James Doherty Papers

Identifier: NEJL-037

Scope and Contents

The James Doherty Papers reflect Doherty's career as a legal professional, especially as assistant Public Defender (1956-1972/1986-1997) and as Public Defender (1972 -1986) of Cook County, Illinois. The collection includes Doherty's files for cases where he was defense attorney, as well administrative records of the Cook County Public Defender's Office. Doherty wrote extensively during his lifetime, and manuscripts and working papers for several books are included, two relating to cases where he was defense attorney. The Papers also reflect Doherty's work as a lecturer on trial practice and procedure. Doherty taught courses and lectured at law schools in and around Chicago, and he was a Fellow of the National College of Criminal Defense Lawyers. His papers document these "extra professional" activities, and also included are the working papers for Ready For Trial Your Honor, a manual or handbook for trial lawyers. A copy of the published book is contained in the collection. Doherty collected newspaper clippings, scholarly articles, legal decisions, etc., all pertaining to various legal issues and case precedents. These are scattered throughout the collection, and most form part of the series on professional activities (see below). Outside of his professional life, Doherty was a chaplain of the American Legion. The Papers include eulogies and other information pertaining to that aspect of his life. There are also segments of short stories authored by Doherty, and jokes and witticisms. Finally, the collection documents Doherty's personal life including correspondence, articles about health issues, and information about his family and home life.


  • 1956 - 1997



All rights reserved by Georgetown University Law Library unless otherwise noted.

Biographical / Historical

James J. Doherty was born in Belfast (Northern) Ireland in 1920. At a young age he immigrated with his family to the United States and they settled in Chicago. After high school he followed in his father's footsteps and went to work for the Central Illinois Railroad. Convinced by his Railroad co-workers to pursue a career in law, Doherty was graduated from the DePaul University School of Law in 1950, although he continued to work part-time for the Railroad for many more years. In 1956 Doherty joined the Cook County Public Defender's Office as an assistant public defender in the appeals division. From 1972 to 1986 Doherty served as chief Public Defender of Cook County. And from 1986 to 1997, when he retired, he served as head of the appellate division. Doherty is known for having pioneered the concept that the police and prosecution are obliged to turn over evidence favorable to the defense. He also advocated the concept that potential jurors should not be excluded from a jury because they are opposed to the death penalty. He argued or helped prepare briefs for several cases before the United States Supreme Court, using these legal issues as the basis for his appeals. Doherty was staunchly opposed to the death penalty and was successful in having Lyman Moore's death sentence repealed. The James Doherty papers reveal a spiritual person of Christian faith. He believed in serving people in need, and lived by his own "Defender's Credo," that hung on his wall in his office where he worked for more than forty years. Shortly before his death in 1998 his friends gathered for a benefit to ensure that his papers would become part of the historical archives at the National Equal Justice Library. (See Doherty's obituary in the Chicago Tribune, September 29, 1998.)


11.2 linear feet (12 boxes)

Language of Materials


Finding Aid for the James Doherty Papers (Coll. 37)
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the National Equal Justice Library Repository

Georgetown University Law Library
111 G. Street NW
Washington D.C. 20001