Warden was a former foreign correspondent in the Middle East for the Chicago Daily News and had become editor of the Chicago Lawyer after the Daily News folded in 1978. The magazine had been started by lawyers unhappy with the media coverage of the profession and they wanted the available Warden to improve press coverage of the judicial selection process. Warden being Warden, Chicago Lawyer had quickly moved on to subjects of broader public interest, including prominent lapses in legal ethics, non-legal governmental processes, and police misconduct. Warden in later years would document with James Tuohy Chicago’s Greylord scandal of widespread judicial bribery and end his career in 2015 as Executive Director Emeritus of Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law’s Bluhm Legal Clinic Center on Wrongful Convictions.
Warden and I liked and respected each other and as editor of Chicago Lawyer he had commissioned recent articles I had written for him on the proliferation of foreign bank offices in the city and the messy transition in leadership that had recently occurred at the First National Bank of Chicago.
Unhappy with the transition report being bottled up by Byrne, Warden had brought suit against the city for its release. In December 1979, Cook County Circuit Court Judge James Murray ordered that the six-volume report see the light of day.
However, with the city appealing the order, the report was still out of sight a year after Byrne’s election. That was when, on June 6, 1980,
Dick Simpson took his copy of the report to officials of the Chicago Sun-Times and offered the newspaper a chance to print an article about it and gain a major competitive scoop over its great rival, the Chicago Tribune.
Simpson’s goal in taking the still secret report to the Sun-Times was primarily to bring to light the report’s many recommendations to reduce government waste. Along the way he also hoped to generate some publicity for a forthcoming book he had edited that contained a long essay developed from the report. Because the Chicago Lawyer had been responsible for successfully suing the city to release the transition report, Simpson wanted to let Warden and the magazine publish its own account of the transition report coincident with the Sun- Times. Apparently, the Sun- Times was agreeable to this general arrangement.
An article in the Chicago Reader later described the press brouhaha attending the revelation of the transition report as a “tale of life on Media Row—a tale of misspent passions, split-second decisions, and late-night cloak-and-dagger.” When Simpson gave Warden a copy of the 700 pages in his custody, Warden passed it on to me and asked me to digest the tome in an article appropriate for Chicago Lawyer readers. I had read the entire report in my Lincoln Park home by Friday, June 20 and had just begun to write my article. Some time on Friday, Warden heard that the Sun-Times was at that moment putting together a three-part version of its story and planned to publish it in final form beginning in that Sunday’s paper. Warden promptly called the Sun- Times Editor, Ralph Otwell, to see if he could delay the Sun-Times’s publication long enough for me to finish its article and have it ready for publication in Chicago Lawyer at roughly the same time as the Sun-Times would publish. According to the later Chicago Reader article, Otwell said the story was already in the paper, but he’d see if he could delay it. In fact, Otwell was able to delay it and the first edition of that Sunday’s Sun-Times had nothing about the transition report.
About 11:00 pm that Friday evening, Warden was at Riccardo’s when a Sun-Times editor, unaware of Otwell’s success in delaying publication of the article, told Warden the article had been set for publication in Sunday’s paper.
At the time, I was newly married and my wife Cathy was pregnant with our first son Andy.
We were living in a townhome on Larrabee Street in the Lincoln Park neighborhood when I shortly got unexpected telephone call from Warden. He said the Sun-Times had jumped the gun on its article, and with the timeliness of the Chicago Lawyer’s article now undercut, he wanted to give the Chicago Tribune immediate access to my copy of the report. He asked me to also lead the reporters who would write the front-page story for the Tribune’s Sunday paper through the lengthy document. This would be necessary for such a complicated story given the tight deadline, but achievable given the fact that I had already carefully analyzed it for its newsworthy elements and had already formed my own idea of how the article might be structured. Warden told me I was to stay awake and await the arrival two reporters.
At precisely 1:00 am, Saturday, my doorbell rang and George de Lama and Lynn Emmerman from the Tribune arrived,ready to jump into their task with both feet. As they entered, de Lama handed me a handwritten note Warden had given them testifying to their bona fides. It read:
“Bill, The Tribune reporter who has this note has my blessing. The Sun-Times is screwing us on the release of the transition report. I’d like to read it first in the Tribune. Help them. Rob.”
I led de Lama and Emmerman through the hundreds of pages, explaining the structure of the report and pointing out for them what I thought to be the more important and interesting critiques of the various City Departments. I also reviewed with them the pertinent recommendations that had been made to the incoming mayor. It was 5:00 am before we had gotten through it all, at which point my visitors left. Their next task was to quickly write up their lengthy story and accompanying sidebars and meet the Saturday deadline for the early edition of Sunday’s paper.