Joseph R. Bartylak, 1924-2010
Legal champion for Illinois poor addressed addiction in legal field
By Margaret Ramirez, Tribune reporter
For much of his 58-year career, downstate attorney Joseph R. Bartylak fought to provide high-quality legal services to the poor.
Colleagues also knew the soft-spoken Mr. Bartylak for his compassion in helping lawyers, judges and law students with alcoholism, drug addiction and mental health problems.
As executive director for the Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation in Alton, Ill., from 1976 to 2003, Mr. Bartylak oversaw the group's growth to a nationally known organization that serves thousands of needy residents in 65 counties throughout central and southern Illinois.
During the Reagan administration, severe cuts in federal funding forced many legal aid groups to lay off staff and close offices. It was largely due to Mr. Bartylak's leadership that the foundation survived, said Russell Scott, friend and former foundation president.
"Joe was a giant in legal services," Scott said. "He was known nationally as a model for how to run a successful legal services program.
"He was a quiet man of great perception. He didn't talk a lot. But when he did speak, people listened because he knew what he was talking about."
Mr. Bartylak, 85, who also helped found the Lawyers' Assistance Program to address addiction and mental health problems in the legal field, died of pneumonia on Thursday, Aug. 26, at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, said his daughter Connie Clark. He was a resident of Princeton, Ill.
Joseph Richard Bartylak was born in Iron Mountain, Mich., the son of Joseph P. Bartylak and Selma Anderson. Unable to serve in the war due to a heart murmur, Mr. Bartylak enrolled in Washington University School of Law in St. Louis and received his degree in 1947.
For several years, he worked in private practice in Collinsville, and then in the late 1960s, he was elected Madison County state's attorney.
In 1971, Mr. Bartylak became a staff attorney at the Legal Services Society of Madison County, one of seven organizations that combined to form the legal assistance foundation. He became the agency's executive director in 1976 and served for 27 years.
"It was important to him that as many poor people as possible got legal services," said Lois Wood, executive director for the foundation. "But he also wanted them to be high-quality services."
In 1980, Mr. Bartylak helped establish the Lawyers' Assistance Program, devoting much of his time to helping colleagues with alcohol and drug addiction. He served as their associate director from 2004 to 2007.
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