Jill Wine-Banks is a woman of firsts, having blazed a trail in professional positions, all while shattering gender stereotypes.
She took on mobsters as the first female trial attorney in the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section of the U.S. Department of Justice. And she confronted Watergate criminals on the special prosecutor’s trial team from 1973-1975. She was also the first woman to serve as General Counsel of the Army.
Wine-Banks, an MSNBC legal analyst, will be discussing her debut book at 1 p.m. Nov. 17 at Congregation Shalom. The event is sponsored by L’Chaim Chaverut Clubhouse Northshore, a Jewish seniors group. The event is in person; attendees must register by Nov. 14 at LChaimChaverut.org.
“Watergate Girl: My Fight for Truth and Justice Against a Criminal President” takes the reader inside her trial by fire as a Watergate prosecutor. At once a cautionary tale and an inspiration for those who believe in the power of justice and the rule of law, the memoir is a revelation about our country, our politics and our society.
Wine-Bank’s professional life is replete with examples of the hurdles and absurdities she faced while building her career in law and business. During the Watergate hearings, “I was cross-examining one of the defendants and U.S. District Judge John Sirica said, ‘You can never win an argument with a lady.’” He also made sexist comments during her cross-examination of Nixon longtime secretary Rose Mary Woods. “‘Now ladies, we have enough trouble in the courtroom without two women arguing.’ It was clearly not something he would have said to a man. All the blood drains from your face and you go numb and he’s the judge and you cannot talk back to the judge.”
When trying organized crime, she was purposely stuck in appeals where she would just be dealing with other lawyers. “I was told that because you’re a girl you’d be more vulnerable with made members of the mob, which, of course, is an absurd statement and not at all true.”
It was often difficult for her to respond to sexism in the heat of the moment, some of it due to a lack of self-confidence, she said. “There are different ways you could respond to sexism and that just depends on who it is, what the circumstances are and what your goal is. You can’t make a federal case out of everything. Sometimes you have to just grin and bear it and ignore it.”
In Chicago, Wine-Banks served as the first female deputy attorney general and the first female executive director of the American Bar Association. She next held international business roles at Motorola and Maytag. She also became chief officer for the Chicago Public Schools’ career and technical education program.
“I like to think of myself as a woman who has opened doors for other women so I’m always happy when I may have been the first, but I’m not the last.”
Wine-Banks is no stranger to Wisconsin. Based in her native Chicago, she has spent time campaigning for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the battleground state to the north. She also has a goddaughter in Milwaukee.
Wine-Banks comes from a traditional Jewish family and those values have influenced her life. “It’s the general feeling that I’m very lucky and have to give back to society for all that it has given me.”
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About L’Chaim Chaverut Clubhouse Northshore
The Clubhouse’s mission is to provide social engagement through enrichment programs for older Jewish adults in the North Shore.
More info: LChaimChaverut.org / 414-882-1393