August 24, 1981 12:00 PM

As counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate drama seven years ago, Chicago attorney Albert Jenner was an acute observer of the large cast of characters involved. He was impressed by Jill Wine Volner, the young $30,000-a-year-lawyer on Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski’s staff who became known as much for her miniskirts as for her courtroom grilling of Richard Nixon’s secretary, Rose Mary Woods, about the “18-minute gap” in a critical Oval Office tape. Says Jenner, now 74: “My first memory was that she was pretty. My second was that she handled herself well in Judge Sirica’s court.”

That impression lasted. In one of the more improbable Watergate postscripts, Jenner hired Jill last year as one of the 79 partners of Jenner and Block, a Chicago law firm known for its expertise in litigation. Jenner took her on, he says, because “she’s a fine lawyer.” Jill, now 38 and named Wine-Banks (she remarried last year), explains that she admired her new employer even when he championed the President’s men as the House Judiciary Committee’s Republican counsel. Says she: “Mr. Jenner was fair. He was not doing PR for Nixon.”

Indeed, after a few months with the committee, Jenner was disowned by some Republican members after he publicly announced that, yes, Nixon should be impeached. His critics, of course, later came to the same conclusion, but Jenner was unperturbed.

A Chicago policeman’s devoutly Catholic son, he lives in the Windy City’s wealthy Kenilworth suburb with his wife of 49 years, Nadine. Although Jenner is a Republican, he has proved to be a vocal liberal on many issues. As co-founder and longtime member of an American Bar Association committee on individual rights, he is an advocate of liberalized abortion, no-fault divorce and the decriminalization of marijuana and prostitution.

For Democrat Wine-Banks, the daughter of a Chicago CPA, a great deal has changed since she emerged from Columbia Law School in 1968 to become one of the first woman lawyers in the Justice Department’s organized crime section. After Watergate made her a legal celeb, she got a tryout as an ABC commentator, joined a D.C. law firm, and in 1977 won a Carter Administration appointment as the Army Department’s first female general counsel. Along the way, she shed her first husband, attorney Ian Volner, and rekindled a high school flame with Michael Banks, 40, now an Oriental antiques dealer in Winnetka, Ill.

As Carter’s future dimmed and Jill’s Chicago romance brightened, she began thinking about finding work near her husband-to-be. On her final day at the Pentagon, she took an Army plane to Palm Springs, Calif. to attend an ABA meeting. Flying home to Chicago as a private citizen, she talked with a woman partner at Jenner’s firm who suggested that she visit the place. Says Jill: “If you are a litigator, and somebody from Jenner and Block says ‘Come talk to us,’ you go.”

She did, and shortly thereafter found herself in Jenner’s office. Though their only previous meetings had been in Judge Sirica’s courtroom, she was soon given the rare honor of being invited to become a partner.

She and Jenner share firm beliefs about abortion, strict gun control, and the idea that the President he served and she fought was, in Jenner’s words, “a horrible man.” Jenner, who asserts that the ex-President “violated the Constitution over and over again,” is reassured that in the end “the Constitution survived.” When asked about her Watergate work, Jill exclaims, “That wasn’t a victory. That was a sad episode in America’s life. The victory was the system’s.”

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