A steel fist hidden in a velvet glove. A quarter of a century of legal experience to her credit, central Illinois criminal defense attorney Maureen Williams has earned a reputation as a tireless advocate who arrives in court prepared to argue on her client’s behalf. Outside the courtroom, Williams’ dedication doesn’t flag. She’s never too busy to answer her clients’ questions and return their phone calls, routinely meets with them for evidence review/strategy sessions.
“My clients are worried and scared,” says Williams. “I’m happy when they call, because I know I can alleviate some of their stress. I’m here to make the process less painful. We are in the business of selling hope.”
A Peoria native, Williams obtained an accounting degree from Creighton University in 1985 and became a CPA just before attending law school in 1988.
In 1988, Williams enrolled in Mitchell Hamline School of Law, in St. Paul, Minn. At the same time, she worked for the accounting firm, Arthur Andersen & Co. Despite having to juggle the demands of law school and her work, she still made the dean’s list and received the American Jurisprudence Award in Constitutional Law II, given to the student who scores the highest grade in class.
On entering law school, Williams envisioned a return to the accounting field after graduation. But then, just before her third year of law school, she began a 10-month stint as a law clerk in the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office, focusing on constitutional law, civil rights, and related issues, and her focus shifted. Williams also held a law clerk internship with Hon. Judge Allen Oleisky, 4th Judicial District in Minneapolis.
After graduation, Williams was hired as a law clerk for the 5th Judicial District of Minnesota in Mankato, Minnesota. As a clerk, Williams was responsible for conducting legal research, writing and drafting of orders and memoranda, findings of fact and conclusions of law.
“I realized then that the criminal cases were the ones I liked working on the most,” says Williams. “I couldn’t understand why every attorney wasn’t leaping to practice criminal law. That’s when I decided that I wanted to specialize in criminal defense. I feel extremely fortunate that I have found my calling, and that it is a calling that is so very needed in today’s world.”
Williams launched a private solo practice in 1993 in Minneapolis, devoted to the practice of criminal defense, including murder, serious felonies, misdemeanors, DUIs, criminal appeals, and postconviction work. She soon won an important Minnesota Supreme Court victory on behalf of professional boxer Jack Basting. Basting had been convicted of second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon after punching his ex-wife’s boyfriend. The trial court had concluded that because Basting was a boxer his fist was a dangerous weapon. Williams challenged the conviction and won. In State of Minnesota v. Basting , the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that Basting’s experience as a boxer, in and of itself, did not render his fists dangerous weapons.
Williams credits Minneapolis defense lawyers for her earliest training. “The Minneapolis attorneys I knew are excellent at their craft. They had passion, drive, craft, and were wonderful examples to follow. I learned from the best.”
Williams left Minnesota in 2004, even though she had an established practice in Minneapolis. She longed to return to Peoria, her home town. “I have very strong family ties to the area, and I always wanted to move back,” she explains. In 2004-05, Williams relocated her practice to Illinois. “I love practicing criminal defense, and really enjoy making a difference for my clients. I strive to treat each client as if he or she is my only client. I believe each client can sense it,” Williams says.
After four years of study, Attorney Williams is currently set to graduate from the prestigious Trial Lawyers’ College, based in Wyoming. Trial Lawyers College was founded by the great Gerry Spence. It is the best training for trial lawyers in the world. The premise of the college is that a lawyer cannot connect with a juror or her client unless she knows herself first. The art of listening is an integral part of the training.
Ms. Williams is a member of National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Illinois Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Illinois Appellate Lawyers Association, Illinois State Bar Association, Peoria County Bar Association, and the Peoria Symphony Guild, acting as past president, as well as an active member in her church. In the past, she also volunteered her time rocking babies at a local hospital. She previously served on the board of Prairie State Legal Services, and is currently taking steps to volunteer with the Innocence Project, Springfield. In 2016, Ms. Williams received the Equal Access to Justice Award by the Prairie State Legal Services, for her help in obtaining a pardon for a client of Prairie State Legal Services. In July 2009, she was nominated for the McAndrews Pro Bono Award for her work in securing in Peoria the opportunity for indigent expungement petitioners to request a waiver of court filing fees.
Areas of Practice:
60% Criminal Defense
10% Postconviction Work; Criminal Appeals
Minnesota, 1991 (inactive)
U.S. District Court Central District of Illinois, 2005
Mitchell Hamline School of Law, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1991
Honors: American Jurisprudence Award Spring 1990
Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska, 1985
Major: Accounting (CPA Designation in 1988)
Minnesota v. Basting, Minnesota S. Ct. (C5-96-493 1997)
Minnesota v. Bragg, Minnesota S. Ct. (C1-97-2039 1998)
Illinois v. Pamela Slater, Illinois S. Ct. (886 NE 2d. 986 2008)
Honors and Awards:
American Jurisprudence Award – Constitutional Law, 1990
Prairie State Legal Services, Exceptional Commitment to
Pro Bono Service, Equal Access to Justice Award, 2016
In line to graduate from Gerry Spence’s Trial Lawyers College, Aug. 2019
Professional Associations and Memberships:
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Illinois State Bar Association
Prairie State Legal Services Board, 2008 – 2012
Appellate Lawyers Association, 2005 – Present
Illinois Association Criminal Defense Attorneys – Present Member
Peoria County Bar Association, 2004 – Present
Past Employment Positions:
State of Minnesota 5th Judicial District, Law Clerk, 1992 – 1993
Minneapolis City Attorneys Office, Law Clerk, 1990 – 1991
Arthur Anderson, St. Paul, Minnesota, Staff, 1988 – 1990
Woodward & Co., Kansas City, Missouri, Staff Accountant, 1986 – 1988
Ginoli & Co., Peoria, Illinois, Staff Accountant, 1985 – 1986