You could call it a meteoric rise. Over the last 13 years, attorney Jonna Spilbor has appeared — with increasing frequency — on national news networks like Fox News and MSNBC, commenting on high-profile legal issues as varied as the Boston Marathon bomber trial and the Bill Cosby debacle. In March 2008, she started her own law firm in Poughkeepsie, which quickly outgrew its quarters and moved into a 7,500-square-foot building to house 11 employees as well as a basement gymnasium and rooftop tiki bar.
But back in early 2002, Spilbor was relatively unknown and didn’t even have a stick of furniture to call her own, let alone a palatial office. After moving back home to the Hudson Valley from California, where she earned her law degree and distinguished herself as an up-and-coming criminal defense attorney, the Poughkeepsie native found herself without any of her worldly possessions.
They’d been held hostage by a national moving company scam to the tune of $20,000. Dateline interviewed her, then Fox News in Florida covered the story and asked the attorney to do a broadcast from its Manhattan studio. “I was so pumped up, and I was so mad — and this is in real time,” she recalls. “I walked out of Studio N, which is now my home away from home, and a producer said, ‘We watched you. You were great. Would you come back and talk about other things?’ And I said, ‘Twist my arm.’”
It was a dream come true for Spilbor, who had been obsessed since her teens with being in front of a camera, preferably anchoring the six o’clock evening news. After graduating from Marist with a degree in communications, she tried unsuccessfully to get a job in news. Her dad noted her interest in the TV show LA Law and suggested Plan B: law school. So off she went to the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, where she worked for the US Attorney’s Office and the City Attorney’s Office, unexpectedly falling in love with the practice of criminal law.
“If I rewind the movie of my life and think back to how I got to where I am, the universe had a foot on my butt and was pushing me all along. You don’t realize it at the time,” reflects Spilbor.
So now that she has the best of both worlds — a thriving law practice combined with regular on-camera gigs — the challenge is pulling it all together. Mondays and Wednesdays are reserved for Fox in Manhattan. Tuesdays and Thursdays are dedicated to her practice, which specializes in criminal defense, personal injury, DWI/DUI, civil rights, and matrimonial law. Fridays are open to whatever pops up.
But there’s more: Tuesday mornings at 7, she sneaks in her Law Street gig on Fox Radio (101.3 FM), a call-in at 8 a.m. show that demystifies legalese on Fox Oldies 98.9 FM. Thursdays at 8 a.m. find her on WPDH, 101.5 FM, as “Judge” Jonna, answering write-in questions about noisy neighbors, underage drinking, and other need-to-know topics. Then she’s back on the air on Thursdays at 6 p.m., co-hosting Happy Hour with Jonna & Keryl on Mix 97.7 FM with self-help author and wine entrepreneur Keryl Pesce. “We call it group therapy without the really uncomfortable chairs,” jokes Spilbor. Their “sessions” cover a range of women’s topics, such as coping with divorce and building self-confidence.
And the invitations and opportunities keep pouring in: She recently auditioned for the wildly popular crime drama series The Blacklist, starring James Spader; she was approached by Clear Channel for another radio program; and she was booked on Katie Couric’s new Yahoo News web-based show.
Still, Spilbor has a business to run, and she does it with style and wit: wearing trademark pink stilettos, decorating for holidays, and displaying a sign in her waiting room that encourages her clients to “live your dream.”