Theatre Background Gives Top Prosecutor an Edge

Author: Sara Burnett

Jack Blakey

Jack Blakey B.A. ’88 J.D. ’92 still laughs heartily as he recalls one of his first theatre performances at Notre Dame.

A first-year student, Blakey had one of the lead roles in We Won’t Pay, We Won’t Pay, a farce about communism that often draws comparisons to television’s The Honeymooners. One night, the actress playing his wife missed her cue to join him on stage, forcing Blakey to improvise for a full two minutes. When she finally arrived, breathless from running up two flights of stairs, the door she walked through fell off its hinges. Then a box of macaroni—a prop the actress had stuffed in her dress—broke and spilled all over the stage.

“Everywhere I walked you could hear ‘crunch, crunch, crunch,’” Blakey says. “Everyone was laughing. It was a lot of fun.”

It also was perfect preparation for his future legal career, says Blakey, who has worked as a prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office and is currently chief of the Special Prosecutions Bureau of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office in Chicago—the second largest prosecution office in the country.

“Some people think it’s such a difference, going from the theatre world to the legal world, but it really seems like a seamless transition,” Blakey says.

“Arguing in front of a jury or arguing in front of a judge, whether it’s a legal principle or a set of disputed facts, you have to have the power of language and understand the power of a strong narrative: What are the issues? What is the story? And how do you communicate that intellectually and with emotional content and a sense of history? It’s a love of language, really.”

Blakey never considered attending any university but Notre Dame. His father, Professor G. Robert Blakey, earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and his law degree from Notre Dame and is currently the William J. and Dorothy K. O’Neill Chair in Law at Notre Dame Law School. Jack Blakey’s mother graduated from St. Mary’s College, and all seven of his siblings are also alumni of Notre Dame.

“My high school was farther away from my house than Notre Dame was,” Blakey says. “It was the only place I wanted to go and the only place I applied.”

Blakey, who started acting in high school, was a communications and theatre major in Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters and acted in three or four shows a year, including the lead in King Lear. After graduation, he was accepted in the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, but after studying there says he felt a strong calling to public service—namely, trial work.

After attending law school, Blakey served as a law clerk to the Honorable William J. Zloch, U.S. District Court judge for the Southern District of Florida. He then worked in a large private law firm before becoming an assistant state’s attorney in Chicago and an assistant U.S. attorney in Miami and Chicago.

As chief of the Special Prosecution Bureau in Chicago now, Blakey supervises more than 80 veteran prosecutors and dozens of investigators and other staff handling cases that range from arson to murder, gang crimes, organized crime, money laundering, and human trafficking. He also oversees a special victims’ unit that focuses on seniors and persons with disabilities.

Blakey was principal drafter of the Illinois Safe Children’s Act, and he and his team of human-trafficking prosecutors were recognized by the Chicago Crime Commission in 2011 for “Outstanding Innovation in Law Enforcement.”

“We get paid to do the right thing,” Blakey says. “That’s a luxury for people who get up and go to work every day, especially for an attorney.”

Looking back on his Notre Dame experience, Blakey says what he found most special was the ability to talk openly about values and faith—and the grounding his education gave him in ethics and Christian compassion.

“I think that’s important. It certainly informed my decision to go into public service,” Blakey says. “I don’t know that you can do that everywhere else.”

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