continued to play and win Club and Bar Association mixed and men's doubles tournaments, including championships at Mount Hawley Country Club, the Peoria Tennis Association, the Peoria County Bar Association and the Racquet Club of Peoria. Additionally, he was a three-time winner of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Tournament. His home and office were festooned with dozens of tennis and golf trophies.

He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from Bradley University in Peoria in 1958. Thereafter, he served in the United States Marine Corps PLC Program.

Mr. Parsons graduated from Washington & Lee College of Law in 1961. While there, he was business editor of the Washington & Lee Law Review. While in law school, he also worked a nearly full-time schedule for The Lexington Gazette, a local Virginia newspaper that was purported to be one of the oldest newspapers in Virginia.

He completed post-graduate studies in constitutional law at Harvard Law School under its judges' program in the 1980s.

Upon graduating from law school, Mr. Parsons worked for Chicago Title and Trust Company for seven years, ultimately becoming the company's youngest officer and serving as one of its lobbyists in Springfield.

In 1968, he moved to Peoria and entered into the private practice of law, and shortly thereafter formed and owned the Bankers Title Company, Ltd., issuing agent for Pioneer National Title Insurance Corporation. He did this even while continuing his law practice during the same time period. During this time, he also served on the board of directors for a number of commercial entities, including the Peoria Heights Bank (where he was a charter board member), the Illinois Crown Insurance Corporation, the Rock Island Title and Abstract Company, the Fairway Life Insurance Corporation, the Peacock Engineering Company and the Another Chicago Press Company.

During this time, Mr. Parsons also was active in the Democratic Party. He was appointed by the governor to the Illinois Capital Development Board, where he was instrumental in obtaining the lights for Memorial Stadium football field at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. He also served terms in elected positions, such as precinct committeeman and delegate to the 1972 Democratic National Convention. Beginning in 1975, he once again was appointed by the governor to the position of commissioner/trial judge for the Illinois Court of Claims, adjudicating claims made against the state of Illinois. He served in that part-time position for 20 years.

In the mid-1970s, Mr. Parsons began to focus his practice toward criminal defense work. His cases included several capital murder trials, countless federal white-collar crime trials and numerous other types of federal criminal trials in districts throughout the country. His appellate practice, too, encompassed nearly all of the federal circuits. In these capacities, he represented a wide range of individuals, from doctors, lawyers, judges, politicians and corporate executives to drug kingpins. He accepted numerous cases where he was appointed by the Federal District Court to represent persons without funds to hire an attorney. Many of his cases were tried to verdict, something that seldom happens in this new era of draconian mandatory sentences under the federal guidelines system.

In 1995, Mr. Parsons became the first federal public defender for the Central District of Illinois, a position he held from August 1995 until his retirement in August 2011. Creating the office from the ground up, without a single employee or piece of equipment, the office grew to a staff of more than 21 lawyers and support staff in three divisions. Likewise, in 1999, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals asked him to take on the role as the circuit appellate defender, litigating federal cases on appeal from Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana. As such, his office litigated more criminal appeals in the Seventh Circuit than any other entity, having litigated approximately 25 percent of all criminal appeals in the Seventh Circuit every year since 2004.

In 2003, at the request of the chief judge of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, he also served for almost one year as the acting federal public defender for the Southern District of Illinois, while continuing his duties in the Central District of Illinois. In 1999, he was co-counsel and co-authored the brief and later appeared before the United States Supreme Court in O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 119 S.Ct. 1728 (1999).

Mr. Parsons was actively involved in numerous legal associations, including the American Bar Association, the Illinois State Bar Association and the Peoria County Bar Association. More specifically, he was a life member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the three-time chairman of the American Bar Association's Criminal Amicus Curiae Committee. For seven years, he was a director of the Illinois State Bar Association's Criminal Justice Council, and served as Amicus Curiae Chairman for four years. He also was past president of the Clarence Darrow Inn of the American Inns of Court and past president of the Illinois Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (1994), on whose board he also served for many years. In 2000, he was awarded the association's Lawyer of the Year Award, the first "downstater" to ever earn this coveted prize. He also served a two-year term on the Board of Directors of the Peoria County Bar Association and served a three-year term on the Illinois Capital Litigation Trial Screening Committee. He was listed in Marquis Who's Who in America.

Mr. Parsons taught over the years at numerous seminars for the criminal defense bar. He was on the faculty of attorney training programs hosted by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the Defender Services Division of the United States Courts, the Federal Defenders in several districts (the Northern District of Illinois, Southern District of Illinois, Eastern District of Wisconsin, Northern District of Indiana and Southern District of Indiana), the Wisconsin State Bar Association, the Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Indiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Illinois Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Likewise, he conducted several training programs in his own district in Illinois.

Mr. Parsons authored a number of publications directed at criminal defense lawyers. Among them are his books, "Possible Issues for Review in Criminal Appeals" (now in its second edition), "Handbook for Appeals in the Seventh Circuit" and "Pleadings Potpourri." He was co-author of a chapter in "Federal Criminal Practice," published by the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education, which discusses the law of search and seizure. He also was co-author of an article appearing in the Champion Magazine entitled "Challenging the Detention of Material Witnesses and Incommunicado Clients." Additionally, he acted as editor-in-chief of the nationally acclaimed newsletter "The Back Bencher"; and he appeared on the cover of the September 1987 issue of the "National Law Journal," the Third Quarter 2000 cover of the "Criminal Defense Quarterly" and the front page of the Peoria Journal Star on at least two occasions. In recent years, the Peoria Journal Star also published four of his op-ed pieces.

Over the years, Mr. Parsons participated in a number of local community and public service endeavors. He co-founded the St. Patrick's Day Parade in Peoria, serving as the "parade chairman" for the first parade in 1981 and receiving the honor of being the parade's grand marshal in 1984. As co-founder and past president of Peoria's St. Patrick's Society, he and his close friends, Jim Hancock and Dan O'Day, conceptualized and organized the first Erin Feis in Peoria. He was a co-founder of the local division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, which was named the Richard H. Parsons Division in honor of his efforts to foster the growth and awareness of Irish heritage in central Illinois, and served as this chapter's president. He also served as a state director, board member and officer of the state of Illinois' Ancient Order of Hibernians. He was director general of the Puff Club Foundation Trust and president of the Old Rumpolian Society. He was co-founder of the W.C. Fields Golf League. He was a former board member of the Friends of Fatherless Boys and the Knights of Columbus, Spalding Council 427, Third Degree.

He was a lector at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Peoria, where he was a member. He also was a member of the IVY Club of Peoria, the Union League Club of Chicago and Mount Hawley Country Club, where he proudly scored his two holes-in-one, as well as winning the Manager's Cup (a match-play event).

In better health days, he was a single-to-low digit handicap golfer at Mount Hawley Country Club and a champion at men's and mixed doubles tennis into his mid-60s. He also continued to be a bibliophile and master crossword puzzler up to the time of his death. However, his two greatest achievements were defending the underdog and disenfranchised at trial and/or on appeal and being a loving and caring husband, father and grandfather. We could all sleep better at night knowing that he was in our lives. His integrity, honesty and loyalty made us feel safer and better for knowing he was a friend.

A memorial Mass will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, March 29, 2014, at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Franciscan Fathers will officiate. There will be no visitation. Cremation rites have been accorded. Burial of cremains will be in Oak Hill Cemetery in Taylorville, Ill., at a later date.

Wright & Salmon Mortuary is handling arrangements.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Sophia's Kitchen, 103 Richard Pryor Place, Peoria, IL 61605.

Tributes and condolences may be submitted to www.wrightandsalmon. com.

Published in Peoria Journal Star on Mar. 28, 2014