District 96 attorney Scariano dies in Colorado at 66

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By Bob Skolnik

Contributing Reporter

Anthony "Tony" Scariano, arguably the preeminent school lawyer in the Chicago area, died on Dec. 26, 2012 in his sleep at his vacation home in Redstone, Colo. Scariano, 66, was a partner of the law firm, Scariano, Himes and Petrarca. His law firm represents many school districts in the Chicago area, including Riverside Elementary School District 96.

Scariano's law firm was hired by District 96 in 1993 and has represented the district ever since.

David Bonnette was superintendent when the District 96 hired Scariano's law firm, and he came to know Scariano pretty well in a professional capacity.

"Tony was a larger-than-life personality," Bonnette said. "Just very brilliant. … I could always count on Tony to steer the discourse and decision in the right direction."

Current District 96 Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson also remembered Scariano fondly.

"He was an exceptional attorney, an incredibly caring person, caring for staff and kids, and he was a phenomenal supporter of public education," Lamberson said. "It was a privilege to have known him for almost my entire career."

Scariano handled collective bargaining for District 96 for a number of contract negotiations.

Often sitting across the bargaining table from Scariano during those and other negotiations was Tom Smith, a field services director for the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

During the past 25 years Smith faced off against Scariano on countless labor negotiations and grievances. He found him to be a tough negotiator and zealous advocate, but ultimately someone he respected and could work with.

"He was the brightest person that I've ever dealt with in terms of contract negotiations," Smith said. "He was fair and honest, a good person to work with."

Scariano could be aggressive and flamboyant. He loved to talk about the law and was a vigorous advocate for the school districts he represented. He was fond of telling "war stories" about cases and situations that he encountered in his practice of representing school districts.

"He was direct and to the point," said Mary Ellen Meindl, president of the District 96 Board of Education.

His longtime law partner, Justin Petrarca reminisced about his friend and colleague of 40 years.

"Tony was probably the most talented litigator I've ever met," said Petrarca. "He was truly a Renaissance man."

Scariano was nationally renowned and served a term as chairman of the National Council of School Attorneys. In 2011 he was awarded the group's Lifetime Achievement Award.

Scariano's father, also named Anthony, was a state legislator from the south suburbs of Chicago who became an appellate court judge. In the state legislature, Scariano's father was known as an outspoken liberal and an independent who was friends and allies with former Illinois senator Paul Simon and former congressman, judge and White House counsel Abner Mikva, with whom he served in the state legislature.

Tony Scariano graduated from Brandeis University in 1968 and first became a teacher. He taught both elementary and high school before deciding to go to law school at DePaul University.

Scariano graduated magna cum laude from DePaul's law school and began practicing school law. While working as a lawyer, he did graduate work in the Ph.D. program in educational leadership and policy studies at Loyola University.

He taught classes or lectured at many universities including Northwestern, Northern Illinois University, Western Illinois University, National Lewis University and Lewis University.

In 2011, Scariano played the lead role in representing District 96 in its dealings with Susan Battersby, a part-time teacher at Ames School who ultimately resigned in December 2011. ]

Scariano was present at a meeting in September 2011 when Battersby was suspended without pay and was told that the district would move to fire her. According to those familiar with the meeting, Scariano played an active and aggressive role in that meeting and in subsequent dealings with Battersby.

Battersby and the district, represented by Scariano, ultimately reached an agreement that resulted in Battersby's resignation. Two weeks before Battersby was suspended Ames School Principal Colleen Lieggi had told Riverside police Detective Sgt. David Krull that Battersby had sexually abused one of Lieggi's daughters. An investigation by Krull exonerated Battersby.

This article has been changed. Tony Scariano's father was a founder of the law firm of Scariano, Himes and Petrarca.

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