Effingham Daily News
EFFINGHAM — Barry Schaefer was a business major at Eastern Illinois University when he took a course that would change the course of his life.
"I took a course on business law and I found the subject so fascinating," the longtime attorney said. "The teacher was an attorney who also taught.
"Whatever he did, I found the subject really interesting."
Schaefer found it so interesting that he has pursued a legal career for more than 25 years. He opened a new chapter in his life Feb. 3 when he started working for the statewide grand jury bureau in the Criminal Enforcement Division of the Illinois Attorney General's office.
Born in Menomonie, Wis. as the oldest of four children, Schaefer moved to Effingham at age 8 when his dad Eugene opened Bobber's Cafe. After graduating from Effingham High School in 1978, young Barry began at Eastern as a pre-engineering major. But after changing majors, he graduated from Eastern in 1983 with a degree in administrative office management.
Schaefer then received a law degree from the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis and was sworn in as an attorney in November, 1986. By then, he had already been clerking at the Robinson law firm of Price and Shaner. After he passed the bar exam, he began handling a wide variety of cases.
Price & Shaner had been handling public defender duties in neighboring Jasper County during Schaefer's five years with the firm. After he opened his own practice in Newton in 1991, Schaefer remained the county's public defender.
Schaefer was drawn into the prosecution side in 1993, when fellow Effingham High grad Kevin Parker, who had been one year ahead of Schaefer at EHS, hired him as an assistant state's attorney for Effingham County. When Parker decided not to run for a third term in 2000, Schaefer ran to succeed him — but lost to Ed Deters by 500 votes.
But Schaefer would get another chance to win an election. After a couple of years as an assistant state's attorney in Coles County, he was appointed to succeed Millard Everhart as Cumberland County State's Attorney in late 2002.
Schaefer won full terms in Cumberland in both 2004 and 2008, but lost by 272 votes in a three-way race for a third term in 2012.
After nearly 20 years in the public sector, Schaefer opened a law office in downtown Effingham. He said that was an adjustment.
"You have to advertise, make contacts and do what all businesspeople have to do," he said. But he kept his hand in the public sector by working as the conflict public defender for Clark and Edgar counties until the opportunity in the Illinois Attorney General's office materialized. In that role, he coordinates complex criminal cases over multiple jurisdictions.
"Sometimes if a local prosecutor tries a drug case, it's harder to go up the chain," he said.
The Illinois General Assembly passed legislation in the 1990s to create a statewide grand jury for cases extending into multiple jurisdictions within the state.
"It's a tool that's available," Schaefer said. "We try to make sure local prosecutors know we are here and that we want to help."
Schaefer has always been drawn to criminal law, and he believes the new job fits his strengths.
"I have always been more temperamentally suited to be a prosecutor," he said. "But you have to be able to think like the other side."
Schaefer and wife Linda have five children and three grandchildren between them. He is a member of Masonic Lodge 834 in Toledo and likes to fish and read.