Homewood attorney who heads concealed-carry appeals panel is armed with life experience
BY MIKE NOLAN firstname.lastname@example.org May 27, 2014 7:44PM
Former FBI agent Robinzina Bryant, now an attorney in private practice in Homewood, serves as chairman of a panel that reviews appeals from people turned down for permits to carry a concealed weapon. | Mike Nolan~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 29, 2014 6:08AM
During a decade as an FBI special agent, Robinzina Bryant was trained in using a firearm, with a 9 mm pistol one of the tools of her job.
Although raised in the Mennonite faith and taught to be a pacifist, Bryant, a Homewood attorney, has no qualms about guns in the right hands. Earlier this year she was appointed by Gov. Pat Quinn to serve as chairwoman of a panel that hears appeals from people who have been turned down for a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
Bryant herself, because of a debilitating illness she suffered a few years ago, is unable to grip and fire a handgun. She said she misses recreational shooting, such as target practice.
“If I could, I would,” she said.
Bryant battled lupus and subsequent kidney failure, and along the way contracted Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, and at one point faced the possibility of losing both her hands. Her health troubles nearly broke her spirit but moved her to become a practicing attorney.
“I thank God for life, I thank God for second chances, and I feel I’ve been given a second chance,” she said.
Bryant, whose practice includes estate planning such as wills and trusts, said that, out of a sense of public service, she applied last year to be a member of the concealed-carry panel.
“I have no idea why,” the Flossmoor resident said of why she was picked to lead the seven-person panel. “I’m not politically connected in any way.”
She’s among three retired FBI agents on the panel, which also includes a retired judge, two former assistant U.S. attorneys and a psychiatrist. Depending on the number of appeals it has to consider, the members can meet as often as four times a month, either in person or participating by phone.
She declined to go into detail about how the panel operates or what it considers in evaluating an appeal.
No plans to be a lawyer
Bryant graduated in 1994 with a law degree from Drake University but didn’t initially intend to practice law and instead wanted to pursue a career in education.
Her mom died when Bryant was 22 and in her first year of graduate school, and Bryant was forced to suspend her plans so she could care for a younger sister.
In 1997, on a whim, she applied to join the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and after completing training initially was assigned to the St. Louis office where she investigated financial and white-collar crimes. After four years there, she was transferred to the bureau’s Chicago office, where Bryant was involved in counterterrorism efforts.
“I met some wonderful people,” she said of some of the people she investigated and who were prosecuted for financial crimes, such as embezzlement. “Had they chose a different path they would have been millionaires.”
She began suffering from joint and foot pain, receiving Cortizone shots for relief and undergoing physical therapy, and in 2006 was diagnosed with lupus, a disease in which a person’s immune system attacks the body’s tissue and organs.
“It (lupus) mimics a lot of other diseases and took a long time to diagnose,” Bryant said.
Forced to leave bureau
Soon after learning she had lupus, Bryant discovered the MRSA infection was eroding the cartilage in her wrists. A doctor told her she’d have to quit the bureau because her wrists wouldn’t be able to handle the recoil from the pistol.
“That was hard,” she said of her forced retirement. “They (co-workers) were like family.”
One doctor said she was facing amputation of both her hands, but she eventually was able to save the hands through a series of surgeries.
“Some people have knee replacements; I have wrist replacements,” she said.
During one operation, she went into cardiac arrest, with her brain deprived of oxygen for 20 minutes. Doctors feared she would suffer brain damage as a result, but that did not occur.
The lupus also took its toll on her kidneys, and in turn her reduced kidney function weakened her heart. She was facing the possibility of undergoing both kidney and heart transplant surgeries.
“I was thinking that someone would have to die for me to live,” she said. “That was a hard burden to bear.”
She spent four years undergoing kidney dialysis, and that improved her heart function. In 2011, she received a kidney transplant from a cousin.
Goal to battle grim prognosis
But at the time of her diagnosis, Bryant said, she had to find a way to “psychologically handle” what she was hearing, with no assurances she’d recover.
Although she describes herself as a “pretty optimistic, happy person,” she sank into a severe depression. To have a goal to work toward, she studied for the Illinois bar exam, passing in 2009 and starting her practice.
Bryant said it was the heart attack she suffered that resulted in her decision to focus on estate planning as a lawyer. She didn’t have a will at that time.
“It’s important we leave a plan for the people we leave behind,” she said.
Bryant, who learned earlier this year her lupus is in remission, said that in addition to her strong faith, support from her family helped carry her through her health ordeal. Her father died some years ago, but Bryant said she has four sisters.
“My family is really close,” she said. “They really rallied for me. I don’t know how I would have made it without them.”