The Bourbon King, The Inside Story: George Remus as a High-Flying Defense Attorney

George Remus became a top criminal defense attorney in Chicago. What made him so successful in the courtroom?

George Remus transitioned to attorney at a time when the Chicago economy boomed and new residents poured into the region. His early work centered on labor law, representing several large Windy City unions. The efforts put George in the circle of famed attorney and human rights activist Clarence Darrow.

Both men abhorred the death penalty and Remus gravitated to criminal defense work, just as Darrow had done earlier in his career. What set George apart was his willingness to do anything to win, particularly if he could get a death row sentence reduced to jail time.

When Remus put his considerable intellectual and physical efforts toward a legal career, he ruffled the existing “old boy’s network,” which saw him and his second-rate legal training as an imposition on the establishment they had crafted (he most likely faced a great degree of anti-German discrimination as well). George charged ahead, though, engaging in local Republican politics and serving as a leader in a new legal society aimed to upend the status quo.

No one could deny Remus’s dedication, but his tactics upset many of his colleagues.

George Remus photographed during his time as an attorney in Chicago

George Remus photographed during his time as an attorney in Chicago

If a legal eagle were Remus’s friend, he might refer to George as the “Napoleon of the Bar” as a way of acknowledging his legal acumen. Others, however, called George “weeping pleading Remus,” because his theatrics were viewed as outside the bounds of decorum.

George’s escapades were legendary—from starting fistfights with opposing counsel to drinking down poison in front of the jury to proved his client not guilty (luckily, George had mixed up the antidote and taken it beforehand). Many of Remus’s trials were covered by reporters regionally and nationally. Chicago Tribune journalists knew they could call on George for a hot soundbite.

Although Remus might wildly gesticulate and fly into near rages to defend a client, jurors also remarked about how mesmerizing Remus was in the courtroom. George seemed to have a sixth sense regarding when a well-time antic might persuade a jury or distract them from the prosecution’s case. He possessed a natural charisma and magnetism that defined his legal career.