John Simmons, an attorney from Alton, was appointed to the SIU Board of Trustees by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on March 22, 2019. He was originally appointed to the board in 2004 and served for more than nine years. During that time, he first served as the board’s secretary and later as its chairman. He is a former member of both the SIUE Alumni Association and SIUE Foundation boards.
Simmons grew up in southern Illinois and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from SIUE in 1991. While an undergraduate, he served as president of the SIUE student body and was a member of the Deans' College, a program for honors students. He earned a law degree from Southern Methodist University after leaving SIUE. Before he began his college studies, he served in the U.S. Army as a combat engineer, earning an honorable discharge in 1988.
Simmons founded Simmons Hanly Conroy in 1999 with seven employees and a focus on asbestos litigation. Under his leadership, the firm expanded to a national litigation firm with more than 250 employees, including over 80 attorneys, spread between six offices in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, St. Louis and Alton. Today, the firm represents clients from across the country in the practice areas of asbestos and mesothelioma, dangerous drugs and medical devices, prescription opioid litigation, sexual abuse litigation, environmental litigation and other mass torts and class actions.
Simmons started the firm because he believed he could provide a higher level of legal care to clients by combining legal expertise with service-minded values. Simmons’s vision expanded when he and the firm made a joint $10.2 million donation to build the Simmons Cancer Institute on the campus of Southern Illinois University in Springfield. The cancer institute is the only one of its kind in downstate Illinois. Physicians there see more than 20,000 patient visits per year, and no matter the financial resources patients may have, they are never turned away from care.
Motivated by Simmons’ core belief of giving back to the community, firm employees have donated more than $1 million to local charities and events through the Simmons Employee Foundation. Additionally, under his leadership, the firm has donated more than $20 million to cancer research nationwide and hundreds of thousands of dollars to local non-profits and organizations under his leadership.
Simmons hopes to give back to his alma mater during his term on the board, bringing a fresh perspective to issues and challenges public universities will face. Simmons and his wife, Jayne, have four children and one grandchild.