Park Ridge’s Laura Morask has created strong, lasting images for those who have known her career in law and public service.
First, Morask was longtime Cook County assistant state’s attorney, noted for work in the gang-crimes division.
That led to her helming an annual gang crimes seminar at the Maine Township Town Hall, where she’s also a township trustee. State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez was keynote speaker at the Oct. 17 event that also drew police officials from Park Ridge, Niles, Chicago and the Cook County Sheriff.
So with that association with prosecuting horrific crimes along with local government work, it seemed unusual to find Morask working in her own Park Ridge neighborhood law offices, with a sign advertising “walk-ins welcome,” at 713 Devon Ave.
Morask has changed careers and hung out her shingle as a storefront lawyer. She has given up the state’s attorney’s work for private practice, switching from offense to defense in almost the snap of her fingers.
After nearly 25 years as a prosecutor, Morask left Alvarez’s office on Feb. 1. She opened on Devon April 12. Ryan Gallagher, clerking for her, was just sworn in as a licensed attorney and joined her as junior associate. Claire Schuman, part of the family that used to own Morningfield’s across the street, is her assistant. Husband Dean, also a defense attorney based in downtown Chicago, has a satellite office in a back room.
Time to switch to a new gig
“I made the decision last November to leave the state’s attorney,” Morask said. “I’m 55 years old and you reach the point where it’s time to do something else. Time to let younger people take that helm. I knew If I didn’t start doing this now, I would never be able to do it.
“I didn’t want to go to a big law firm. I made that choice 27 years ago when I decided to go to the state’s attorney’s office. They’re not going to hire someone my age. They want to train someone (in their own image). And I’m not interested in corporate (law).
“I envisioned a storefront. Not sharing an office in a high-rise. And not commuting. My son (Jake) goes to Maine South. He’s announcing football games on the (campus) radio station. He’s more interested in sports broadcasting. My other son, Alex, is at Marquette, going into advertising.”
Morask is now far from the dregs-of-the-earth cases in which she was once involved. She is not defending any gang-bangers. And before she prosecuted gang crimes, she was in the sex-crimes division. Nothing there, either, in her present work.
She usually handles more mundane cases like police representation, DUIs and landlord-tenant disputes.
“Things like problems before (police) merit or administrative boards,” Morask said. “One client was terminated by the sheriff’s, and we’re doing his appeal.”
Prosecutor’s skills apply to defense work
Morask will actually get “one or two a month” walk-ins instead of the usual referrals. She uses the same talents she perfected as a prosecutor to relate to clients.
“Every person who comes in says they’re not intimidated,” she said. “It’s a very down-to-earth place.”
Morask had little trouble switching from attack mode as a prosecutor.
“The sign, I believe, of a good attorney is the ability to solve a problem,” she said. “That’s essentially what you're hired for, whether as a prosecutor or defense attorney. I am so passionate about the law, and researching it, and learning it, and applying it--using my skills to solve the problem.”
But she’ll still retain her war stories from the state’s attorney’s office.
“Gang prosecutors really need to communicate with the witnesses (to promote testimony as opposed to silence),” she said. “I was always good at finding the witnesses, but also talking to them to allaying their fears. I had 25 years in the prosecutor’s office and never had a witness hurt.
“Before that, I was a sex-crimes prosecutor. I did that two years, did 30 cases and 15 juries each year. I always said when I went to the gang unit, I had to get to a better class of people. I was burned out.”