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2015 NIU Law Alumni Award Recipients

Alumnus of the Year
Eric C. Weis ('97)

Eric C. Weis

Eric Weis is the current State’s Attorney for Kendall County. He is presently serving in his third term as State’s Attorney. Prior to his election as State’s Attorney in 2006, Weis was the first Assistant State’s Attorney of Kendall County under two former State’s Attorneys where he served as the chief felony prosecutor for most major violent and drug-related offenses. Eric began his legal career back in 1997 when he was sworn in as an Assistant State’s Attorney for Kendall County after working for two years as a law school intern with the office. During his career with Kendall County, Weis has prosecuted all types of cases from felony and misdemeanor offenses, juvenile delinquency, abuse and neglect, DUI and traffic violations, and crimes involving domestic violence. Weis has also represented Kendall County on various types of civil litigation. Weis has dedicated his entire legal career to protecting and working for the residents of Kendall County.

Weis has been requested to serve on various committees and organizations as State’s Attorney for Kendall County. Throughout his career, Weis has been involved in many organizations as State’s Attorney for Kendall County including:

  • Illinois State’s Attorney’s Association
  • Kendall County Chief’s of Police Association
  • Illinois Capital Litigation Bar
  • Illinois State Bar Association
  • Kendall County Bar Association
  • Kane County Bar Association
  • Major Crimes Task Force Executive Board
  • Kendall County Child Advocacy Board
  • Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Executive Board
  • Kendall County Juvenile Justice Chairman
  • Senator Kirk’s Anti-Heroin Federal Task Force
  • Family Violence Prevention Steering Committee
  • Kendall County Farm Land Protection Committee

In 2013, Weis was nominated and sworn in as a member of the United States Supreme Court Bar. 

Weis earned a Bachelors of Science Degree from North Central College in 1994 and went on to law school where he earned his Juris Doctorate and graduated Cum Laude from Northern Illinois University College of Law in 1997. He is the proud father of two sons, Justin and Ryan and is married to his wife, Jody, who is also an attorney. Weis is a lifelong resident of Kendall County and currently resides in Yorkville, Illinois. 

Weis has dedicated hundreds of hours serving the residents of Kendall County in various community activities. Weis has served as a member of the following community organizations:

  • Kendall County Food Pantry
  • Big Brothers/Big Sisters Regional Council
  • Kendall County Juvenile Justice Council
  • Oswegoland Optimist Club
  • Oswego Youth Tackle Football
  • Citizens Police Academy for Yorkville and Oswego
  • Oswego Masonic Lodge #303
  • Oswego Pony Baseball
  • Yorkville Youth Baseball and Soccer Coach

Additionally, Weis is an active member of the Bristol-Kendall Fire Protection District. He has been a firefighter/EMT for over a decade. He currently serves with a rank of Lieutenant. Weis is also a founding and current member of the Honor Guard unit.

Young Alumnus of the Year
Robert M. Morgan ('05)

Robert M. Morgan

Robert Morgan is a health care regulatory and policy attorney with extensive experience in public service and the private sector. Bob helps hospitals, health systems, consulting firms, pharmacies, advocacy groups and other clients better understand the effects of federal and state health care reform legislation, ensure compliance with evolving regulatory requirements, implement industry best practices, and navigate complex relationships between lawmakers, government officials and law-enforcement agencies.

Bob also has extensive experience in the still-developing cannabis industry. As the first statewide project coordinator for the State of Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program, Bob was appointed by the Governor of Illinois to develop and implement a regulatory framework for the use of cannabis by eligible patients. He understands the concerns and goals of patients, medical professionals and providers, hospitals and health systems, insurers, law enforcement officials and legislators, and draws on this knowledge to engage key stakeholders and develop effective public and private communications strategies.

As leader of the Illinois medical cannabis program, Bob oversaw the efforts of five state agencies and more than 50 employees charged with creating program rules and fees, laboratory testing and database systems, and a selection process for licensed dispensary facilities and cultivation centers. He managed a multimillion-dollar state fund to create and maintain a system of operations, detailed tracking capabilities, policies to assure patient safety, proper enforcement of laws and regulations, and public education campaigns. The patient-centered focus of the medical cannabis program was manifested in the creation of the Illinois Medical Cannabis Advisory Board consisting of patients and health care professionals. 

Bob also served as general counsel for the Illinois Department of Public Health, where he advised the agency director and senior staff on a broad range of complex legal issues, including licensure of health care facilities, emergency preparedness, maternal and child health initiatives, mental health and developmental disability facilities, and food safety. He supervised the department’s legal team and administered all privacy, confidentiality, and ethics policies and protocols for the department’s employees.

Previously, Bob served as associate general counsel in the Office of the Governor of the State of Illinois and as lead attorney on issues involving health care, the Affordable Care Act, private and public insurance issues and health information technology. In this role, he managed a dozen state agency general counsels overseeing health care, insurance, human services, environmental, energy, commerce and housing legal issues. Before this, he served as deputy general counsel of employee benefits for the Illinois Department of Central Management Services, where he handled a range of benefits, insurance, pension, workers’ compensation, litigation and tax matters.

Earlier in his career, Bob was a legal health care consultant, where he advised clients on HIPAA, private insurance accountability, specialty hospital regulation, health care reform, and regulatory filings and registrations. He has also assisted political campaign of candidates for federal and state offices, and was a member of the Obama for America National Health Policy Advisory Committee.

Bob is a member of the Chicago Bar Association, and has spoken at CBA conferences and before committees on topics such as Illinois consent decrees and the impact of federal health care reform on employers. He is also a member of the Illinois Association of Healthcare Attorneys. Bob is active in various civic and political activities. He is a member of the Midwest Regional Board of the Anti-Defamation League and serves on the organization’s National Education Equity Task Force. He also serves on the Public Policy Committee of the National Fragile X Foundation, volunteers with the Illinois Special Olympics and is an anti-bullying advocate.

Bob was raised in the south suburbs of Chicago, and is a lifelong resident of Illinois. He now lives in Deerfield, IL with his wife, Sonya, and son, Ari.

Outstanding Service Award
Thomas P. Lanigan ('84)

Thomas P. Lanigan

Thomas P. Lanigan, a Chicago native, graduated from NIU in May 1977 with a B. A. in Sociology. In July 1977, Mr. Lanigan joined the Chicago police department in Chicago, Illinois. Mr Lanigan attended Lewis University College of Law, which became Northern Illinois University College of Law, while working for the Chicago Police Department.

In August 1984, Mr. Lanigan joined the United States Department of Justice as a special agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. After vigorous training at the FBI Academy in Quantico, VA, Mr. Lanigan was assigned to Albuquerque, NM. While assigned to New Mexico, Mr. Lanigan investigated economic crime and assisted in the prosecution of economic crime in the southwestern United States.

In August 1987, Mr. Lanigan was appointed as an assistant United States attorney for the Southern District of Florida in Miami. Mr. Lanigan was assigned to the major crimes section from 1987 to 1989 when he joined the organized crime section. In January 1993, Mr. Lanigan transferred to the Fort Lauderdale office. Mr. Lanigan prosecuted several high profile Racketeer Influenced Criminal Organization (RICO) cases and murder-for-hire cases while in the organized crime section. In 1998, Mr. Lanigan was reassigned to the narcotics and violent crime section of the Fort Lauderdale office where he prosecuted various bank robbery, narcotic trafficking offenses and money laundering cases.

Since August 2000, Mr. Lanigan has been assigned to the economics crimes section in the Fort Lauderdale U.S. Attorney's office where he has prosecuted a series of bank frauds, identity thefts, advance fee frauds, credit card frauds, money laundering and mortgage frauds.

Mr. Lanigan holds a Florida real estate salesperson license (inactive.) He is active in the Lawyers for Literacy teaching program in Miami-Dade County, Florida, where he instructs in the area of general criminal law and landlord tenant law. Mr. Lanigan is an occasional presenter at meetings of the Certified Fraud Examiners (CFE) South Florida Chapter. At CFE meetings, Mr. Lanigan instructs in the area of economic crime investigation, money laundering, offshore accounts and abusive trusts.

Mr. Lanigan is an occasional instructor at the Department of Justice National Advocacy Center (NAC) located on the University of South Carolina campus in Colombia, South Carolina. While at the NAC, Mr. Lanigan instructs in the area of economic crime investigation and money laundering. Mr. Lanigan resides in Fort Lauderdale, FL with Maria Teresa Ruano and their eleven-year-old son Thomas.

Distinguished Service Award
Keith Grant ('87)

Keith Grant

Keith Grant is the Lake County Public Defender’s chief of Special Defense and Professional Development, responsible for the coordination and actual litigation of Public Defender complex cases and all training conducted for all employees (legal and otherwise) in the Office. Keith is also the chief of the Public Defender’s Guardian Ad Litem Division, representing abused and neglected minors. Previously, Keith served as the PD’s Felony Division chief and before that as the Misdemeanor Division chief. Before becoming an administrator, Keith was a line-assistant in the Public Defender’s Office, Felony Division, for nearly 10 years. 

Keith graduated from Ripon College in 1984 and NIU College of Law in 1987. Prior to becoming an assistant public defender in 1992, Keith was a prosecutor with the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps, assigned to the First Infantry Division. In 1996, Keith deployed to Europe as a trial defense officer with the Army Reserve in support of Operation Joint Endeavor, the Bosnian peacekeeping mission. 

Keith is a past-president of Lake County’s Jefferson Inn of Court; immediate past-president of the Lake County Bar Association; and second-term president of the Illinois Public Defender Association. Keith also co-chairs the Lake County Bar Association Criminal Law Committee and is a frequent lecturer at LCBA seminars as well as seminars for the IPDA, Cook County Public Defender’s Office and other organizations. He is often published in the LCBA Docket magazine and has served as a primary organizer of the Annual LCBA Criminal Law Seminar since 2002. He is also a member of the Community Advisory Council of the Highland Park-Highwood Legal Aid Clinic.

Keith continues to represent defendants in numerous high-profile and serious cases in Lake County. He lead the team that obtained the release of Jerry Hobbs, wrongfully accused of murdering his daughter and another 8 year old girl, and has tried two of the few cases in Illinois where the media has been allowed cameras in the courtroom.

He remains involved with the NIU College of Law, serving as a Moot Court competition judge annually and presenting to students on the role of Public Defender.

Mary, Keith’s wife of 26 years received her undergraduate degree from NIU in 1988 and has worked as a nurse-manager in the NorthShore University Health System for the last 16 years.

Public Service Award
Justice Ann B. Jorgensen

Justice Ann B. Jorgensen

Ann B. Jorgensen graduated from Loyola University of Chicago and earned her Juris Doctor from DePaul University College of Law in 1980. She served as an Assistant State's Attorney in DuPage County until entering the private practice of law in the Law Offices of John F. Donahue (now known as Donahue, Sowa & Magana), where her practice concentrated in criminal defense and administrative hearings.

Judge Jorgensen was appointed as an Associate Judge for the 18th Judicial Circuit in 1989. She was assigned to the law division and thereafter appointed Supervising Judge of the Mandatory Arbitration Program. In 1994, Judge Jorgensen was elected Circuit Judge and subsequently retained in 2000 and 2006. 

As a Circuit Judge, she served as the Presiding Judge of the Felony Division and as the inaugural Presiding Judge of the DuPage County Drug Court. In 2005, her fellow circuit judges elected her as Chief Judge of the 18th Judicial Circuit, where she served until her appointment to the Appellate Court in July 2008. Following her election to a full term on the Appellate Court in 2010, her colleagues elected her to be the Presiding Judge of the Appellate Court - Second District. She served in that position from 2010 to 2012 and remains a champion of the electronic business pilot programs begun during her term.

The Illinois Supreme Court has appointed Justice Jorgensen to serve on numerous committees, including most recently as a member of the Special Supreme Court Committee to study courtroom and judicial security and the Committee on Automation and Technology. She also teaches at the Illinois Judicial Education Conference. 

Justice Jorgensen is a judicial member of the Illinois Judicial Ethics Committee.

Judge Jorgensen is a past president of the Illinois Judges Association, former member of its board of directors and current member of the Illinois Judges Association Foundation. She is an active member of the Illinois State Bar Association having previously served as chair of the Criminal Law Section Council, the Alternative Dispute Resolution Section Council and Bench and Bar Section Council. Continuing her service to the ISBA she served as the co-chair of the special committee on Law School Debt and its Impact on the Delivery of Legal Services in Illinois in 2013 and is the current chair of the task force on the Impact of Current Law School Curriculum and Debt on the Future of the Profession. She is a frequent speaker and moderator for ISBA CLE programs. Justice Jorgensen is also an annual presenter for the Appellate Lawyers Association's Illinois Supreme Court – Civil Case Review. She is a member the DuPage County Bar Association and DuPage Association of Women Lawyers, where she is also frequent speaker.

Honorary Alumna Award 
Wendy Hinton Vaughn

Wendy Hinton VaughnWendy Hinton Vaughn is a clinical associate professor in the College of Law’s Clinical Faculty and the supervising attorney of the law school’s Zeke Giorgi Legal Clinic in Rockford. She directs the Civil Justice Clinic and co-teaches Poverty Law in Theory and Practice at NIU.

Professor Vaughn is serving her second term as the President of the Board of Directors of Prairie State Legal Services and is a founding member of the Board of Directors of Children’s Safe Harbor. She is the Vice-Chair of the Illinois State Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services and the Committee’s Continuing Legal Education Coordinator. 

Professor Vaughn is actively involved with the 17th Judicial Circuit Court Family Violence Coordinating Council and serves as the chair of the Domestic Violence Enhanced Response Team, as a Core Team member of the Domestic Violence Coordinated Court’s Planning Committee, as a member of the Domestic Violence Impact Panel Committee, and as a founding member of the Elder Abuse Fatality Team for Boone and Winnebago Counties. Since 2011, Professor Vaughn has provided assistance and participated in drafting five successful grant applications submitted to the Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women. As a result, $1,779,493.00 in new federal funds have been awarded to Winnebago County and the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit to create a dedicated Domestic Violence Coordinated Courts Division, to serve as one of the nation’s six domestic violence mentor courts, and to provide free and safe supervised visitation services to children. In 2012, Professor Vaughn was awarded the Pioneer in Peace Award by Winnebago County’s Violence Prevention Collaborative.

Professor Vaughn serves as member of Rockford Public School District 205’s Human and Public Services College and Career Readiness Council and chair of its Youth Court Committee, and as vice-chair of the Jefferson High School Academy Support Team. Professor Vaughn has assisted in creating a multi-agency team including officials from Rockford Public Schools, the City of Rockford and Rockford Police Department, Winnebago County's State's Attorney's Office and Juvenile Probation Division, Youth Services Network, and Rosecrance Health Network to create a Youth Court diversion program within Rockford's public high schools. As a result of this restorative justice work, Youth Services Network has received a three year grant from the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois to fund the implementation of a Youth Court Program in all four of Rockford's traditional high schools. Since the first Youth Court program was piloted at Jefferson High School in Spring 2014, Youth Court programs have been launched at Guilford and Auburn High Schools, with a final Youth Court program planned to begin at East High School in Spring 2016. In July 2014, Rockford Public School’s honored Professor Vaughn with the Council Member of the Year award for her contributions. 

Professor Vaughn’s legal career has been dedicated to social change advocacy and poverty law on behalf of vulnerable clients. Before coming to NIU in 2007, Professor Vaughn worked as the supervising attorney of the Family Law Advocacy Group at Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, as the legal director of Levitt & Quinn Family Law Center, and as a supervising attorney, director of the Intake Program, and Equal Justice Works Fellow at the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia. She is a member of the California, District of Columbia, and Illinois Bars. Professor Vaughn is a graduate of New York University School of Law and has a B.A. in International Studies from Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas.

Mentor of the Year
William C. Obuchowski ('13)

William C. Obuchowski

William C. Obuchowski is an attorney and litigator focused on personal injury, wrongful death, and premises liability in the northern region of Illinois including Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. William strives to excel at all aspects of being an attorney from client counseling and relationship building to trial advocacy, motion practice and everything in between.

William believes in a client-centered approach to legal representation and strives to be both a legal technician as well as a guide for his clients throughout what can be an overwhelming process. Before joining the team, he began his education at Moraine Valley Community College where he was awarded the honors of Dean’s List, President’s List, All-Illinois Academic Team, Student Leadership Award, and commencement speaker. William then matriculated to Judson University in Elgin, Illinois to study accounting where he earned Dean’s list, was selected for the President’s Advisory Board, and was nominated as a Truman scholar.

William received his law degree from Northern Illinois University College of Law in DeKalb, Illinois where he was a member of the Law Review for two years including one year serving as an Assistant Editor and contributing to the process of publishing multiple volumes of scholarly works each year. During law school, William developed his client-centered approach to the practice of law when he worked with elderly and low-income clients at the Zeke Giorgi Legal Clinic in Rockford, Illinois conducting both litigation and transactional services as needed.

William also was active in the Public Interest Law Society where he served as co-chair for the Annual Fundraising Auction for two years and further studied attorney-client communications when he represented Northern Illinois University at the American Bar Association’s regional client counseling competition in Chicago, Illinois. Additionally, William has volunteered his time to Prairie State Legal Services, Inc. and the DeKalb County Public Defender’s Office where he sought to provide access to justice to various underrepresented groups.

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