In the criminal justice system there are two separate yet equally important groups — the police and the attorneys. This is a love story about Chicago’s new “Law and Order” power couple. (Click here for sound effect.)
Kristin Barnette’s prestigious appointment to the Illinois Supreme Court’s Character and Fitness Committee — a select group of lawyers charged with policing new attorneys who face questions about their past — comes with a fitting parallel.
The former public defender turned personal injury attorney, whom the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin named one of its Top 40 Lawyers Under 40, also happens to be the fiancée of Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, the Bronx native charged with policing his adopted city of Chicago.
On Dec. 8, McCarthy and Barnette applied for a marriage license, meaning the the 55-year-old top cop and the 35-year-old trial attorney are set to wed before the 60-day deadline expires.
“We’re a ‘Law and Order’ couple,” Barnette said jokingly.
The future Mrs. McCarthy — and yes, she plans to legally change her last name — met her fiancé last year at a holiday party and started dating him after a chance encounter that felt like a movie scene.
“We walked past each other again at a charity event and after we both got 10 or 15 feet away we looked back at the same time. He turned all the way around and then I did the same,” Barnette said. “It was like a comedy sketch in my mind. That’s how our life is.”
They chatted a bit.
“I said, 'Nice to see you again, superintendent,'” Barnette said. “And he said, in that strong New York accent, ‘It’s Garry.’ I thought, OK, whatever, Garry. … We had our first date the next day. We met for brunch.”
McCarthy said he remembers that charity event fondly. His "date" was police chief Bob Tracy, McCarthy's right-hand man in the department. Barnette attended solo.
"She was all dolled up, wearing a gown. She was stunning. And I was like, 'I remember you,' " McCarthy said. "We started talking, and it was her wit that I found most attractive. She's funny, charming, intelligent, and to me, that's even more attractive than the way she looked."
McCarthy said one of the things he especially enjoys about his future wife is that her professional success means he doesn't always have to be in the spotlight.
"You know, I like being the plus one," the police superintendent said. "Between the two of us, we could go to two events every single night. It's almost comical. And I go as much as her guest as I do as the primary person invited. I get to watch her do her thing."
Then there was that time when Barnette saved McCarthy’s life.
Barnette, 35, was already awake at 4 a.m. when McCarthy woke up and didn’t look well. He complained of chest pain.
“I gave him two aspirins. He didn’t want to take them. I said, ‘I don’t care, you’re taking them,’ ” she said. “I told him it was time to go to the doctor. And he said, ‘No, I’m not going to the doctor.’ And that’s when I told him he could either be part of this decision, or I’ll make it, but we’re going to the doctor regardless. I strong-armed him a bit.”
About 5 a.m., they arrived at the emergency room, and that’s where McCarthy suffered the heart attack that forced him to take a short medical leave from the department.
In late September, McCarthy proposed marriage at The Signature Room on the 95th floor of the John Hancock Building while the sun set. McCarthy, who is divorced, said he met his match.
Barnette didn’t see the proposal coming, despite priding herself on being the kind of woman who isn’t easily surprised.
“I didn’t think he could pull it off without me knowing. He knew he had to be really sneaky because he tried to surprise me before, and I figured it out,” she said.
Even a romantic sunset supper at The Signature Room wasn’t the dead giveaway that most Chicagoans might think it would be.
In a move straight out of an interrogation room, McCarthy pulled off the surprise proposal by playing good cop/boyfriend.
“We were getting dressed up and going to the symphony, and I’m the one who suggested going to dinner. He said, ‘Sure. Where do you want to go?’ I’m the one who made the reservation,” Barnette said. “I figured if [a proposal] was going to happen he would have a grand plan in place.”
McCarthy said it wasn't easy for a lot of reasons.
"She's a trial attorney. I say, 'Good morning,' and she says, 'What do you mean by that?'" the groom-to-be said.
McCarthy made use of a valuable lesson learned after a failed attempt to throw Barnette a surprise birthday party — when it comes to secrets, his fiancée's female pals don't abide by the no-snitch code.
"The only way to keep a secret is if only one person knows," McCarthy said. "So I didn't tell any of her friends until it was too late for them to tell her."
Barnette, who has never been married, said it only took her two weeks to plan the wedding, billed on invitations as a black-tie affair.
“Some people might say that’s not the ideal way to plan a wedding. But I’m all about being decisive when it comes to these things,” she said. “It’s going to be less traditional and more fun without a lot of structure.”
The Park Ridge native, who lives in River North, plans to wear a champagne-hued gown — the second dress she tried on — made and shipped in from Australia.
At the short ceremony, Barnett will descend a staircase to a string quartet rendition of U2’s “All I Want Is You” before about 300 guests at a secret location on a date that the couple asked to keep private.
For McCarthy, a proud New Yorker, it means that the Second City — the place he got another chance at love — will remain his permanent home.
"For those who thought I was leaving Chicago, that is obviously not the case," he said. "Beside the fact that I love this city, I was fortunate to meet someone to put down roots with — or ruhts, as you [Chicagoans] say it. We're in a good, happy place and looking forward to the future."
The trial attorney also went on the record regarding the topic of their marital residency.
“Oh, he’s not going anywhere. I promise you, and you can quote me on that,” Barnette said. “My family is here and clearly his job is here. My law license and practice is in Illinois."
That left one awkward question for the future Mrs. McCarthy: Are you planning on having babies?
“Uh, well, you know, we …” Barnette said, pausing a bit, before giving a decisive, yet vague, answer you’d expect from a lawyer who knows her way around a courtroom.
“We are very content with how our life is right now.”
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