John Christopher Benson has lived in the 8th Subcircuit for more than 30 years and has practiced law in Chicago for 29 years.
He currently lives in the Edgewater neighborhood with his wife, Nicole Felician (also an attorney), and their 12-year-old foster son. John has a broad-based legal background; however, he has concentrated both his practice and his pro bono work on civil rights and criminal defense, in addition to serving as a Guardian ad Litem for children who have been removed from their homes.
John comes from a family with a long record of providing legal services to the community. John’s grandfather was a practicing attorney during the Great Depression, during which time his grandfather often accepted farm products in exchange for legal services. John’s father was the late Honorable Robert A. Benson, the highly respected Chief Judge of a circuit court in Western Michigan. John’s sister, Margaret Benson, is the Executive Director of Chicago Volunteer Legal Services.
Criminal Defense and Civil Rights 2010-present
John has focused his attention on criminal, juvenile, civil rights, and child protection cases. He handles complex cases with DNA analysis, psychiatric and psychological testing, and medical examinations. He has obtained financial compensation for those who have been wrongly arrested and incarcerated.
John also serves as a Guardian ad Litem, representing the interests of minors as they are forced, through no fault of their own, to navigate the complexities of the Child Protection Division of the Cook County Court System. John has represented the interests of both parents and children in complex child welfare issues.
In addition to extensive trial and negotiation experience (Federal and State, Civil and Criminal), John has also litigated appeals, including arguing before the Illinois Supreme Court.
Director, Criminal Defense, Cabrini Green Legal Aid 2003-2010
At Cabrini Green Legal Aid, John led a team of attorneys and volunteers in a rigorous client selection process to ensure that Cabrini Green focused its limited resources on representation of individuals who were unlikely to become involved in the criminal justice system in the future.
He helped to select clients who were either innocent of the charges, or who were minimally involved in the alleged activity but who had strong family, community, religious, or other support systems that made it unlikely that the client would return to the criminal justice system. John tried multiple, complex criminal cases at Cabrini Green.
John and Cabrini Green Legal Aid assisted many young men, mostly African American or Latino, in their defense, helping to ensure that they were not convicted of crimes they did not commit.
Assistant Public Defender 1989-2003
John became a public defender because he believes that the ability to pay for quality legal representation should not be a barrier to the fair application of justice. While he was a public defender, John tried hundreds cases with charges ranging from DUI to capital murder.
John served as a defense attorney in four capital murder cases during his time as an assistant public defender; he remains a member of the Illinois Capital Litigation Bar, certified as Lead Counsel.
Also during his time as an assistant public defender, John litigated complex mental health cases in the criminal justice context, including the insanity defense to the charge of murder. John believes that one of the most challenging issues facing the criminal justice system today is addressing accusations of criminal conduct by the mentally ill. John understands that individuals with mental health conditions who are accused of crimes and their families are hit hard twice — They simultaneously have to navigate both the mental health care system and the criminal justice system. Such prospects are daunting, particularly for those families without sophisticated legal representation. At the same time, victims of crimes committed by the mentally ill suffer greatly. As a judge, John will analyze mental health controversies from all sides, and apply the law fairly.
Pro Bono Activities
John has focused his pro bono activities on assisting individuals held back by discrimination and criminal records.
John has participated in NAACP’s bi-monthly free legal clinics to help provide legal representation to individuals struggling to overcome discrimination. He has also served as a moderator and interviewer during NAACP-sponsored debates for state’s attorney and judicial positions.
John also participated in an Expungement Summit, sponsored by Illinois State Representative Lisa Hernandez of the 24th District (Southwest Chicago), during which he advised residents of the 24th District of their right to have their criminal records expunged and/or sealed, so that they can more easily apply for employment.
John Christopher Benson graduated from DePaul University College of Law in Chicago.