Thursday, August 14, 2014

Freddrenna M. Lyle, Eve M. Reilly appointed to Subcircuit vacancies today by the Illinois Supreme Court

The Illinois Supreme Court has appointed Judge Freddrenna M. Lyle to the vacancy 5th Subcircuit vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Jane L. Stuart.

The appointment is effective September 5 and will terminate December 5, 2016. This is Judge Lyle's third appointment. The Supreme Court first appointed Judge Lyle to a 2nd Subcircuit vacancy in 2011. She currently serves pursuant to appointment to the Taylor vacancy in the 7th Subcircuit. Before joining the judiciary, Judge Lyle served as Alderman of Chicago's 6th Ward.

The Supreme Court also appointed Assistant State's Attorney Eve M. Reilly to the 10th Subcircuit vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Garritt E. Howard. Reilly's appointment is effective August 29 but it, too, will terminate on December 5, 2016. Reilly has been licensed in Illinois as an attorney since 1997.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Northern Trust Bank to stop handling IOLTA accounts: Beginning of a trend or isolated incident?

The letter I got from the Northern Trust was confusing. The bank wrote that it will no longer offer IOLTA accounts "without you or your firm having an additional relationship with us."

Additional relationship? My office checking account is there. My personal checking account is there, too, and my savings account, and my IRA and a couple of Northern Trust Funds accounts besides. This must be a mistake, I thought, so I called the man who wrote the letter.

He's out of town.

I called a more general number. "Oh, yes," the woman said when I'd explained myself. "We didn't explain very clearly what we meant by additional relationship."

She explained that the Northern Trust is looking to drop IOLTA accounts except -- maybe -- for customers keeping a minimum of $2 million on deposit.

Oh. I started adding up account balances in my head -- and realized that, even with everything put together, I'm generally about $1.95 million short.

As the nice lady from the bank and I were talking, I pulled up the list of eligible institutions maintained by The Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois to see where else I might go. "Yes, the Northern Trust is still on the list," the lady acknowledged when I mentioned this, "but not for long."

There was a time when the Northern Trust actively sought out lawyers' accounts... and not that long ago.

Still, James J. Grogan, ARDC Deputy Administrator and Chief Counsel, was not surprised when I told him what the Northern Trust had told me. "We've gotten quite a few calls about this," Grogan said. He suggested I talk with David T. Holtermann, General Counsel of the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois.

Holtermann wasn't surprised either; LTF has also received a number of phone calls from concerned lawyers. LTF was "blindsided" by the Northern Trust's announcement, Holtermann told me. "We didn't hear from the bank before the letters started going out," he said. But, he added, LTF has put a link on its website just this week, providing an update for lawyers concerned about their Northern Trust IOLTA accounts. This page will be updated, Holtermann said, as new information becomes available.

IOLTA accounts are different from the typical, modern bank account in several ways. Account holders pay no monthly maintenance fee for IOLTA accounts, but most other checking accounts come with at least a monthly maintenance fee that the customer must pay. Customers have to get at least copies of canceled checks drawn on IOLTA accounts -- front and back -- but many checking accounts these days provide only copies of the fronts of checks, if copies of checks are provided at all. The Lawyers Trust Fund website specifies that IOLTA accounts are supposed to pay 1% interest. Try and get that rate, low as it sounds, on any other demand deposit. Moreover, banks that offer IOLTA accounts are required to inform ARDC whenever there is an overdraft in an IOLTA account.

I asked Holtermann whether IOLTA accounts have become so different that banks are becoming unwilling to deal with them. Is Northern Trust the harbinger of a trend, or just an instance of a bank changing directions about the kind of clientele it wants?

"Only the ARDC reporting requirement is fairly new," Holtermann told me in response, adding that, despite some initial concerns from LTF's banking partners, there have been no real issues about reporting. "We have close to 400 banks that handle IOLTA accounts in Illinois in any given year," Holtermann continued. "This number of banks has remained fairly constant despite the massive consolidation in the banking industry in the past several years," he said, although "in any given year there will be some ebb and flow."

We can't predict the future, Holtermann said, but there's no reason to see this action by Northern Trust as the beginning of a trend.

There certainly is reason to believe that other banks will not follow the Northern Trust's lead. With roughly 400 participating banks (even after the Northern Trust's defection) it seems pretty obvious that a lot of banks value IOLTA accounts because they value lawyer business. Presumably, these many banks find that any administrative inconveniences in managing IOLTA accounts are more than made up for in good will and other business that lawyers can bring.

LTF was established by the Chicago and Illinois State Bar Associations in 1983. The Illinois Supreme Court subsequently designated LTF to administer the IOLTA program and make grants to support the provision of legal aid throughout Illinois. Today LTF uses proceeds from the IOLTA program and funds generated by the annual Legal Aid Fee assessed on active Illinois lawyers at the direction of the Supreme Court in order to make grants. In 2013, Holtermann said, $6.47 million was generated by the Legal Aid Fee. Only $2.27 million was realized from IOLTA.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Retention Judges Reception planned for September 8

The Committee for Retention of Judges in Cook County will host its 2014 Reception Honoring Retention Judges on Monday, September 8, from 5:00 to 7:30 p.m. in the Preston Bradley Hall at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 East Washington Street.

This has traditionally been the one and only fundraiser for retention judges generally and it is has traditionally been very well attended (that's 'very well attended' as in sardines-in-a-can crowded).

Individual tickets are $125, and sponsorships are available -- Silver, $1,000 (which includes five admission tickets); Gold, $2,500 (10 tickets); or Platinum, $5,000 (20 tickets). Wine, beer and appetizers will be served. Entertainment will be provided by The Vazquez Jazz Ensemble, featuring Attorney Mark T. Vazquez and Associate Judge Gregory P. Vazquez.

For more information, or to order tickets, call P2 Consulting at (312) 854-8018. Tickets can also be ordered online at the Retention Judges website.

Full Disclosure: If I can scrape up the scratch, I intend to buy a ticket to this event.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Aleksandra Nikolich Gillespie receives Circuit Court appointment

Aleksandra Nikolich Gillespie, an Assistant State's Attorney based in Skokie, was named by the Illinois Supreme Court yesterday to fill the countywide vacancy created by the death of Judge Michael J. Howlett, Jr.

Gillespie's appointment is effective August 22 and terminates on December 5, 2016. Gillespie was an unsuccessful finalist when Associate Judges were selected earlier this year. She has been licensed as an attorney in Illinois since 1993.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

William B. Raines gets an early start on his judicial career

William B. Raines, who won a hotly contested primary contest for the Neville vacancy in March, won't have to wait until the first Monday in December to take up his new post.

The Illinois Supreme Court yesterday appointed Raines to the vacancy "formerly held by the Honorable Gregory Emmett Ahern, Jr." The appointment is effective August 15. It will terminate December 1 when Judge Raines will be replaced by... Judge Raines. (Raines, like all countywide judicial candidates, faces no Republican opponent in November -- but, technically, he will not be elected until after the November election.)

A brief explanation as to how Judge Raines will succeed himself: Judge Ahern was appointed to the Neville vacancy at the beginning of 2013. He was not slated by the Democratic Party for any vacancy and did not run in the primary. He was, however, elected as an Associate Judge by his fellow Circuit Court judges this past April, thus creating the countywide Circuit Court vacancy that Bill Raines will now fill.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Illinois Judges Foundation awards scholarships, raises funds for future charitable endeavors

The Illinois Judges Foundation, the charitable arm of the Illinois Judges Association, held its summer reception last evening at the Chicago Bar Association Building.

IJF President Barbara McDonald, a retired Circuit Court judge, welcomed Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Rita Garman, Chief Judge Reuben Castillo of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, and Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans as special guests for the evening.

Chief Justice Garman was presented with a letter from the Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation recognizing a $1,000 donation made by the IJF to the Campaign for Equal Justice in honor of her late husband, Danville attorney Gill M. Garman.

Judge McDonald noted that Judge Castillo is a tremendous hockey fan and presented him with a personalized Blackhawks jersey on behalf of the IJF. I can attest that Judge Castillo is no bandwagon jumper. I couldn't help but notice that Judge Castillo's chambers were chock full of Blackhawks memorabilia 14 years ago, when I interviewed him for the CBA Record.

The IJF presented Judge Evans with a personalized White Sox jersey. (Judge Evans had made no secret of his admiration for the jersey presented by the IJF to then-Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride at a prior IJF reception).

Judge Evans expressed his hope that it will be warm enough in October for him to wear this jersey to a World Series game this October.

Even with Judge Evans' optimism, I don't know if I'd bet the rent on the White Sox getting to the postseason this year. On the other hand, the Sox did beat the Tigers last night, 11-4....

The IJF asked Judge Evans to present the awards to this year's Harold Sullivan Scholarship winners. Samantha Mountford of DePaul Law School and Matthew Flores of Northern Illinois Law School were this year's recipients of the $5,000 awards.

Philip Corboy Hall was packed for the event, which attracts lawyers and judges from all over the state. To illustrate the point, herewith retired Circuit Court Judge John Coady of Taylorville, an IJA board member, shown here with Federico Rodriguez and Erika Juarez.

Appellate Court Justice (and current IJA President) Michael Hyman attended the event. He is shown here with Circuit Court Judge Ann Collins Dole.

Chancery Judge Diane Larsen is the Chair of the IJF's Harold Sullivan Scholarship Committee. Judge Larsen is shown here with Chief Justice Garman and Justice Mary Jane Theis of the Illinois Supreme Court. Supreme Court Justices Anne Burke, Thomas L. Kilbride, and Lloyd A. Karmeier were also in attendance.

ISBA President-Elect Umberto Davi also attended last night's reception, as did ISBA Third Vice President Russell W. Hartigan. Judge Hartigan managed to avoid my camera.

The camera on my phone, I am told, is quite good. The photographer's skills, however, do not measure up to the camera's qualities.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Congratulations to Tony La Russa, Esq. on his enshrinement in the Hall of Fame

Phil Zukowsky and I were the editors of the Loyola Law School newspaper, Blackacre, in 1979-80. We knew that then-White Sox manager had taken the Florida Bar Exam, and we'd heard that the results were in, and we were putting the current edition of paper together. Somehow -- and I can't remember how -- we managed to get a call into the Florida Board of Bar Examiners. In those long-ago days that involved getting a long distance line from the Loyola operator and there may have been some begging involved.

However we got the call made, when we got through we found out that, indeed, Mr. La Russa had passed the bar. Passing the bar was very much on our minds in those days. We presumably ran a small item.

Hey, you have to grab onto greatness when you can.

Little did we know then -- little could we know -- how great La Russa would turn out to be. Tito Landrum wasn't yet a phrase that could make strong men (well, strong men who were also White Sox fans) weep. Mr. La Russa's three world titles could not have been imagined then either. Nor could we have imagined his enshrinement in Cooperstown.

A number of commissioners were lawyers -- Fay Vincent, Bowie Kuhn, Happy Chandler -- Kenesaw Mountain Landis was a federal judge in Chicago when he became the first Commissioner of Major League Baseball. All except Vincent are in the Hall of Fame. But, surely, La Russa is the first lawyer-manager to enter Baseball's Valhalla.

Hey, you have to grab onto greatness when you can. Especially when you can make a blog post out of it.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Flip of a coin decides New Mexico judicial contest

Debra Cassens Weiss had a post Thursday on ABA Journal Law News Now about a New Mexico judicial primary that ended in a tie. The recount process confirmed the tie so the race between the deadlocked Democratic opponents was decided, Weiss wrote, by the flip of a coin.

In the event, the incumbent judge, Robert Baca, lost the coin flip to his challenger, Kenneth Howard Jr. (Judges in New Mexico apparently have to run for re-election; that's a lot different from the retention process we have in Illinois.) Howard is the presumptive winner of the judicial seat; he and Baca were Democrats and no Republican filed for the seat. (There are also some similarities between New Mexico practice and the way we do things here in County Cook.)

Flipping a coin may seem a trivial way to conclude a hard-fought campaign, but when the vote totals are really tied, what else is there to do? Coin flipping is not specified in the Illinois Electoral Code, but §23-27 of the Electoral Code (10 ILCS 5/23-27) provides, "If it appears that two or more persons have, or would have had if the legal ballots cast or intended to be cast for them had been counted, the highest and an equal number of votes for the same office, the persons receiving such votes shall decide by lot, in such manner as the court shall direct, which of them shall be declared duly elected; and the judgment shall be entered accordingly."

In other words, in case of a tie, under Illinois law, the judge hearing the election contest can decide the winner. See, Huber v. Reznick, 107 Ill.App.3d 529 (5th Dist. 1982) (in this case, the court directed the circuit clerk to do the coin flipping).

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Seventy five Cook County jurists file for November retention election

By my entirely unofficial count, some 75 Cook County jurists, including Appellate Court Justice Thomas E. Hoffman, have filed to appear on the November retention ballot. Hoffman is the only elected member of the First District Appellate Court up for retention this year.

Three Cook County Circuit judges presently serving by assignment on the Appellate Court are also seeking retention this Fall. These are Justices Robert E. Gordon, Michael B. Hyman, and Mary Anne Mason.

Every elected Appellate Court justice must seek retention every 10 years. Every elected Circuit Court judge, whether elected countywide or by subcircuit, must seek retention every six years. Voters vote "yes" or "no" on the question of whether any particular judge should be retained in office. To be retained, a jurist must receive a 60% "yes" vote (60% + 1).

At some point between now and the election, the Chicago Bar Association and the member bar associations of the Alliance of Bar Associations for Judicial Screening will release their evaluations of all the judges seeking retention. When these are available, I'll post them here on For What It's Worth.

Here is a list of all Cook County Circuit Court judges who are seeking retention in November:
  • Edward A. Arce
  • Mauricio Araujo
  • Andrew Berman
  • Margaret Ann Brennan
  • Eileen Mary Brewer
  • Janet Adams Brosnahan
  • James Brown
  • Eileen O’Neill Burke
  • Thomas J. Byrne
  • Diane Gordon Cannon
  • Evelyn B. Clay
  • Mary Ellen Coghlan
  • Ann Collins-Dole
  • Donna L. Cooper
  • Clayton J. Crane
  • Anna Helen Demacopoulos
  • Lynn Marie Egan
  • Candace Jean Fabri
  • Peter A. Felice
  • Thomas E. Flanagan
  • James Patrick Flannery
  • John J. Fleming
  • Rodolfo (Rudy) Garcia
  • James J. Gavin
  • Robert E. Gordon
  • Margarita Kulys Hoffman
  • Vanessa A. Hopkins
  • Michael B. Hyman
  • Marilyn F. Johnson
  • Rickey Jones
  • Themis N. Karzenis
  • Kathleen G. Kennedy
  • Kerry M. Kennedy
  • Diana L. Kenworthy
  • Maureen Ward Kirby
  • William G. Lacy
  • Marjorie C. Laws
  • Cassandra Lewis
  • Thomas J. Lipscomb
  • Noreen Valeria Love
  • Pamela Elizabeth Loza
  • Patricia Manila Martin
  • Mary Anne Mason
  • Veronica B. Mathein
  • Sheila McGinnis
  • Dennis Michael McGuire
  • Kathleen Marie McGury
  • Lewis Nixon
  • William Timothy O’Brien
  • Annie O’Donnell
  • James N. O’Hara
  • Sebastian Thomas Patti
  • Edmund Ponce de Leon
  • Jackie Marie Portman
  • Joan E. Powell
  • James L. Rhodes
  • James G. Riley
  • Anita Rivkin-Carothers
  • Pat Rogers
  • Dominique C. Ross
  • Kristyna Colleen Ryan
  • Patrick J. Sherlock
  • Laura Marie Sullivan
  • Donald J. Suriano
  • Shelley Lynn Sutker-Dermer
  • Michael P. Toomin
  • Sandra Tristano
  • Valerie E. Turner
  • Raul Vega
  • Kenneth J. Wadas
  • Debra B. Walker
  • Ursula Walowski
  • Gregory Joseph Wojkowski
  • Frank G. Zelezinski
Judge Anthony L. Burrell had filed for retention before his death.

Any other omissions or errors in this list are my responsibility.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Justice Theis announces two new Cook County subcircuit vacancies

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Mary Jane Theis has announced an application process for two Cook County subsicruit judicial vacancies, according to press releases issued today by the Illinois Supreme Court.

A vacancy was created in the 7th Subcircuit with the passing of Judge Anthony L. Burrell. A 4th Subcircuit vacancy was created by the July 2 retirement of Judge William J. Kunkle.

Justice Theis has a screening committee in place to evaluate judicial applicants. The committee is co-chaired by retired U.S. District Court Judge Wayne R. Andersen and retired Illinois Appellate Court Justice Michael J. Gallagher. Persons interested in being considered by the screening committee must obtain an application. The application can be requested on the Illinois Courts website (follow the links under "Latest News"). Completed applications must be returned by August 8. The evaluation process also includes screening by the Chicago Bar Association and the Alliance of Bar Associations for Judicial Screening.

Under the Illinois Constitution, judicial vacancies are filled on an interim basis by Supreme Court appointment until the next general election. Justice Theis will make a recommendation to the Supreme Court concerning these two vacancies after applicants for the positions complete this screening and evaluation process.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Cook County Circuit Court tosses both proposed constitutional amendments

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Mary L. Mikva today entered an order that will prevent both of the proposed constitutional amendments, Bruce Rauner's highly-publicized term limits initiative, and the independent redistricting amendment, from appearing on the November ballot.

All the machinations involving the Illinois State Board of Elections, all the Tribune's editorial hand-wringing, proved to be for naught.

Here is the complete text of Judge Mikva's order:

In my opinion, the term limits proposal was never more than a dumb gimmick: We already have term limits; we always have. They're called elections. If you and your neighbors don't like the bum you elected last time, at least in theory, you and your neighbors can always elect someone else. Of course, the theory falls apart when politicians control the redistricting process and draw districts that preserve incumbents in office. Instead of voters choosing their representatives, our representatives choose their voters. Republicans and Democrats alike are united in their opposition to nonpartisan map-making. As I wrote recently, "[N]othing lasts forever, especially in politics. The Republicans will presumably have their day again. Eventually. And when they get it, they don't want to have to deal with fairly drawn districts; they will want a chance to draw three Democratic incumbents into the same new district and see how they like it. Republicans want to pick friendly voters and hamstring their opponents just as badly as Democrats do."

The ballyhoo about the term limits amendment notwithstanding, the redistricting amendment was the one that really worried political professionals.

Fortunately for the political professionals, if not for the body politic, the redistricting amendment carried within it the seeds of its own destruction. In the linked post I put up earlier this month, I wrote, "This sentence in the proposed Amendment, for example, seems likely to cause trouble: 'For ten years after service as a Commissioner or Special Commissioner [on the Independent Redistricting Commission], a person is ineligible to serve as a Senator, Representative, officer of the Executive Branch, Judge, or Associate Judge of the State or an officer or employee of the State whose appointment is subject to confirmation by the Senate.'"

Judge Mikva's order today focuses on this provision as the major flaw in the restricting proposal. But the good news, potentially, in the court's order is that "a differently drafted redistricting initiative could be valid" (Order p. 11). There is still reason to hope.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Illinois Judges Foundation Summer Reception set for July 29

The Illinois Judges Foundation, the charitable arm of the Illinois Judges Association, will host its Summer Reception on Tuesday, July 29, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in Corboy Hall at the Chicago Bar Association building, 321 S. Plymouth Court.

Proceeds from the reception will support the charitable and educational programs of the Illinois Judges Association, including in particular the Harold Sullivan Scholarship. Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Rita Garman, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Ruben Castillo, and Cook County Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans are scheduled to appear. Refreshments will be served.

Tickets for the event are $100 apiece and can be purchased online or by calling Christine Athanasoulis at (708) 705-4355.

Persons interested in becoming a sponsor of the event should contact either Kevin Fagan at or Christine Athanasoulis.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Abbey Fishman Romanek gets a head start on her judicial career

Abbey Fishman Romanek won the Democratic nomination for the Preston vacancy in the 9th Subcircuit this past March. As with most nominees, there being but one contested judicial race this November in the entire county, Romanek faces no opponent in November.

Yesterday the Illinois Supreme Court appointed Romanek to a 9th Subcircuit vacancy -- but not the Preston vacancy. Absent further Supreme Court order, Judge Allan W. Masters holds that spot until the first Monday in December. Instead, Romanek has been appointed to the Meyer vacancy.

Romanek's judicial career begins on August 4. The Supreme Court's appointment will terminate on December 1, but that is the day that Romanek assumes the post to which she has been presumptively elected. (Anjana Hansen will fill the Meyer vacancy at that time.)

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Cicruit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown's annual Expungement Summit set for this Saturday in Forest Park

Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown will host an Expungement Summit on Saturday, June 7, from 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. at the Living Word Christian Center, 7600 W. Roosevelt Road, in Forest Park. Clerk Brown explains the many services that will be offered at this 10th annual Summit in this current North Town News Magazine interview.

Volunteer attorneys will be on hand to assist persons in completing their petitions to expunge or seal their records, or to assist persons in determining their eligibility for this relief (if you'd like a head start on the process, or wish to determine your eligibility in advance, Clerk Brown's website offers this procedural guide). The Cook County Public Defender, the Cook County State's Attorney, and the Office of the State Appellate Defender are among the public agencies who will have representatives on site. The Illinois Prisoner Review Board will also have representatives present to assist people who may not qualify for expungement but who wish to learn about Certificates of Good Conduct and Relief from Disabilities or to pursue executive clemency or pardon. In the NTNM video, Clerk Brown even mentions that some judges may be present, volunteering their time to rule immediately on in forma pauperis petitions that persons seeking expungement may wish to file in lieu of paying the otherwise-required fees for their petitions.

This is a very nice event, a blessing for the persons who may benefit from these services, and a blessing also for those who volunteer their time to assist. It's a good thing, and I don't mean to say a thing against it.


If I have a house with a leaky roof and broken windows, the first improvement I would make is not planting flowers and decorative shrubs.

The Clerk of the Circuit Court's office is like a house with a leaky roof and broken windows.

Pull any file at the Daley Center -- if the file can be found in the first place, that is -- and examine the contents. I'm willing to bet that in any random sample of 10 files, you'd find five or six with misfiled papers; you might see misfiled documents in all 10. And don't even think about finding any recently filed documents, much less any recently-entered orders, in those files.

I do some civil appellate work. I can't tell you how often I have found the Clerk-prepared Records on Appeal to be incomplete, sometimes with documents vital to the appeal missing altogether. Yes, the Clerk's office has some very hard-working, helpful people that help attorneys like me work around these deficiencies and I am always grateful for that assistance. But I have needed it far too often.

The Clerk's Office maintains an electronic docket in civil cases which provides a rough -- often very rough -- approximation about what is going on in any given case. I also do some insurance defense work. Many times, in a case with multiple defendants, an insured may not be served until the case has been underway for some time. When I am then called in, I can't advise the insurer about the case status just by looking at the electronic docket, and all too often, especially in the smaller cases, I can't get the court file, or it's incomplete. (Court personnel apparently have access to better data than mere lawyers and the general public. I recall one incident within the past year where I told the learned judge presiding that there was no indication in the court file that my would-be client had ever been served. The judge, however, referring to the screen in front of him, said there was proof of service and, when I marveled at this, he asked, "Are you calling me a liar?" Yikes! I hastily explained that I was surprised because I knew there was nothing like this in the court file; I'd looked myself.)

Judging from conversations I've had with other attorneys, I know I'm not alone in my concerns about how things work, or not, in the Clerk's office. Ask around.

Until recently, the Clerk's Office used to allow papers in civil cases to be filed at either the Daley Center or any of the five outlying Municipal District Courthouses. Now, however, in order to file an appearance in a Markham case (6th Municipal District), one must drive to Markham. This makes no sense. The county did not suddenly splinter into six county-lets. Of course, this latest step backwards in customer service was meant as a not-so-gentle nudge for attorneys to use e-filing instead. As I reported here in February, Clerk Brown has urged the Illinois Supreme Court to make e-filing mandatory in Cook County by 2016. But the e-filing system offered by Clerk Brown's office is an expensive boondoggle, charging "convenience fees" even for filing allegedly no-fee documents and adding surcharges to filing fees even when the fee is paid by electronic withdrawal from an attorney's checking account. It is a system vastly inferior to the PACER system used by the federal courts.

Nor are the problems in the Circuit Clerk's office -- the broken windows and leaky roof -- confined to the keeping of records in civil cases. Last month I bragged about FWIW winning a Meritorious Achievement Award in the Online category at this year's Chicago Bar Association Kogan Awards luncheon. But the winners of the Kogan Awards in the Online category were Robert Herguth, Patrick McCraney, Dane Placko and Patrick Rehkamp for the BGA series "Disorder in the Bureaucracy of the Courts," concerning lost and missing papers necessary for criminal appeals. (Other entries in the BGA series also concerned the operation of Clerk Brown's office and are here and here.)

Last October, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart blamed antiquated record-keeping by the Clerk of the Circuit Court Clerk's office for the the premature release of a number of prisoners. (In the October 13, 2013 editions of the Tribune, Mitch Smith reported that Clerk Brown responded in a statement that "repeated efforts to create an interdepartment electronic records system for the criminal court have been 'continually met with resistance or disinterest.'")

It seems to me, then, that the Expungement Summit is like a decorative shrub in front of a dilapidated house: It can be admired on its own merits -- and I hope Saturday's summit proves to be a great success -- but it doesn't patch the roof or fix the broken windows on the house.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Explanation offered for last week's order permitting note-taking in Cook County courtrooms

An FWIW reader left a link on my Facebook page to a May 16 Chicago Tribune op-ed by John Marshall Law School Professor Samuel V. Jones that may well explain why Cook County Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans entered a general administrative order last week expressly permitting the taking of notes in Cook County courtrooms. Professor Jones wrote about his experience in Judge Laura M. Sullivan's courtroom on May 8. An excerpt from Professor Jones' article:
Deputies spoke to members of the public as if they were inhuman. As one mother attempted to comfort her baby after she uttered a slight sound, one deputy yelled, "Take your baby out of the courtroom, now!" Children watched, fearfully, as their parents held them tighter. Others refused to make eye contact with the deputies. "Get out," some deputies roared.

Amazed by the unnecessary aggression, I wondered how such abusive conduct had escaped public scrutiny. Moments later, I received my answer. A deputy approached and impolitely inquired, "Are you an attorney"? I identified myself as a professor of law doing research. She responded, "There is no note-taking in here." Interestingly, the deputy had walked past a journalist taking notes in plain view.

Neither Judge Sullivan nor the deputies announced a ban on note-taking. I wondered if the deputy knew that "the right of the press to access court proceedings is derivative of the public's right," and journalists held no greater right than I did. I informed her that the office of the chief judge had advised me that note-taking is permitted. I asked if I had violated any laws or was disruptive. "No," she replied, and walked away.

Minutes later, two male deputies ordered me out of the courtroom and said they were confiscating my notes. After I politely inquired about their authority to do so, they took me back into the courtroom. One deputy approached Judge Sullivan and the proceedings immediately stopped. I was ordered to sit on a bench, told not to move or write, and was surrounded by several deputies.
You'll note that Professor Jones expressly referenced checking with the Chief Judge's office and verifying that note taking would be permitted. But, until last Friday, there was no express rule. Now there is.

Professor Jones was released -- with his notes -- after about 30 minutes. That recitation may make the detention sound trivial. And I don't mean to convey that; I'm sure it was no picnic, even for a former military man like Professor Jones. His John Marshall faculty bio notes that Jones is a "former U.S. judge advocate (MAJ, USAR (Ret.)) and former rifleman/scout (SGT, U.S. Marines)." I'm sure I would have been scared witless if this had happened to me.

But Professor Jones mentions that he was sitting in on a bond court hearing. Even a civil lawyer such as myself understands that a bond court is a high volume call, with many unsavory characters being shuttled in and out. (I am not forgetting about the presumption of innocence in every single criminal case but, rather, making an assumption based on the distressing, but well-documented, high rate of recidivism, that some, and perhaps many, of the persons being brought in for bond hearings on any given day have prior criminal convictions, and perhaps multiple convictions.) The friends and family present to support the defendants whose cases are on the call may or may not have had some prior personal contact with the criminal justice system. In a city as scarred as ours from incessant gang rivalry and violence, in bond court it would seem to make absolute sense to have multiple deputy sheriffs present and in high states of alert.

None of that excuses what happened to Professor Jones on May 8. But what we can't tell from this one sorry incident is whether it was a blip -- an exception -- a combination of a number of people having a particularly bad day -- or whether it is consistent with a pervasive pattern and practice of official rudeness in the courtroom. I sure as heck am not in a position to formulate an opinion on this.

On the other hand, Judge Sullivan is up for retention this year. You can bet that the several bar associations that vet retention candidates, both the CBA and the Alliance members, will be looking into the incident reported by Professor Jones and drawing their own conclusions.

Nor should any reader presuppose what the outcome of those bar evaluations might be. Judge Sullivan was first elected to the bench in 2002. She ran for the Appellate Court in 2012 and was found Qualified by the Chicago Bar Association. (She did not participate in the Alliance evaluation process in 2012.) So readers should avoid the all-too-human temptation to lock in a good-guy, bad-guy narrative here. Maybe this is a story without bad guys. Let's wait for all the facts. There will be more to this story later.

But, in the meantime, now that we have an order expressly permitting note-taking, does the new order really always and everywhere permit note taking by anyone and everyone in Cook County courtrooms?

One of the main reasons for the general cell phone ban in criminal courthouses was to prevent witness or juror intimidation. That makes sense. In the modern age, social media can get pretty antisocial awfully fast. And maybe it's just my imagination, but I can easily imagine circumstances where "note taking" could take on sinister implications as well. I'm not talking about note-taking by lawyers or members of the press but -- well -- maybe I have the wrong kind of imagination.

But I suggest that Judge Evans considered the possibility as well. That's why -- I think -- in an order that basically provides thou shalt permit note taking in court, Judge Evans included this last sentence, "Nothing in this order shall be interpreted to interfere with a judge’s ability to ensure that court proceedings are conducted with fitting dignity and decorum and without distraction, as required by Canon 3 of the Illinois Code of Judicial Conduct, Ill. S. Ct. R. 63, or to affect the sheriff’s responsibility to maintain the safety and security of the courtroom."

In other words, I believe, even after the adoption of the new rule, it still is up to the judge and the deputy sheriffs present in the courtroom to determine whether someone is taking notes for an improper purpose, such as to intimidate, harass or frighten a witness, and to put a halt to such behavior if it is observed. There is now an express presumption in favor of note-taking, but it is not an unqualified right. Or am I missing something again?

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Notes on yesterday's note-taking order: Ban or boon?

My phone dinged late yesterday afternoon because of this tweet from Sun-Times education reporter Lauren FitzPatrick:

Whoa! Cook County Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans had banned electronic note taking in the courts? Luddites like me who still use diary books (the diary's batteries never fail, although it is just as prone to data entry errors as its electronic counterparts) would not be impacted by such an order, but I could see where such an order, if true, would provoke full-blown angst among my more gadget-inclined colleagues.

I was in the middle of working my law job at the time, but when I could return to the story I found an email from Judge Evans' press aide Rose Mary Marasso, providing both a press release about Judge Evans' order and the order itself.

The above link will take you to the text of yesterday's order, but, in my reading, there are three operative points:
  1. Note-taking is permitted in court proceedings conducted in Cook County courtrooms;
  2. Taking notes in court proceedings is subject to the court’s General Administrative Order No 2013-05 - Cell Phones and Other Electronic Devices; and
  3. Individual judges and deputy sheriffs have the right and duty to keep order in their own courtrooms.
Technically, if you look at GAO 2013-05, the cell phone ban applies only to the Leighton Criminal Courthouse (which you may still think of as 26th & Cal). The earlier, wider cell phone ban, which included all Cook County courthouses except the Daley Center, was superseded by this order. Some readers will protest that there are still cell phone bans at the suburban Municipal District courthouses, but these are at the discretion of the presiding judges in those courthouses (and, given the criminal trials that take place in those buildings, exist for the same good reasons as the ban at 26th Street).

And, in any event, the current ban does (and, for that matter, the ban imposed by its predecessors did) not apply to reporters.

On the other hand, at least as I'm reading the rules, in-trial tweeting by reporters was neither permitted nor prohibited by the Chief Judge except in cases where a trial was permitted to be broadcast under the procedures adopted by the Illinois Supreme Court -- in which case "members of the news media may also use their electronic devices in the courtroom to communicate with news media colleagues, provided court is not in session."

But -- bottom line, as I see it -- courtroom cell phone use by lawyers and reporters alike was pretty much subject to the discretion of the individual courtroom judge prior to yesterday afternoon and remains so following the adoption of this order. Most judges in my experience take a fairly indulgent view of technology; in many courtrooms the problem is not so much getting the judge's permission (or quiet acquiescence) as it is getting a viable cellular signal.

There may be a back-story behind yesterday's order: Some judge somewhere may have threatened to take a reporter's devices. There could be a couple of judges who suspect that they are the subject of a reporter's attention, not the case or cases on the day's docket. These few, if there really are any, may see yesterday's order as a limitation. No one else should.

Or have I missed something?

Cook County Bar Association Centennial Celebration on June 21

The Cook County Bar Association has asked me to help get the word out about its centennial celebration, Destiny in Time, set for Saturday, June 21 at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, 151 East Wacker Drive.

Cocktails begin at 6:30, the dinner begins at 7:30 and a 'nightcap party' starts at 10:30. As part of the program, Celestia L. Mays will be sworn in as the new President of the CCBA.

Tickets for the event are $200 apiece. For more information, or to order tickets, contact CCBA Executive Director Cordelia Brown at (312) 630-1157 or, by email, at

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Norwood Park Memorial Day Parade remembers America's fallen servicemembers

It's not fancy. But it's respectful. And it provides an annual opportunity for all of us to remember that Memorial Day is more than just the unofficial start of summer. It's more than a day off. The annual Norwood Park Memorial Day Parade provides an opportunity for Americans to recall, remember, and reflect upon the ultimate sacrifice made by so many in the service of the nation.

Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day. It was long a solemn duty for grieving mothers and widows to decorate the graves of their loved ones. The practice became institutionalized in the aftermath of the Civil War. Many communities, North and South, claim to have originated the observance. But the traditional May 30 date was selected in 1868, and promoted by the Union Army veterans organization, the Grand Army of the Republic. The original date of Memorial Day was chosen because (somehow) there had been no major battle on May 30.

Eventually Memorial Day became recognized as a day to honor all of America's war dead, in any war, declared or otherwise. It became a Monday holiday in 1968.

Of course, the kids watching yesterday may have been a little vague on the history. That's OK; they were there.

Iraq War veteran John Joyce served as Grand Marshall of yesterday's parade. (The link is to the DNAinfo Chicago article, by Heather Cherone, about Joyce's military and civilian careers.)

Of course, you can't have a parade without politicians, and there were both some local dignitaries...

... and some political candidates.

The appearance of the Bagpipes and Drums of the Emerald Society of the Chicago Police Department was pursuant to bipartisan agreement.

The Norwood Park Memorial Day Parade ends at Taft High School. Not surprisingly, Taft had a large contingent marching in the parade.

More parade photos can be found on page two.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Redistricting Amendment in jeopardy before State Board of Elections

The Illinois Independent Redistricting Amendment may never make it on this year's ballot. Both the Sun-Times Early & Often site and the Tribune's Clout Street report this morning that the Illinois State Board of Elections' initial review of the 507,467 signatures submitted in order to get the amendment before the voters has found 54% of the signatures to be invalid.

The linked articles indicate that the ISBE is required to conduct a review of 5% of the signatures submitted. In this review, only 46% of the signatures were deemed valid. If this rate is projected to the petition as a whole, it will fall well short of the 298,400 valid signatures necessary to qualify for the ballot.

Rick Pearson's Clout Street post notes that, "This year marked the first time that the State Board of Elections had conducted the signature validation requirement in-house per a change in the law. In prior years, local county clerks were charged with overseeing the signature checks." According to Dave McKinney's Early & Often post, the group sponsoring the amendment "now has seven business days to go through the 13,807 signatures that the state board deemed invalid and attempt to prove they are, in fact, the names of registered voters who live at the address they indicated on the group’s petitions." In both posts, Michael Kolenc, the campaign manager for the amendment, is quoted as being confident that the amendment will qualify for the ballot.

If the amendment does qualify for the November ballot, a suit is already pending to knock it right back off. The case is Clark v. Board of Election Commissioners, et al., 14 CH 7356. Election attorney Michael J. Kasper represents the plaintiffs in this matter, a who's-who roster that includes retired Commonwealth Edison CEO Frank Clark; housing developer Elzie Higginbottom, Jr.; community organizer Rev. Leon Finney; and Craig Chico, the President and CEO of the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council (and brother of former Illinois State Board of Education Chairman, mayoral candidate, and prominent Rauner supporter, Gery Chico).

Updated to provide additional information.

In the law, civility flows from confidence, certitude

We hear a great deal these days about the need for "civility" amongst lawyers -- yes, even among criminal lawyers, for all you literalists out there -- the idea being that, in beating each other over the head, we should neither mean nor take it personally. We are zealous advocates, yes, but not mere mercenaries. We may heap scorn, where warranted, on an opponent's argument, but not on the opponent him- or herself.

How the heck do we do that?

John Flynn Rooney's recent Law Bulletin article on the occasion of the passing of Lloyd Williams (subscription required) includes this tribute from Williams' long-time partner C. Barry Montgomery:
Williams “exemplified the lawyers that existed 20 to 40 years ago when we all knew each other, we dined together, we drank together and we respected each other,” Montgomery said. “We fought like hell in the courtroom, but we were the best of friends once we left the courthouse.”
Montgomery said that Williams was one of the last old-school defense lawyers. Rooney writes that "Williams enjoyed his camaraderie with other lawyers including plaintiff attorneys Philip H. Corboy and Leonard M. Ring. After trials, he had a martini and took his trial team out for dinner."

Social scientists tell us that, as we get older, it is natural to see our vigorous youth as the dying days of a Golden Age, and the present day as a Bronze Era, at best, or maybe even an age of tin. Some may be tempted to dismiss Mr. Montgomery's tribute as just another dubious recollection of a probably fictional time When Giants Walked the Earth. But what if we accept the recollections as largely true? We can then try and figure out how our predecessors could get along so well together, and why we so often have more difficulty.

We all knew each other, Montgomery said. That may not have been literally true, but there's no question that the legal community was smaller a generation ago. We have over 93,000 attorneys in Illinois these days.

But familiarity alone can't account for the idyllic recollections in the recent Williams tribute. After all, haven't we been taught that 'familiarity breeds contempt'?

I submit that the real reason that trial lawyers may have gotten along better in Days of Yore comes from the fact that, in those days, trial lawyers really tried cases. A lot of cases. They were comfortable in the courtroom. They knew what they were doing; they understood what their opponents were doing.

I don't think we have as many trials these days -- we've all read periodic complaints about how the civil jury trial is rapidly becoming an endangered species -- and, even if we do, the trials we have are divided up among many more attorneys.

Additionally, the law has become exponentially more complicated over the course of the last 30 or 40 years. I remember my father would get the new edition of the old Illinois Revised Statutes every couple of years. I remember how the volumes got progressively thicker with each new edition, even as the number of volumes increased. That process did not slow down any when I became an attorney. And case law has expanded with the statutes.

Moreover, today, federal laws and regulations reach into our state courts in ways that our martini-sharing elders could not have imagined back when they were in their prime. Take HIPAA, for example.

It's harder and harder, therefore, for an attorney to truly develop the kind of serene confidence that some of our predecessors seem to have enjoyed. In our fear that we may have missed something we may try to reflexively block anything our opponent attempts because we don't know whether he or she has found an 'edge' or some 'leverage' that will make us look stupid (or, in my case, more stupid).

How can we avoid this temptation to incivility? We must strive to master some area, some aspect of the law where we can speak with the same confidence as our elders. Because the law is so much more complex in the modern age, we may not be able to master the same broad swaths of legal knowledge that our predecessors commanded. We may not rule mountaintops, only hillocks, or maybe only anthills, but we can become thoroughly knowledgeable in something. When we handle cases in that chosen area, we can be as civil as our elders ever were, secure in the knowledge that we know the range of possible outcomes. (And, if we have to step outside that comfort zone, as we inevitably will from time to time, we have to be secure enough to seek guidance and counsel from persons expert in that area, no matter how much gray hair we have.)

Judges have a role to play in this as well. I believe it must be easier for state court judges than those in the federal court. Although the District Courts may have limited jurisdiction, the judges of the Northern District of Illinois are required to become conversant in the huge variety of cases, civil and criminal alike, that may appear on the docket on any given day. Our Circuit Court judges' task is easier because our state courts are more specialized.

Thus, the diligent jurist has a greater opportunity in the Circuit Court system to truly master the law in the types of cases that appear on his or her daily docket, to learn the precedents and to rule in accordance with these. Even if he or she had not practiced extensively in an area to which he or she is assigned, he or she can read up on the area, consult with the other judges in the division (and master the bench book, if there is one) and thereby develop the necessary expertise. When the lawyer-experts collide before the diligent jurist, all can be reasonably confident that, if the facts come in this way, a particular result is certain. There would be a large measure of predictability, even of certainty. If lawyers with these credentials can not be civil to one another in such a forum, at least one of them deserves to be taken to the woodshed.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Decision of the Illinois Courts Commission in the Brim matter

Here, if this plug-in works, is the text of the Illinois Courts Commission Order In re Circuit Judge Cynthia Y. Brim, 13-CC-1.
Illinois Courts Commission decision in Brim matter.pdf
The unfortunate facts of the case are well known and covered in some detail in the decision of the Courts Commission. This is perhaps the key language:
[Judge Brim] testified that stress and being overworked trigger her mental breakdowns. The judicial office, due to the nature of the issues addressed and the extent of the caseload, is stressful. * * * The public expects and deserves predictability in the judicial process, and the unpredictable and unrecognizable nature of respondent's mental illness places the public at risk. While the testimony at the hearing before the Commission indicated that respondent's episodes would be minimal as long as she was on medication, there was still a five to ten percent chance of another episode. The specific incidents of misconduct in this case, and respondent's history of mental illness, demonstrate that respondent is unable to uphold the integrity of and promote public confidence in the judiciary.

We are sympathetic to respondent's mental health issues. Nonetheless, the judicial profession requires a high level of mental ability and proper mental function. "A judge has a position of power and prestige in a democratic society espousing justice for all persons under law. The role of the judge in the administration of justice requires adherence to the highest standard of personal and official conduct. Of those to whom much is committed, much is demanded. A judge, therefore, has the responsibility of conforming to a higher standard of conduct than is expected of lawyers or other persons in society. *** Our legal system can function only so long as the public, having confidence in the integrity of its judges, accepts and abides by judicial decisions." In re Winton, 350 N.W. 2d 337,340 (Minn. 1984).

Our main concern in determining the appropriate sanction is to protect the public by ensuring the integrity of the judicial system. Our goal is to maintain public confidence in our court system and its judicial officers. The Commission finds that the respondent suffers from a mental disability that persistently interfered with the performance of her judicial duties.
The Courts Commission removed Judge Brim from office.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Kristal Rivers appointed to the Cook County Circuit Court; to replace Peter Vilkelis in Connors vacancy

The Illinois Supreme Court today terminated Peter J. Vilkelis's appointment to the Connors vacancy on the Cook County Circuit Court. His tenure in that vacancy ends on Monday, May 12.

Judge Vilkelis sought election to the Connors vacancy in the March primary, but he was defeated by Assistant Attorney General Kristal Rivers. Rivers (like all but one Cook County judicial nominee) is unopposed in November and would have taken office on December 1. Today, however, the Supreme Court appointed Rivers to the Connors vacancy, effective June 2.

But please note that the Illinois Supreme Court has not turned Judge Vilkelis out into the cold: He was elected Associate Judge by his fellow Cook County jurists (and on a write-in basis, no less). He will be sworn into that office, along with the other 12 new Associate Judges, on May 12.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Steven G. Watkins today appointed to the vacancy to which he will soon be elected

Steven G. Watkins won the Democratic nomination for the O'Neal vacancy in the 2nd Subcircuit this past March. As with almost all this year's Cook County judicial primary winners (there is only one exception), Watkins will face no opponent in November.

In the ordinary course, Watkins would have taken office on the first Monday in December. However, the Illinois Supreme Court today appointed Watkins to the O'Neal vacancy, effective June 16.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

FWIW among award winners at yesterday's CBA Kogan Awards Luncheon

The Chicago Bar Association's 25th Annual Kogan Awards Luncheon was held yesterday at the Standard Club. The Kogan Awards are given to Chicago-area journalists covering the legal system, the courts, the government, judges, law firms or the justice system.

Cynthia Dizikes and Todd Lighty of the Tribune won the Kogan Award in the Print/Legal Beat Reporting category for "The Failure of Cook County's Court System." The CBA Kogan Awards Committee also presented a Meritorious Achievement award to Marc Karlinsky of the Law Bulletin for "Daley Center/Statehouse Coverage."

Roy Strom won a Kogan Award in the Print/Features or Series category for his article in Chicago Lawyer Magazine, "Too Big to Stop," about a woman who saw the mortgage fraud crisis coming a decade before the bubble burst but who was apparently treated like Cassandras everywhere, vindicated only by events. Chris Fusco and Tim Novak of the Sun-Times received Meritorious Achievement awards for "Tarnished Badges."

In the Broadcast category, Cate Cahan, Ken Davis & Linda Paul won Kogan Awards for their WBEZ/Chicago Public Radio series, "Arrests at School," detailing how disciplinary matters that used to be handled by a trip to the principal's office are now often referred to the police. Even if no charges are ever brought, an arrest for a quickly forgotten incident at school can have life-altering effect years later. A Meritorious Achievement award was also presented to Anna Davlantes and Tasha E. Ransom of WFLD-TV for their series on a shaken baby syndrome case, "Ex-Sitter Fights to Get Conviction in Infant Death Overturned."

The winners of the Kogan Awards in the Online category were Robert Herguth, Patrick McCraney, Dane Placko and Patrick Rehkamp for the BGA series "Disorder in the Bureaucracy of the Courts." (Other entries in the BGA series are here and here.) The CBA presented yours truly with a Meritorious Achievement award for my series on last summer's judicial slating.

NBC5 Political Editor and Sun-Times columnist Carol Marin was the keynote speaker at the ceremony.

The Herman Kogan Media Awards are named for the late Chicago newsman Herman Kogan. A reporter, feature writer, columnist and editor at various times with the Chicago Tribune, Sun-Times, and the old Daily News, Kogan also won three Emmys during a mid-1960's stint as assistant general manager of news at WFLD. Along the way, Kogan also hosted two programs on WFMT radio, "Critics Choice" and "Writing and Writers."

Kogan was the author of several books on Chicago themes including Big Bill of Chicago, a biography of William Hale Thompson (with Lloyd Wendt); Lords of the Levee: the Story of Bathhouse John and Hinky Dink (also with Wendt -- also released under the title Bosses in Lusty Chicago: the Story of Bathhouse John and Hinky Dink) and The Great Fire, Chicago, 1871 (with Robert Cromie).

The First Century, the story of the Chicago Bar Association's first 100 years, was a solo effort.

Herman Kogan's son, broadcaster Rick Kogan, helped present yesterday's awards.

Updated 5/10/14 to add in additional links to the BGA series.