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Obama Got Start in Civil Rights Practice

Obama also wrote a major portion of an appeals brief on behalf of a whistleblower who exposed waste and corruption in a research project involving Cook County Hospital and the Hektoen Institute for Medical Research and alleged that she was fired in retaliation.

The case was settled out of court. The county agreed to pay the federal government $5 million, part of which went to the whistleblower, Dr. Janet Chandler. Hektoen agreed to pay $500,000 to the government plus $170,000 to Chandler for wrongful termination.

And Obama was part of a team of lawyers representing black voters and aldermen that forced Chicago to redraw ward boundaries that the City Council drew up after the 1990 census. They said the boundaries were discriminatory.

After an appeals court ruled the map violated the federal Voting Rights Act, attorneys for both sides drew up a new set of ward boundaries.

Public records at the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission _ which handles ethical questions concerning the state's lawyers _ indicate there were no complaints against attorney Obama.

Obama's legal work fell off sharply in 1997 after his election to the Illinois Senate.

"On his second day down in Springfield he called me and said, 'Don't pay me _ this is a full-time job,'" Miner recalls.

Obama agreed to work for the firm in summer when the legislature was out of session. His law license became inactive in 2002 as politics took over.

For all his passion for civil rights, Obama did have a bit of experience working in a large firm with big corporate clients. In 1988, he was a summer associate at the big Chicago firm now known as Sidley Austin.

Like most summer associates, he worked on research projects.

It was there that he met Michelle Robinson, a young Harvard law graduate assigned as his mentor at the firm. They were married four years later.

Neither Obama lingered in corporate law. She stayed with the firm for three years and moved on. She is now a vice president at the University of Chicago.

Besides his practice, Barack Obama taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago.

"He was very engaging, approachable and human," recalls Patrick Jasperse, now a Justice Department trial attorney based in Washington.

Obama's view of the law was shaped in part by his years before law school as a community organizer working with the poor in Chicago's housing projects.

In his 1995 book, "Dreams From My Father," he said the law could sometimes be "a sort of glorified accounting that serves to regulate the affairs of those who have power _ and that all too often seeks to explain, to those who do not, the ultimate wisdom and justness of their condition."

"I try to do my small part in reversing this tide," he wrote.

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© 2007 The Associated Press