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John A. Lee

Associate | jlee@smsm.com
Associate | Chicago, IL
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For more than 10 years, John Lee has focused his practice on complex civil litigation in an environmental and insurance context.  He has successfully defended clients at the trial and appellate level in multi-party insurance coverage disputes in matters ranging from environmental clean-ups to underlying exposure claims.  Mr. Lee holds a master’s degree in meteorology and has experience as an environmental consultant whose scientific background provides a bridge between the legal and technical aspects of a case.  This dual background has provided him with unique experience to work with expert scientific witnesses in preparing case defenses.  As an environmental consultant he took part in over 50 Phase I and Phase II Environmental Site Assessments for both government and private-sector clients involving CAA, CWA, RCRA, and NPDES compliance issues.

Mr. Lee has been involved in human rights work throughout his legal career, from defending the former mayor of La Paz in a case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to investigating potential human rights violations in Peru involving gold mining operations.

Professional & Civic Involvement

  • Chicago Bar Association
  • American Meteorological Society
  • Center for Civil and Human Rights, Notre Dame University / Center for International Human Rights, Northwestern University – Pro Bono Attorney (1999 to 2010)
  • International Senior Lawyers Project – Pro Bono Attorney (2013 – present)
  • National Immigrant Justice Center – Asylum case from The Gambia ( 2014)
  • Harold Washington College – Chicago - Adjunct Professor teaching meteorology and other environmental courses  (2010 to present)

Representative Matters

  • As defense counsel in successful defense of national insurer in multi-party insurance coverage declaratory judgment action involving liability for remediation costs stemming from the billion-dollar cleanup of PCB contamination of the Lower Fox River in Wisconsin, undertook primary role in preparing  environmental expert witness and evaluating fate and transport modeling evidence for use in joint defense.
  • Trial and appellate counsel in ongoing multi-party Connecticut insurance coverage declaratory judgment dispute arising out of several thousand underlying cases in which claimants alleged bodily injury due to asbestos exposure.  
  • Settled dozens of unresolved worker’s compensation claims for national third party administrator, some of which were valued in excess of one million dollars, stemming from the bankruptcies of several national insurance carriers. 
  • Successfully defended a national third-party administrator for transportation services in multiple suits involving the issue of whether the underlying claimant was an employee or an independent contractor.
  • Co-defense counsel in successful defense of Argonne National Laboratory in multiple actions involving contract disputes stemming from alleged toxic exposure, construction negligence, and premises liability.
  • Co-defense counsel for law enforcement/municipal liability insurer in Illinois case regarding coverage for civil rights violations and wrongful imprisonment.
  • Undertook the primary role in working with environmental experts in successful summary judgment action in a coverage case involving a multi-site industrial laundry remediation which also involved a complex forum battle resulting in the filing of a writ of mandamus with the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.
  • Undertook the primary role in working with environmental experts in successful summary judgment action in coverage case involving the recovery of CERCLA cleanup costs related to the remediation of a contaminated oil refinery in Cushing, Oklahoma.
  • Successfully negotiated a settlement in a case involving alleged violations of the Lanham Act in an advertising context.
  • Co-defense counsel for major US insurer in successful defense against Uniform Commercial Code claims for insurance benefits previously paid to bankrupt insured.

Pro-Bono Cases:

  • Represented the former mayor of La Paz, Bolivia in a case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights alleging serious human rights violations under the American Convention on Human Rights.  The case required extensive negotiations with senior members of the Bolivian government in both Washington, D.C. and La Paz, Bolivia to reach a settlement agreement.
  • Brought an appeal to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights – Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, on behalf of a citizen of Bangladesh, who faced imminent execution in accordance with a death sentence imposed on him for his alleged role in the assassination of President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975.
  • Collaborated with the International Senior Lawyers Project and various Peruvian NGOs on an investigation in Cajamarca, Peru, to determine whether a case could be brought under the US Alien Tort Statute for environmental and human rights violations stemming from gold mining operations.

Author

"The Underlying Legal Theory To Support a Well-Defined Human Right to a Healthy Environment as a Principle of Customary International Law," 25 Columbia Journal of Environmental Law, No. 2, at 283-346 (Spring 2000).

Co-Author

"Global Warming Has Not Inspired Wave of Lawsuits," Business Insurance (April 30, 2012).

"Special Report: Environmental Audit Immunity Laws and Self-Disclosure Policies: A State-By-State Comparison," 35 Env't. Rep. (BNA) No. 28, at S2-S87 (July 9, 2004). (Reprinted as the inaugural edition of BNA's EHS Strategies, No. 1, August 2004).

"Special Report: Environmental Audit Immunity Laws: A State-By-State Comparison," 28 Env't. Rep. (BNA) No. 7, at 331-56 (June 13, 1997). (Reprinted in: 21 Chem. Reg. Rep. (BNA) No. 14, at 381-406, July 4, 1997; LawResearch.com's Article of the Month for August, 1998).

Education

University of Wisconsin, B.S. (meteorology), 1985

University of Wisconsin, M.S. (meteorology), 1988

DePaul University College of Law, J.D., 1998

Admissions

  • Illinois, 1998
  • U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, 2004
  • U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, 2005
  • U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Wisconsin, 2007