Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Center for Illinois Politics names five in the running for newly drawn 2nd Judicial District seat on the Illinois Supreme Court

(I found out about this story from Rich Miller's CapitolFax. Credit where credit is due.)

The Center for Illinois Politics published this article, by Eric Krol, on July 18. An excerpt:

The [2nd District] seat is one of two spots up for grabs on a court where Democrats hold a 4-3 edge, and the campaigns will unfold after both sides shattered Illinois spending records on a judicial contest in fall 2020. Illinois Republicans and their business allies scored a big win when voters rejected retention for then-Justice Tom Kilbride of Rock Island in the 3rd District, who was backed by trial lawyers and labor unions. The district has been tweaked to make it more Democrat-friendly, but for Republicans, the 2022 contests may represent the party’s best shot at regaining a toehold in state government.

The two Supreme Court vacancies to be filled in 2022 are Kilbride's and the vacancy of former Justice Robert R. Thomas. Justice Michael Burke, like Thomas a former DuPage County judge and Second District Appellate Court Justice, was appointed to the Thomas vacancy last year but must run for and win a seat in 2022 to remain on the court. (Kilbride was replaced by Third District Appellate Court Justice Robert L. Carter -- and Carter has indicated he will not run for Kilbride's seat next year.) Burke was expected to seek election from the 2nd District -- but DuPage County was moved to the 3rd District by the Democratic Party's cartographers in this year's remap. So the new 2nd District seat would appear to be wide open.

While judicial elections outside Cook County are ordinarily beyond the scope of this site, I expect that many readers will have at least a passing interest in these two critical races.

Lake and Kane Counties are the biggest counties in the new 2nd District and all of the potential candidates identified in the Center for Illinois Politics article hail from one or the other. The candidates (so far) are:

  • Lake County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Shanes (Republican);

  • Lake County Associate Judge Elizabeth Rochford (Democrat) (the daughter of former Chicago Police Superintendent James Rochford);

  • Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering (Democrat);

  • Kane County Circuit Court Judge John Noverini (Democrat); and

  • Kane County Circuit Court Judge Rene Cruz (Democrat).

Just as here in County Cook, no one is really a candidate until they actually file -- and that's a long way off yet. But there's much more detail and analysis in the Center for Illinois Politics article for those who crave more information even if it is really, really early in this modified election cycle.

Illinois Judicial Council to hold 39th Annual Installation and Scholarship Awards Ceremony on August 18

The Illinois Judicial Council will hold its 39th Annual Installation and Scholarship Awards Ceremony on Wednesday, August 18, from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m., at The VU, 133 East Cermak.

Tickets for the event are $150 each and may be obtained via this page of the IJC website. All tickets muct be purchased in advance; no tickets will be sold at the door.

The theme of this year's event is "Strengthening Our Foundation to Empower and Uplift Our Community."

The IJC is also offering sponsorship opportunities for this event:

  • Platinum Sponsorship -- $2,500
    Includes four event tickets and a mention in the event program

  • Gold Sponsorship -- $1,500
    Includes two event tickets and a mention in the event program

  • Silver Sponsorship -- $500
    Includes one event ticket and a mention in the event program

Sponsorships may be obtained via this page of the IJC website.

Federal practitioners asked to submit nominations for Pro Bono Awards

The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, in conjunction with the Chicago Chapter of the Federal Bar Association, is seeking nominations to be submitted to the court no later than August 1, 2021 for attorneys who have provided outstanding pro bono and public interest representation in civil and criminal matters in the Northern District. A nominee should be someone who has demonstrated excellence in commitment to pro bono or public interest work by handling a matter in the Northern District as a court-appointed attorney, pro bono attorney, or staff attorney for a not‑for‑profit agency, representing an indigent party in a civil or criminal matter.

Persons nominated may be selected for awards to be conferred at the 21st Annual Awards for Excellence in Pro Bono and Public Interest Service in 2020 and 2021 on Thursday, September 9, at 2:00 p.m.

Factors to be considered in the selection of the nominee include: dedication to pro bono or public interest work, outstanding achievement resulting from the representation of a large group of indigents, successful representation in a difficult case, outstanding negotiation and settlement skills in achieving a result without trial, extraordinary number of hours committed to pro bono work, or other distinguished performance. All pro bono and public interest work considered must be work performed in the Northern District in civil or criminal matters on cases that are now completed and no longer pending.

Nominations must be made on or before August 1, 2021 using this link, https://www.ilnd.uscourts.gov/_assets/_documents/Fillable Nomination Form 2020-2021.pdf. Please include a brief summary of the reasons why you think the person you nominate has performed outstanding pro bono or public interest work.

Completed nominations should be sent via e-mail to ProBonoAwards@ilnd.uscourts.gov.

If you have any questions, please contact the Chambers of Chief Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer.

On the teaching of history: How would you introduce Someone Special to strangers?

I hope everyone who sees this post has at least one Special Someone in their lives -- a parent or grandparent, perhaps, or a spouse or a child.

As you think carefully about this Special Someone, you will have to admit that he or she is not perfect -- only God is perfect, you may think, if you ever think about those things. If your Special Someone has been on this planet for any length of time, he or she may have a Past. He or she may have once said things, or done things, that you find objectionable. You may recall your disappointment, and maybe even your anger, when you first discovered that your Special Someone may have harbored attitudes or even engaged in actions some time ago that you find unacceptable today. Perhaps your Special Someone has repudiated his or her life mistakes; perhaps your Special Someone has not entirely owned up to some of the questionable, or even downright bad, things in his or her past.

But that Special Someone, for all his or her faults, is still precious to you. Why? Because the many good qualities of your Special Someone, in your view, overcome and overshadow his or her past and present missteps and failings.

Now... how would you introduce your Special Someone to strangers? How would you teach people about your Special Someone? Would you start by dwelling on all his or her faults, all his or her failings, and all the times he or she had failed to live up to your expectations? Would you focus on every bad thing he or she did, and every bad thing he or she said? Before saying one nice thing about your Special Someone, would you first insist on explaining every occasion on which your Special Someone had said one thing and done another?

Well, that might be the approach you'd take -- if you wanted those strangers to despise and maybe even hate your Special Someone. So -- obviously -- you would instead introduce your Special Someone by stressing the good qualities of that person, the things that made that person special to you in the first place. You would not hide or ignore the past failings of your Special Someone -- were you to try such a tactic, once your audience got to know your Special Someone, at least some of them would figure out your Special Someone's imperfections and your credibility would be damaged -- but you would not lead with these flaws and, when you did introduce them, you might do so in a way that would help strangers to understand how your Special Someone overcame, or is working to overcome, these past errors of omission or commission and how your Special Person grew from his or her mistakes.

So it should be with the teaching of American history to children.

The United States of America is a flawed nation, of course -- but all nations, like all human things, are flawed. However, unlike nearly every other nation in the entire world, America is a country not founded on shared blood but on a radical, world-altering principle, namely, that all persons are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that, among these, are rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. America has not always lived up to the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Hey, a great many of America's Founders could not accept the real-world implications of this radical notion, the principal author of the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson, most prominent among these.

There will be time, after children are exposed to the historic events surrounding the development of this principle, and its adoption by the Second Continential Congress, after they have imbibed deeply of this world-shattering concept, to reveal the many times that our nation failed to live up to the promise of the Declaration of Independence, starting with the Founders' own failures. Learning about our past mistakes will not keep us from making new ones, but it may, and should, help us not to repeat old ones.

And American history is not a story of just one Special Someone. The nation's history is the cumulative story of its leaders, and all its citizens, some heroes, some villians, some persons embodying both hero and villian at the same time. Read any of Robert Caro's books on Lyndon Johnson, for example. And the best part is that the story keeps changing, keeps getting richer and more interesting. At an April 29, 1962 White House dinner honoring Nobel Prize winners, President John F. Kennedy said, "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House – with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone." Of all the Founders, I can't think of any who has fallen farther or faster in public esteem in my lifetime than Thomas Jefferson. No serious politician would dare lavish such praise on Jefferson today. Bottom line: there is no 'one' American history.

A great story almost always has a flawed hero. And there are a great many flawed heroes from which to choose when telling the tale---the many tales---of America's history. But the heroes' flaws and failings should help the student to see the their triumphs and successes as that much more spectacular.

I do not advocate a Parson Weems or Disney Princess approach to teaching American history. There is good and bad in all humans and in all human things. In our eagerness to confess our faults, however, let us not lose sight of our accomplishments. As my mother used to say, tell the truth and shame the Devil. But tell the stories -- teach the stories -- in a way that helps our children and grandchildren learn to appreciate our special country, what it has been and what it can be.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Text of Chief Judge's statement on opening Criminal Court courtrooms for trial... and context

First, the text of Friday's statement from the Office of Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans. The gist of this statement has been widely reported:

The Circuit Court of Cook County is making dozens of courtrooms available for jury and bench trials, which will speed up resolution of cases that have been delayed due to pandemic-related restrictions, Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans announced today. The expanded reopening of the criminal courts has been made possible by new health guidance regarding the pandemic.

Precautions taken due to the pandemic have required six feet of social distancing in court facilities, which meant that the number of trials that could be held was limited. Jury trials required the use of at least two courtrooms – one for the trial itself, one for jury deliberations, and a third space for public viewing. Beginning with the first jury trials in March, the courts had the capacity to hold eight jury trials a week.

But Dr. Rachel Rubin, Senior Medical Officer, Cook County Department of Public Health, has advised the court that the six-foot requirement can be reduced to three feet in courtrooms, so more rooms can be used for trials, Judge Evans said. Judge Evans signed an order on Friday allowing use of 86 courtrooms for bench trials, 76 of which can also be used for jury trials, as well as other changes to increase court capacity. The order will take effect on Friday, July 23.

As of this week, approximately 159 criminal cases are ready for trial, and the courts should be able to “comfortably” accommodate all these requests before October 1, Judge Evans said. On that date, speedy trial requirements under Illinois law, which the Supreme Court had temporarily suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, will again be in effect.

“We should be able to accommodate anybody who answers ready for trial,” said Judge Evans. “We are preparing for the end of the tolling of the speedy trial statutes so that the constitutional and statutory rights of defendants can be protected. By ensuring the safe and efficient reopening of the courts, we also are protecting the rights of victims of crime.”

Under the Illinois Speedy Trial Act, a defendant who has been taken into custody must be tried within 120 days. If a defendant is released on bail, he or she must be tried within 160 days after filing a written demand for a trial.

In order to handle demands for criminal trials in the coming months, the court will both use judges ordinarily assigned to criminal matters in the city and suburbs and “emergency judges.” These are judges who used to be criminal court judges, but now serve in other divisions, such as the Law Division, Judge Evans said.

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the courts have not been idle, but operated using both Zoom videoconference technology and in-person proceedings that were guided by such safety precautions as social distancing, mandatory masking and temperature and wellness checks at courthouse entrances.

Between the beginning of April 2020 and the end of May 2021, about 128,000 criminal cases have been disposed in the Cook County Circuit Court, which has included nearly 13,000 guilty pleas and more than 1,000 bench trials. Juries have been seated in 39 trials, including 29 criminal trials and 10 civil trials, since jury trials resumed on March 22.

Judges, lawyers and defendants have found that videoconferencing is both effective and practical for certain proceedings, and it will continue to be used now that the pandemic is receding. Under the order, judges can continue to use videoconference technology in certain situations, including status hearings, requests for continuances, prosecution of alleged local ordinance violations, agreed orders, and initial bail hearings.

To determine best practices in expanding the capacity for bench and jury trials and accelerate the opening of criminal court in-person proceedings, Judge Evans last month formed a committee of criminal justice stakeholders and other related groups.

These criminal justice stakeholders include the Cook County State’s Attorney, the Cook County Public Defender, the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Cook County Sheriff, and all the presiding judges who handle criminal matters, along with members of the private bar.

Judge Evans thanked these groups for their guidance, advice, and continuing support during this challenging time.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

That's the text. Here's some context:

COVID-19 cases are going up here and around the country.

The rise is so alarming in California that public health officials in L.A. County have reimposed an indoor mask mandate there. Persons in L.A. must wear masks in indoor public spaces, regardless of vaccination status.

According to the linked L.A. Times article by Luke Money, Rong-Gong Lin II, and Melissa Hernandez, the local mandate "puts the county further at odds with both the California Department of Public Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- both of which continue to maintain that vaccinated people need not cover their faces."

And the L.A. County Sheriff has already announced that his office will not enforce the new mask mandate because it "is not backed by science and contradicts the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guildelines," according to a statement quoted in the linked NBC News article, by Minyvonne Burke.

Backed by science or not, the L.A. County Sheriff has urged that citizens voluntarily comply.

That's really all police agencies around the country have been able to do throughout the Pandemic with all the various mandates. What was the alternative? Arrest those who don't don a mask when reminded by a police officer? What if the scofflaw resists? What if he or she runs away? Would the courts anywhere in the U.S. have sent serial refusers to jail? Even if they were in session? The word "force" is embedded in the word "enforce." And without a credible threat of force, there really can be no 'enforcement,' only requests for voluntary compliance.

Which were often ignored -- as this request is likely to be ignored. As similar requests have been ignored in many communities. In many different types of communities. And not just by Trumpsters. There are probably fewer Trumpsters in L.A. County than there are in the County of Cook. And, yet, in True Blue urban areas as well as among Red State refuseniks there are all sorts of non-vaccinated people who have not been wearing masks. (I'd be willing to wager that the majority of folks you see wearing masks on the street around you, at church this morning, or in your local shops, have been vaccinated and are just being cautious.) And the failure of unvaccinated people to abide by existing mask mandates is part of the reason why the numbers are trending up again.

And the numbers are trending up, objectively, and anywhere one looks. The Mayo Clinic reports average positive test rate of 7.63% as of July 17 -- up from 5.5%, according to the Mayo Clinic caluculations just last week.

Here's the City COVID-19 Dashboard as of July 10:

Here's the City COVID-19 Dashboard as of July 17:

Things have changed in the past week, and not for the better.

I don't want to go back into lockdown.

I can't imagine that anyone reading this wants to go back into lockdown either.

And I am sure that no elected official wants to incur the likely political cost of imposing a new lockdown.

But the numbers of new cases keep going up. And vaccinations are lagging. So we're going to have to find some happy medium between a new lockdown and blissful, deluded ignorance of reality. L.A. County health officials may be onto something with their new mask mandate.

Not that we're supposed to remember, but it took quite awhile for a scientific consensus to form around the efficacy of mask wearing last year, too. A lot of reputable scientists were against mask wearing before they were for it.

I think we must continue re-opening. But I predict mask-wearing will become part of any New Normal. Hopefully by consensus and voluntary compliance, but perhaps because some sort of enforcement scheme is imposed. At least until more people get vaccinated. Or get sick.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Chief Judge Evans praises new restorative justice law

Gov. Pritzker today signed a package of criminal justice reform bills into law. The link is to the CapitolFax post on the subject.

Cook County Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans subsequently issued a statement concerning one of these bills in particular. That statement follows in full:

Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans today praised the signing of SB 64, a bill designed to promote restorative justice practices, which offer an alternative to incarceration and can help break the cycle of criminal behavior.

“I thank the governor and our lawmakers in Springfield for this legislation, which promotes something that we know can help break the cycle of criminal behavior and help people become productive members of their communities,” said Judge Evans, who was present for the signing.

Restorative justice aims at resolving conflict through conferences and peace circles involving defendants, victims, family members, friends, others affected by the crime, and the community. It has been employed across Illinois in communities, faith-based congregations, correctional facilities, and schools, as well as at Cook County courts, and is a growing practice across the United States, with legislation in more than 30 states.

The bill, signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Thursday morning as part of a criminal justice reform package, removes barriers to restorative justice by establishing a limited legal privilege, similar to that used in mediation, to make things said in restorative justice practices inadmissible in later court proceedings.

For a restorative justice proceeding to be successful, parties must engage in open and honest discussions. Fear that sensitive information could be used against a participant could be a barrier to participation for many people. The law formalizes the legal protection that communications during restorative justice not be used against participants.

The Cook County Circuit Court has opened three Restorative Justice Community Courts in Chicago since 2017, intended to help young people between the ages of 18 and 26 get a second chance after being arrested for a non-violent crime. At the courts in Englewood, North Lawndale, and Avondale, victims have the opportunity to directly address a participant to express how they were hurt and what they need to heal from the crime.

Defendants also must repair the harm caused by their actions through community service, continued education, and other actions. Those who graduate from the year-long county program can have their records cleared.

Judge Evans noted that young adults sometimes engage in activities like breaking into cars, or indulging in substance abuse, without thinking about the consequences of their actions.

“We cannot prosecute our way out of the kinds of crimes these emerging adults commit,” Judge Evans said. The goal of the court is to get these young, non-violent offenders to acknowledge the impact of their offenses, empathize with victims, make restitution, and become constructive members of their communities.

“We are encouraging the use of restorative justice practices, moving to a system that repairs harms and addresses trauma,” said Pritzker at the signing ceremony. “This legislation makes restorative justice a more viable option for survivors, cultivating safer spaces where individuals can speak freely without fear that the words will be used against them.”

As of the end of June, Cook County had 188 participants in the Restorative Justice Community Courts and 95 graduates.

In addition to the restorative justice law, the governor signed additional legislation, including a law prohibiting law enforcement officials from using deceptive tactics with minors during interrogations.

Supreme Court: August to be a "triage period" for eviction cases

Eviction cases will resume in August, but dispositive motions, trials, and judgments will remain stayed through September 1. Initial return dates and status hearings will proceed -- and served defendants who fail to appear can be defaulted under the terms of today's Supreme Court Order. Here is the Court's press release on the subject:

The Illinois Supreme Court announced today an amendment to Order M.R. 30370 concerning residential evictions. Timed to coincide with the resumption of eviction filings effective August 1, 2021, the amended Order provides for a one-month period in which the judiciary will focus on referring newly filed cases to State programs providing financial assistance to landlords and tenants.

In March 2020, Governor J.B. Pritzker declared a State of Emergency in response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and the President of the United States declared the COVID-19 outbreak a national emergency. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) (P.L. 116-136) and American Rescue Plan Act (P.L. 117-2) were passed by Congress and signed into law by the President to deploy over $1 billion to Illinois renters and landlords in rental assistance, housing counseling, legal aid, and mediation services in an effort to prevent evictions.

In response, the Governor prohibited the commencement of certain residential evictions and the enforcement of certain residential eviction orders by Executive Order. The Governor announced that the eviction moratorium would permit filing of new eviction cases on August 1, 2021, though enforcement of certain eviction judgments would remain barred through August 31, 2021.

Because of a concern that the expiration of the eviction moratorium could potentially flood Illinois Courts with a large volume of cases seeking to be heard and decided in a short time frame, the Illinois Supreme Court will institute a triage period in which certain newly filed residential eviction cases cannot be acted on until the final expiration of the moratorium. Courts will use this time to guide landlords and tenants to programs designed to help them avoid eviction.

The triage period will begin on August 1, 2021, with the implementation of this amended order, and will conclude on September 1, 2021, when the order is vacated. “These cases could not be enforced until the Governor’s moratorium completely expires, so this process will not delay the ultimate resolution of cases in the court system,” said Judge Eugene Doherty, Chief Judge of the 17th Judicial Circuit and Vice-Chair of the Illinois Supreme Court’s COVID Task Force. “In planning for the winding down of the moratorium, the Task Force met regularly with representatives of the Governor’s office to ensure that the process would be as smooth as possible for landlords and tenants. This information sharing between the judicial and executive branches of government was essential in planning the implementation of the triage period.”

Amended Order M.R. 30370 is available on the Court website by clicking here.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

The real scandal is not in the bribes allegedly taken by a Board of Revew employee....

So yesterday, Rich Miller, linking to a Sun-Times story, put up a post entitled, "Feds allege evidence of bribery ring at Cook County Board of Review." Apparently, $1,000 was the going rate for a residential property tax reduction; commercial property tax reductions required a $2,000 payment. Jon Siedel's Sun-Times article, quoting an FBI affidavit, reported that the person taking the payments called himself a middleman; he said he would be sharing the money with his fellow workers in the vineyard.

One of those commenting on the CapitolFax post noted that this has all happened before. Among the links the commenter provided was one to an article by Ed McManus in December 1980 issue of the old Illinois Issues, now archived by NIU, "Property tax assessment fraud in Cook County."

The Board of Review was called the Board of Appeals back then. See? Who says there are no reforms in Cook County government?

I know what my role is here. Just by maintaining this site lo these many years I am considered to be one of those "goo-goos." That's an old and dismissive abbreviation for someone who supports good government. And, as a goo-goo in good standing, I am expected to rage and maybe even fulminate about the rampant corruption of our body politic illustrated in this latest sordid scandal. Later, after some greedy people who were caught on camera have gone to jail and some meaningless reforms have been enacted (maybe another name change?), I, as a good little goo-goo, will expected to cheer wildly. But, whatever happens, I am not supposed to -- and you are not supposed to -- think for even a nanosecond as to why these scandals recur.

Alas. I have once again failed to meet expectations.

Because I have thought about it -- and it occurs to me that the scandals allegedly ongoing in the Board of Review will inevitably recur, whatever "reforms" we enact, whoever we send to prison, and whatever new name we invent for the Board of Review, because the system of basing real estate property taxes on property assessments is fundamentally flawed and must be scrapped.

In Illinois, real estate property taxes are based on a property's assessed value. The assessed value is supposed to be what a willing buyer would pay a willing seller for the property to be taxed in the year the property was last assessed. (The link is to the Cook County Assessor's explanation of residential assessments; but the same basic explanation is provided for commercial properties. Becuase this is what state law commands that assessors do.)

Since property values have almost always increased over time, this system is a boon to greedy governments -- and a millstone around the necks of individual property owners.

Progressives often rail against the evils of gentrification. But as property values climb in a given area, so too do property tax bills. And property owners who can't pay those increased bills are forced to leave. It is fashionable to blame landlords in gentrifying areas: Rents go up and long-time tenants are forced out. But rents go up because property taxes go up... and even the nicest, most woke landlords have to raise rents to render unto Caesar. (And, yes, I understand that at least some greedy landlords would jack up rents in order to attract a new, wealthier class of tenant. Hope and greed both spring eternal.)

For a highly mobile population, one that packs up and moves on every few years or so, the assessment system is no real problem. But most people don't move every three years.

So here's the solution: Base real property taxes on actual purchase prices. Your neighbor who just bought her house for $500,000 will pay more in taxes than you, though your houses are similar, because you bought your house 30 years ago for half that amount. But when you sell and move to Florida, the new owner's taxes will be based on the actual sales price, not someone's guess about what the house might fetch on the market. And your neighbor, if she's still there, may wind up with a lower tax bill than the person who buys your house.

The system would be objective -- purchase prices are usually matters of public record -- and an immediate savings for the taxpayer would be realized from scrapping the assessment system and the review system.

Of course there would be a firmly entrenched lobby against any such proposal. In addition to all the public sector jobs that would vanish, the many lawyers who make money challenging assessments would also have to find other work. Many of the public employees would find other sinecures. But it would be harder on the lawyers, certainly. Especially those not in politics.

There would be a lot of details to work out: What about transfers between relatives? Or when title remains in a land trust but beneficial interests change?

And there'd be another big problem, too: Without increased assessments to hide behind, the public body that wants to get more tax money from you will have to openly raise its rate. You might notice. Other taxpayers might also notice -- and they might withhold their votes from the offending politicians. But this would be infinitely better than our system now where one's taxes can go up by an enormous amount, thanks to a new assessment, and every taxing body can claim that it had nothing to do with it because their rate did not change.

Wealth taxes are much in the news these days. The theory is that the big billionaires should pay, as a wealth tax, some small fraction of their total net wealth (net after all other taxes) each year. Sounds good when applied to Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, right? But what about Elon Bezos who owns a bungalow in Jefferson Park? If bought his house for $200,000, but now pays property taxes based on an assumed $400,000 valuation, isn't that a wealth tax, too?

We hear much talk these days about building generational wealth in minority communities. We even hear lip service about the private home being the only asset that most people can use to build any sort of wealth that might be handed down to one's children. But thanks to assessments, imagining what the fair market value of someone's home might be, increased taxes squeeze out more than is ever left to the next generation.

Yes, it's a terrible scandal that some mope took money to reduce assessments. But as long as there are assessments based on what someone's property value might be, there will be those who will find ways to 'adjust' these. It won't matter what 'legal' channels are in place for this purpose or what safeguards are enacted to prevent future shenanigans. Human nature, and human ingenuity, will always find ways around protective barriers. The real scandal is that we have assessments at all.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Get the kids vaccinated against COVID-19 almost anywhere you want

The messaging is still a bit muddled -- the post for this week's vaccination event at Wright College (click here to sign up) speaks of eligibility for all 16 and older (persons under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian who can give consent) -- but the City's website says kids as young as 12 can get vaccinated.

The City says that Jewel-Osco, Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart will all vaccinate kids 12 or older.

A list of City-operated sites offering vaccines to kids 12 and older is on that same linked page. I've reproduced it here (click to enlarge or clarify):

Did you notice? Loretto Hospital is back on the list. How about that?

Monday, July 12, 2021

Advertising Department: 39th Ward Democratic Organization sets Ice Cream Social for Saturday, July 17

Committeeperson Ram Villivalam and the 39th Ward Democratic Organization invite you to our annual Ice Cream Social. A donation of $39 dollars is welcome but not expected. This event will be held outdoors in the parking lot of Alarmist Brewing at 4055 W. Peterson in Chicago, Illinois on Saturday, July 17, 2021 between 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.

Please RSVP at https://tinyurl.com/4jbj4d7r.

To donate please visit https://secure.actblue.com/donate/icecream07.17.2021.

If you have questions, or want to RSVP directly, please contact Joey Slater at joeys@ramforsenate.com.

We hope to see you there,

Liam Kelly, President,
39th Ward Democratic Organization

Decalogue Society to hold members-only CLE event: How to Run for Judge in Cook County

Not a member? Well, you can sign up for membership when you register for the event, which will be held on Thursday, July 29, from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. at 134 N. LaSalle Street, Room 775. And, yes, that's a link to the sign-up form. Unvaccinated participants must wear masks, according to the sponsors.

Here is the program for the event:

  • 5:00 p.m. - Kosher Box Meal
  • 5:30 p.m. - Ross Secler, Odelson & Sterk: Legal requirements for petitions (1 hour MCLE credit)
  • 6:30 p.m. - Aviva Patt, Questor Services: Campaign financial disclosure (½ hour MCLE credit)
  • 7:00 p.m. - Justice Aurelia Pucinski: How to present yourself as a candidate, fundraising, endorsements

If more information is required, email decaloguesociety@gmail.com.

Friday, July 09, 2021

CCBA plans Judicial Reception for August 4

The Cook County Bar Association will hold a Judicial Reception, honoring Cook County Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans, on Wednesday, August 4, from 5:00 to 7:30 p.m. at the Fremont, 15 W. Illinois.

Tickets for this in-person event are $100 each, for non-members, and $65 for CCBA members. Sitting judges will be admitted free. Tickets will be available at this page of the CCBA website (but, as of this posting, the page has not yet been updated). Tickets can also be obtained, say the event sponsors, by scanning the QR Code on the first edition of the event invite, the relevant page of which is reproduced above.

The first edition of the invite identifies a number of event sponsors -- but the CCBA is hoping for more.

Sponsorship levels and benefits are as follows:

Supreme Sponsor - $20,000
  • Reserved Table with 12 Tickets

  • Dominant logo placement on media at the event, and in future event invitations

  • Placement on the CCBA website, in social media, and in the Sidebar newsletter

  • Choice of selected swag bag gift with logo for guests

Appellate Sponsor - $15,000
  • Same as Supreme Sponsor, but with 8 Tickets

  • Swag bag gift with logo for guests

Judicial Sponsor - $10,000
  • Same as Appellate Sponsor, but with 6 Tickets

Magistrate Sponsor - $5,000
  • Same as Judicial Sponsor, but with 4 Tickets

  • Logo placement on media at the event, future event invitations, and CCBA's website and social media

ALJ Sponsor - $1,500
  • Same as Magistrate Sponsor but with 2 Tickets

  • Logo placement on media at the event and CCBA website

For more information about sponsorships, or to obtain a sponsorship for yourself or your organization, email Cordelia Brown at cbrown@cookcountybar.org.

Thursday, July 08, 2021

Who Sits Where: Louis Jordan birthday edition

If you don't get the reference, look it up yourself. Either way, listen and enjoy.

Meanwhile, herewith, the updated Who Sits Where. My list is no doubt incomplete. But I only include vacancies I can verify. I will update this list as necessary or appropriate.

However incomplete my list may be, it is so far still better than the "Judicial Vacancies" page of the new Supreme Court website: It still shows no vacancies at all.

Where a vacancy has been filled by an interim Supreme Court appointment, I have provided the identity of the appointee. If history is any guide, there will be several more vacancies opening up in the months to come.

As always, all errors of omission or commission in this list are mine alone and I am grateful for additions and corrections provided.

Appellate Court Vacancy

Vacancy of the Hon. Shelvin Louise Marie Hall -- Robert E. Gordon

Countywide Circuit Court Vacancies

Vacancy of the Hon. Diane Gordon Cannon -- Sanjay T. Tailor
Vacancy of the Hon. Michael B. Hyman -- Unfilled
Vacancy of the Hon. Pamela M. Leeming -- Rena Marie Van Tine
Vacancy of the Hon. Kathleen M. McGury -- Cara Lefevour Smith
Vacancy of the Hon. Sharon M. Sullivan -- Unfilled

Subcircuit Vacancies

1st Subcircuit
Vacancy of the Hon. Sharon O. Johnson -- John Wellington Wilson

4th Subcircuit
Vacancy of the Hon. Patrick T. Rogers -- Unfilled

5th Subcircuit
Vacancy of the Hon. Jackie Marie Portman-Brown -- David L. Kelly

6th Subcircuit
Vacancy of the Hon. Mauricio Araujo -- Unfilled

7th Subcircuit
Vacancy of the Hon. Patricia Martin -- Unfilled

8th Subcircuit
Vacancy of the Hon. Robert E. Gordon -- Unfilled
Vacancy of the Hon. Thomas J. Lipscomb -- Unfilled

11th Subcircuit
Vacancy of the Hon. Dennis M. McGuire -- Unfilled

14th Subcircuit
Vacancy of the Hon. James R. Brown -- Unfilled
Vacancy of the Hon. Raymond L. Jagielski -- Unfilled

Attention Teachers: The ABA and the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois offer Virtual Summer Teachers Institute

The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and the American Bar Association are sponsoring their inaugural Judge John F. Grady Summer Institute for Teachers. This year’s event will focus on the First Amendment’s Right to Assemble and Associate. The program will be held virtually and will take place over two days, on July 29th and August 5th.

The Institute will feature a lecture and Q and A with Prof. Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law, and curriculum support from Mary Ellen Daneels, the Lead Teacher Mentor for the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

For more information, including the agenda for the Institute, or to register, click here. Questions about the Institute may be directed to Education@ilnd.uscourts.gov.

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Chief Judge Evans: Criticism about bail reform and the use of electronic monitoring does not reflect the facts or the law

CWBChicago reported yesterday about "the 26th person that authorities have accused of killing, shooting, or trying to kill someone in Chicago this year while on bond for felonies." This particular person, Dominique Johnson, 20, allegedly killed his girlfriend, Shanal Guy, and then committed suicide while on bail for two pending felony gun cases, according to the article.

Also yesterday, Cook County Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans issued the following statement about bail reform and electronic monitoring. It is reproduced here without further comment:

In recent weeks, in response to tragic incidents of violence in Cook County, some public officials have criticized the courts, and, in particular, judicial decisions to impose electronic monitoring on some defendants rather than incarcerate them in Cook County Jail while they await trial. Both the public and elected and appointed officials must remember that bail reform, instituted by the Circuit Court of Cook County in 2017, is based on the constitutional principle that people should not be punished by imprisonment before they are tried, unless they pose a significant danger to the community. A person charged with a crime is presumed innocent under the law, and the U.S. Constitution states that “excessive bail” shall not be required.

“Looking at individual tragic cases in isolation may contribute to the speculation that releasing individuals before trial rather than incarcerating them -- whether by placing them on Electronic Monitoring (EM) or other forms of supervision -- means an increase in crime,” said Chief Judge Evans. “But speculation based on isolated cases is not the same as reality based on a complete picture, and research has shown that bail reform has not led to an increase in crime.”

Judge Evans pointed to a Loyola University study last November that confirmed a previous internal court report that bail reform has kept hundreds out of jail, while not contributing to a rise in crime, and saved Cook County residents from having to post more than $31 million in bail in just one six-month period.

In deciding to release some individuals charged with crime to EM, judges are guided by looking at the criminal backgrounds of defendants before them. Only those individuals judged to pose a clear and present danger to society are kept in jail before trial. In determining whether to confine an individual before trial, or to set restrictions such as EM as a condition of release, judges consider multiple factors, including the facts of the case, input from the defense and prosecution, and the Public Safety Assessment (PSA) tool. This helps to assess danger to the public by calculating the risk of failure to appear, risk of new criminal activity and risk of new violent criminal activity. During the pandemic, judges have also had to balance the risks of incarceration to the health of jail detainees, corrections staff, and the greater community, with more traditional public safety considerations. EM is used throughout the country as an alternative to incarceration pre-trial.

For new felony cases filed between October 1, 2017, and December 31, 2020, murder, attempted murder and reckless homicide accounted for 1.3%, or 1,150, out of 86,653 total assessed felony cases. Of these cases, 181 defendants, or 15.7%, were released pretrial. In just seven of those 181 cases did a suspect miss at least one court appearance. Eleven defendants (6%) were charged with a new offense pretrial, and of these, two were charged with violent offenses (1.1%). In other words, 94% of murder defendants released pretrial were not charged with any new crime, and about 99% were not charged with a new violent offense. Similarly, of all defendants released pretrial for all types of crimes, the total percentage who are charged with new violent offenses is less than 1%. Any violent crime is tragic. But depending on many factors, the slight risk of re-offense would not have justified jailing even some murder defendants while they awaited trial. Prison before trial deprives defendants, who are presumed innocent, of their right to prepare for a defense, while leading to job loss and other personal and financial difficulties.

Supreme Court issues orders on speedy trials and social distancing

The Illinois Supreme Court issued two orders on June 30 which will resume statutory time restrictions for speedy trials on October 1 and relax social distancing requirements in courthouses. Both orders are effective immediately.

“It is important to note that our courts remained open during the COVID-19 pandemicand thousands of court proceedings have taken place via both in-person and virtual hearings,” Chief Justice Anne M. Burke said. “However, conducting criminal jury trials has been very difficult. These two orders will help our courts prepare for a return to a full slate of jury trials.”

M.R. 30370, In re: Illinois Courts Response to COVID-19 Emergency/Social Distancing, states that “Chief Circuit Judges of the State are permitted to relax or eliminate social distancing requirements,” and notes that the decision to do so should be based on local conditions.

M.R. 30370, Illinois Courts Response to COVID-19 Emergency/Speedy Trial, states that statutory time restrictions will no longer be tolled and that “all days on and following October 1, 2021, shall be included in speedy trial computations contained in §103-5 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 and §5-601 of the Illinois Juvenile Court Act.” This provides the chief circuit judges at least 90 days to prepare for the tolling to be lifted.

The order also states the days prior to March 20, 2020, and April 3, 2020, when the Court put out orders tolling the statutory time restrictions for §103-5 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 and §5-601 of the Illinois Juvenile Court Act, will be included in speedy trial computations.

Kerry M. Kennedy appointed Acting Presiding Judge in the 5th Municipal District

Cook County Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans announced yesterday that Kerry M. Kennedy has been appointed as Acting Presiding Judge of the Fifth Municipal District in Bridgeview.

“Judge Kennedy has shown great dedication and knowledge in his years as a judge in the Fifth Municipal District, and I am confident that he will succeed in his new leadership role,” said Judge Evans.

Judge Kennedy was ekected to a countywide vacancy in 2002. After serving several months in the First Municipal District, he was assigned to the Bridgeview courthouse. He has exclusively handled criminal cases during his time at the Fifth Municipal District, and primarily been responsible for felony cases.

Before being elected to the bench, Judge Kennedy served as a Cook County public defender for 23 years, first in Markham and then in Bridgeview.

Born in Oak Park, Judge Kennedy graduated from what is now the Northern Illinois University College of Law in 1978. He called today’s appointment “a great honor.”

“I’m extremely honored for Chief Judge Evans to have such confidence in me, and I look forward to serving the people of Cook County,” Judge Kennedy said.

The announcement follows the retirement of former Fifth Municipal District Presiding Judge Raymond L. Jagielski, who was first elected to the bench in December of 1992. Judge Jagielski had served as presiding judge in Bridgeview since April 2011. He had previously served as chairman of the Chicago Board of Elections, as a public defender, and as teacher and football coach for St. Rita of Cascia High School.

“I’d like to thank Judge Evans for the opportunity to be a presiding judge and to thank all the judges I had an opportunity to work with, not only in the Fifth District, but throughout my career as judge,” said Judge Jagielski.

Judge Jagielski's retirement creates a vacancy in the 14th Subcircuit.

Saturday, July 03, 2021

Juvenile Justice Mentoring Initiative informational session set for July 21

The Juvenile Justice Mentoring Initiative aims to create mentoring relationships for young men, aged 13 to 18, who are serving probationary sentences for non-violent offenses. Male attorneys or law students willing to commit to a year-long relationship with a court-involved minor can serve as a mentor.

An informational Zoom meeting about the Initiative has been set for July 21 at noon. Registrations are required and can be made through the CBA website.

The Juvenile Justice Mentoring Initiative began in 2012. It resulted from the collaborative efforts of the Chicago Bar Association, the Cook County Bar Association, the Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois, the Lawyers Lend-a-Hand to Youth, and the Juvenile Justice Division and the Juvenile Probation Department of the Circuit Court of Cook County.

The one-year commitment is required, according to program administrators, because studies and research demonstrate that a stable mentoring relationship of one year or more is necessary for youth to reap benefits.

Mentors will be required to complete an application process, attend the orientation and follow-up training sessions, and commit to a minimum of weekly communication with their mentee and a minimum of two face-to-face contacts per month. One of the contacts would be as a part of a group outing planned and coordinated by the Initiative, often with input from the mentors and mentees.

Participating attorneys who complete the program will receive six hours of MCLE professionalism credit based upon the full-day orientation program and quarterly booster training sessions.

Illinois Judicial Council Foundation, Inc. seeks donations for 2021 Scholarship Fund

The Illinois Judicial Council Foundation, Inc., an affilliate of the Illinois Judicial Council, is looking for donations to its 2021 Scholarship Fund. This can be done by using the PayPal page linked from the IJCF website or by sending a donation directly to the IJCF, 1510 E. 55th Street, P.O. Box 15143, Chicago, Illinois 60615-2598.

The IJCF Scholarship Banquet will take place this year on August 18. Donations of $250 or more which are received on or before August 1 will be acknowledged in the Banquet Program.

The IJCF is a 501(c)(3) organization, and donations made will be tax deductible to the extent permitted by law. The IJCF will provide tax letters to donors for the year in question.

Thursday, July 01, 2021

Illinois Supreme Court appoints two to subcircuit vacancies

The Illinois Supreme Court filled two subcircuit vacancies this week.

On Monday, June 29, the Court appointed David L. Kelly to the Portman-Brown vacancy in the 5th Subcircuit. The appointment is effective July 9 and expires December 5, 2022.

According to ARDC, Kelly (pictured here) has been licensed as an attorney in Illinois since 2001 and is currently employed by the State.

Kelly was a candidate for a 5th Subcircuit vacancy in 2018 (the accompanying photo comes from his 2018 campaign website). At that time, Kelly was a solo practitioner, handling criminal defense and civil matters including real estate, family law, personal injury, and housing matters. According to his 2018 campaign bio, Kelly has served as a board member of the Cook County Bar Association and the Bronzeville Neighborhood Collaborative, volunteered at legal aid clinics, and established local block clubs. Kelly began his legal career as a Cook County Assistant State's Attorney, serving in that office for six years.

On Tuesday, June 30, the Court appointed John Wellington Wilson to the 1st Subcircuit vacancy created by the election of Judge Sharon O. Johnson to the Appellate Court.

Licensed as an attorney since 1996, according to ARDC, Wilson has been working as a Cook County Assistant Public Defender.

Wilson's appointment is effective August 13 and terminates on December 5, 2022.

Both Wilson and Kelly have previously applied for associate judgeships. Both are in the current applicant pool.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Cook County courts closed tomorrow for Juneteenth holiday

Today, President Joe Biden signed a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday. Earlier this week, Juneteenth became an Illinois state holiday and, yesterday, the Chief Judge's Office issued this statement:

The Circuit Court of Cook County will be closed on Friday to celebrate “Juneteenth,” which celebrates the emancipation of Black Americans from slavery.

Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans declared Juneteenth a court holiday on Jan. 15, 2021. It also has been declared a city and county-wide holiday, and on Wednesday, Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker made Juneteenth a state holiday.

Celebrated unofficially for decades, Juneteenth recalls June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers told former slaves in Texas that they were free. The news had come late – the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in the Confederate states had already become law on Jan. 1, 1863.

During a celebration in Daley Center plaza on Wednesday, Judge Evans noted that he has family in Texas and Arkansas who are related to the people who heard the news of emancipation from Union troops. Judge Evans said that, sadly, these people didn’t know that conditions for Black Americans would get worse before they got better. Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan eliminated the rights of Black Americans, and the battle for justice continues to this day, Judge Evans said.

“That’s why we’re here today to celebrate those who had the courage to stand up for what was right…” Judge Evans said. “The ongoing struggle to secure justice for all continues unabated. And we all, each one of us, has a role to play in that fight. Keep fighting, keep struggling, and make certain it’s celebrated not only in Cook County, but that it’s celebrated all over the state of Illinois and all over this country.”

Also speaking on the Juneteenth holiday at the Daley Center on Wednesday were Clerk of the Circuit Court Iris Martinez, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, and Cook County Commissioners Donna Miller and Stanley Moore. The St. Sabina Youth Choir performed music for the event.

The Chicago skyline will be lighted red in honor of Juneteenth Thursday through Saturday.

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For those who may be interested, the symbolism of the Juneteenth flag is explained in this article.

Chief Justice Burke: Remote court proceedings are here to stay

A few years back---before COVID-19---I had an insurance defense matter pending in McHenry County. My client was insured with an out-of-state carrier that wrote only statutory limits policies in Illinois. The carrier, being relatively new to this market, did not have any arrangements with counsel in Woodstock, but it had me, and I had a car.

When I schlepped out there for an initial status conference, I discovered that the judge handling this case had made arrangements with a company called CourtCall to permit litigants and their counsel to participate in status hearings by telephone. For a per-hearing fee, roughly comparable to the mileage charge the insurer was willing to pay, I could attend the next status hearing by phone -- and charge the insurer for only 10% of the fee that I had charged for that first hearing. I had to sign up in advance, and there was at least one subsequent hearing marred by a technical glitch, but, on balance, I felt pleased that I found a genuine savings for the carrier -- of critical import in matters with so little at stake.

Good for the insurer---if bad for me---but, then, I was never a good businessman.

No good deed goes unpunished. Later, when the carrier assigned me to a case in another outlying county (Kane, I think) that didn't have a judge who had subscribed to CourtCall, my "windshield time" aggravated the carrier more than ever because my trips to Geneva were now seen as "unnecessary." CourtCall, though a national company, was, like my insurer-client, new to the Illinois market, and not yet well-established. It was a good concept, whose time had not yet come.

Then came the Pandemic... and everything changed. Lawyers got used to Zooming in and out of hearings from their home offices, sometimes a/k/a kitchens or bedrooms. In May 2020, the Illinois Supreme Court promulgated new Rules 45 and 241. Litigants and counsel were not only permitted to attend status hearings, by phone or video, under Rule 241, litigants were also expressly permitted "to testify or otherwise participate in a civil trial or evidentiary hearing by video conferencing from a remote location." Where video links were unavailable for trial testimony, phone testimony might be permitted.

The Pandemic is officially over now, except in places where it isn't, both in the U.S. and abroad, where people won't (or can't) get vaccinated -- but never mind that now: Most of the nation, including Illinois, is making a forced march toward the New Normal.

That New Normal will include more remote hearings than were ever imagined, much less permitted, in the Old Normal. That is the directive contained in a June 14, 2021 letter from Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne M. Burke to all Illinois trial and reviewing court judges. Here's a copy of the letter:

"While the effects of the pandemic are beginning to recede," the letter reads, "remote court proceedings will not." In Chief Justice Burke's view, "courts, lawyers, and litigants have [all] significantly benefitted from remote court proceedings, and the option to appear remotely will continue as a key component in keeping our court system open and accessible."

Supreme Court Rules 45 and 241 are "permanent and enduring features of our justice system," the letter continues. "Remote court proceedings are a critical part of meeting the current and changing needs of our society, and the Supreme Court continues to encourage and support remote court appearances."

This is not just an access to justice issue, according to Chief Justice Burke. "Lawyers across the state have embraced remote court proceedings as it has allowed them to appear in multiple courts, representing multiple clients, without extensive travel." Costs are reduced where "the client pays for 20 minutes, not 3 hours or more."

This, in turn, makes legal representation more affordable -- and affordable access to lawyers is itself an access to justice issue, whether the courts want to say so or not.

Anything that reduces the costs of litigation will be a benefit to lawyers. When litigation costs are reduced more otherwise 'self-represented litigants' can become clients. Remote hearings should help.

And, as long as the Supreme Court is on a roll, could it next take up the issue of zero-based discovery? Please?

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Chief Judge's Office forms "committee of criminal justice stakeholders" as criminal courts more fully reopen

Another announcement from the Chief Judge's Office, this one released yesterday:

In order to respond to the rights of defendants covered by the U.S. and Illinois Constitutions and the Illinois Speedy Trial Act, Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans announced Monday that he had formed a committee of criminal justice stakeholders and other related groups to determine how to safely and expeditiously accelerate the reopening of criminal courts to in-person proceedings, including increasing the capacity for bench and jury trials.

Under the Illinois Speedy Trial Act, a defendant who has been taken into custody must be tried within 120 days. If a defendant is released on bond, he or she must be tried within 160 days after filing a written demand for a trial.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Illinois Supreme Court tolled (suspended) the Speedy Trial Act for cases in Illinois courts, which means that state courts did not have to comply with this deadline while the pandemic limited the ability to hold in-person court proceedings. With vaccinations causing the threat of the coronavirus to recede, the Illinois Supreme Court is discussing with local stakeholders how to safely reopen state trial courts.

“What we’re trying to do is prepare for the removal of the tolling of the speedy trial statute so that the constitutional and statutory rights of defendants can be protected,” Judge Evans said. “To do this, we have established a broad-based committee of criminal justice stakeholders and other related groups to make sure we can do this as safely and expeditiously as we can.”

These criminal justice stakeholders include the Cook County State’s Attorney, the Cook County Public Defender, the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Cook County Sheriff, and all the presiding judges who handle criminal matters, along with members of the private bar. The Circuit Court of Cook County has continuously met with health officials throughout the past 15 months to determine how to keep participants in the justice system safe and prevent the further spread of the coronavirus.

It should be noted that while in-person proceedings have been limited, the courts never really closed, and the administration of justice -- including hearings, bench trials, guilty pleas, findings of innocence and dismissal of cases -- have continued throughout the past 15 months.

Between the beginning of April 2020 and the end of May 2021, about 128,000 criminal cases have been disposed in the Cook County Circuit Court, which has included nearly 13,000 guilty pleas, more than 1,000 bench trials, 27 jury trials and nearly 114,000 other dispositions, including cases being dismissed.

The reintroduction of criminal jury trials, starting on March 22, has increased the pace of resolving felony criminal cases, and the imminent end of both social distancing requirements and the tolling of speedy trial requirements will further increase this pace.

Among the most important reasons the courts of this country exist is to provide justice for both the victims of crime and the accused. The courts have been open and resolving these matters. It is disingenuous for anyone to say that the courts have been closed.

The Circuit Court will have more information regarding further reopening of civil and criminal courts to in-person proceedings in the coming weeks.

Law Division expands arbitration program to include personal injury cases

Announcement issued by the Chief Judge's Office this past Friday:

The Cook County Circuit Court has expanded a mandatory arbitration program to include hundreds of personal injury cases, which is expected to cut both costs and delays, Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans announced on Friday.

“This will eliminate delays and aid in the prompt administration of justice in these cases, allowing them to be disposed of more efficiently while reducing costs for litigants,” said Judge Evans. “Disposing of cases through this program will also free up valuable court time for more complex matters.”

The new program will be used for cases with an estimated worth of between $30,000 to $50,000, though higher-value cases can qualify at a judge’s discretion, according to the Hon. Thomas Mulroy, who supervises the Law Division mandatory arbitration program. Auto crash cases will be the most common type of dispute referred to the program.

If a judge refers a case for mandatory arbitration, the parties will have four months to complete discovery. The parties will then appear before an arbitrator who has expertise in the specific field of law involved.

A litigant who is unsatisfied with the arbitrator’s decision may reject it, for a fee of $750. The fee goes to the State of Illinois, which funds arbitration programs across the state. If the litigant who rejected the arbitration decision then goes to trial and loses, that litigant must pay the other side’s attorney fees for the work on the arbitration.

“Our hope is that the fee-shifting provision will increase the number of cases in which the arbitration decision is accepted,” Judge Mulroy said.

In 2015, the Cook County Circuit Court instituted a similar arbitration program for commercial cases of up to $75,000 in value, or more at a judge’s discretion. Commercial cases include employment disputes, interference with business relationships and breach of contract cases. About 300 cases annually go to arbitration under this program.

The fee-shifting provision for commercial cases has led to a low rate of rejection for arbitrator decisions, said Judge Mulroy. More than half of all cases that are referred to arbitration settle before the hearing, which contributes to the program’s success, Judge Mulroy said.

“The longer a case goes on, the more it costs,” said Judge Mulroy. “People want their cases heard – they don’t want to wait for years. This is really a vehicle to get the parties together to start talking settlement. Nothing focuses the mind for lawyers like a trial date -- or an arbitration hearing date.”

As many as 2,000 personal injury cases a year could be referred to the new arbitration program. The most common type of case which would qualify is auto crash litigation, which represents 9,400 of the 24,000 cases pending in the Law Division, or almost 40%. Cases involving asbestos, construction, medical malpractice, nursing home and product liability case are not eligible for the program, unless the parties agree to arbitration.

Circuit Court judges adopted the personal injury mandatory arbitration program earlier this spring, and a training program for lawyers interested in being arbitrators will be held on July 22. Lawyers can contact Arbitration Administrator Kimberly O’Brien at (312) 793-0125 or at Kobrien@illinoiscourts.gov for more information.

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Supreme Court issues updated order on judicial resignations

Yesterday, the Illinois Supreme Court issued an Order modifying the procedure that judges must follow when resigning from judicial office. That's a link to the Order in the preceding sentence; here is an image:

The changes do not appear particularly substantive, at least to my untrained eye. A requirement has been added that the resigning judge specify the date and time when the resignation will be effective. And, while copies were always required to be sent in various directions, yesterday's Order now specifies that the resignation letter must state that the required copies were sent.

But now, judicial wannabes, you see what a full-service site this is: Not only can you use FWIW to help get on the bench, you can also use this site to help you off the bench as well.

For sitting judges, may I add this suggestion for the distribution list of your resignation letter, whenever that time may come? Send a copy my way, too.

Why? Well, as of this morning, for what it's worth, the "Judicial Vacancies" page on the new Supreme Court website is still blank.

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Lawyers' Assistance Program Fundamentals and Foundations training event set for June 25

The Illinois Lawyers' Assistance Program has announced a Foundations and Fundamentals training event to be held virtually on Friday, June 25, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

LAP says the program "will cover the core foundations of LAP and emerging from post-COVID isolation: clinical well-being education, services, and involvement," all in a single three hour, three Illinois mental health/professional responsibility course.

The program will include the following:

  • Recognizing Impairment Issues Post COVID-19
    Dr. Diana Uchiyama, LAP Executive Director

  • Stages of Change
    Dr. Diana Uchiyama, LAP Executive Director

  • Recognizing Substance Use Disorders & Compulsive Behaviors
    Tony Pacione, LAP Deputy Director & Joe Scally, LAP Clinical Director

  • Adapting & Developing Resiliency Skills in the 'New' Normal
    Dr. Diana Uchiyama, Tony Pacione, & Joe Scally

Tickets for the presentation are available at this link and cost $75.

Don't read too much into this, but the Supreme Court has already issued an order "pausing" the implementation of the new Judicial Redistricting Act

In an Order entered yesterday, the Illinoia Supreme Court ordered all appeals and other matters shall "continue to be filed in the judicial districts as they existed on June 3, 2021, until further order of the Court."

The June 3 date is specified because it is day before the June 4 effective date of P.A. 102-011, the act that redraws the State's four judicial districts outside of Cook County. The press release issued by the Supreme Court with yesterday's Order maintains the polite fiction that P.A. 102-011 changes "the judicial district boundaries for the first time since they were established in 1964."

FWIW readers know that this is not quite so. As the linked article explains, the General Assembly tried to redraw the appellate districts in 1997, but that attempt was struck down as unconstitutional in Cincinnati Insurance Co. v. Chapman, 181 Ill.2d 65 (1998). (Section 50 of P.A. 102-011 expressly provides, "The Judicial Redistricting Act of 1997 (which has been held unconstitutional) is repealed.")

Yesterday's Order does not mean that P.A. 102-011 is in any sort of constitutional jeopardy.

It probably does mean, however, that, in their zeal to craft four new appellate districts which would enhance the chances for the election of a fourth Democratic member of the Supreme Court in 2022, the Republicans weren't the only ones with whom the Democratic map-makers failed to consult. The cartographers almost certainly also did not consult with the Clerks of the various Circuit and Appellate Courts in the many affected counties or with those practicing there. You, Dear Reader, many not see this as a particularly troublesome issue -- but if you were, say, an attorney in Wheaton, looking to appeal a judgment from the 18th Judicial Circuit entered 29 days ago, this order comes as a blessed relief.

Friday, June 04, 2021

SB0072 signed into law: This bill really does introduce prejudgment interest in Illinois

Back in January, after the 101st General Assembly concluded its business in the traditional, confusing whirlwind (confusing, at least, to those not "in the know," namely, everyone not in the General Assembly and probably most of those in the General Assembly as well), I did a couple of posts documenting the strange, and very sudden, journey of HB3360, which spent most of its existence as a modest little bill amending two sections of the Mortgage Foreclosure Article of the Code of Civil Procedure only to metamorphose, in the course of the last 48 hours of the 101st General Assembly, into a bill allowing prejudgment interest in Illinois tort cases. My two posts on the subject, "Illinois adopts prejudgment interest in tort cases: Part 1 -- A look at the process" and "Illinois adopts prejudgment interest in tort cases: Part 2 -- a look at the statutory language," turned out to suffer from a fatal flaw, namely, an assumption that a bill passed by overwhelming Democratic majorities in both houses would be promptly signed into law by the Democratic Governor.

As it turned out, my seemingly safe assumption was anything but: Gov. Pritzker vetoed HB3360. Shame on me for not noticing sooner.

Indeed, I don't know when I might have noticed but for my stumbling across this May 28 post from the indespensable Rich Miller, "Pritzker signs renegotiated trial lawyers bill." (Mr. Miller's comment on the timing of this news: "Late Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend while the rest of the news media is focused on the remap. Not buried at all /s…")(your kids can tell you what "/s" means, if necessary).

This bill, SB0072, was merely signed in the chaos of the concluding moments of the Spring Session; as reference to the legislative history shows, it had been sent to the Governor on April 1.

But do not despair, cynical citizens. This bill, too, had its share of Springfield shenanigans. It started off life as a bill to create an Electronic Wills and Remote Witnesses Act and amending the Electronic Commerce Security Act to conform. Filed on January 29, it breezed through the Senate unanimously on March 10. I will leave it to probate practitioners to speculate whether this might have been a good or necessary proposal, but it seems, if only by the title, to have been an appropriate subject for legislation, given our recent isolation.

It doesn't matter, of course, because the text of the bill was jettisoned in the House. On March 16 and March 18 "amendments" were filed to the bill, one in case the Governor signed HB3360, the other not mentioning HB3360 at all. There were substantive differences between the two, but it really doesn't matter, does it? In short order, on March 18, the House opted for option 2. On March 25, the day of Gov. Pritzker's veto of HB3360, the Senate concurred in option no. 2. Can you say "done deal"?

So SB0072 now becomes P.A. 102-006.

The new Act adds a new subsction (c) to §2-1303 of the Code of Civil Procedure. Effective July 1, §2-1303(c) will provide:

 (c) In all actions brought to recover damages for personal injury or wrongful death resulting from or occasioned by the conduct of any other person or entity, whether by negligence, willful and wanton misconduct, intentional conduct, or strict liability of the other person or entity, the plaintiff shall recover prejudgment interest on all damages, except punitive damages, sanctions, statutory attorney's fees, and statutory costs, set forth in the judgment. Prejudgment interest shall begin to accrue on the date the action is filed. If the plaintiff voluntarily dismisses the action and refiles, the accrual of prejudgment interest shall be tolled from the date the action is voluntarily dismissed to the date the action is refiled. In entering judgment for the plaintiff in the action, the court shall add to the amount of the judgment interest calculated at the rate of 6% per annum on the amount of the judgment, minus punitive damages, sanctions, statutory attorney's fees, and statutory costs. If the judgment is greater than the amount of the highest written settlement offer made by the defendant within 12 months after the later of the effective date of this amendatory Act of the 102nd General Assembly or the filing of the action and not accepted by the plaintiff within 90 days after the date of the offer or rejected by the plaintiff, interest added to the amount of judgment shall be an amount equal to interest calculated at the rate of 6% per annum on the difference between the amount of the judgment, minus punitive damages, sanctions, statutory attorney's fees, and statutory costs, and the amount of the highest written settlement offer. If the judgment is equal to or less than the amount of the highest written settlement offer made by the defendant within 12 months after the later of the effective date of this amendatory Act of the 102nd General Assembly or the filing of the action and not accepted by the plaintiff within 90 days after the date of the offer or rejected by the plaintiff, no prejudgment interest shall be added to the amount of the judgment. For the purposes of this subsection, withdrawal of a settlement offer by defendant shall not be considered a rejection of the offer by the plaintiff. Notwithstanding any other provision of this subsection, prejudgment interest shall accrue for no longer than 5 years.
  Notwithstanding any other provision of law, neither the State, a unit of local government, a school district, community college district, nor any other governmental entity is liable to pay prejudgment interest in an action brought directly or vicariously against it by the injured party.
  For any personal injury or wrongful death occurring before the effective date of this amendatory Act of the 102nd General Assembly, the prejudgment interest shall begin to accrue on the later of the date the action is filed or the effective date of this amendatory Act of the 102nd General Assembly.

Illinois now has an "offer of judgment" procedure, at least as a way around prejudgment interest. But timing is limited: Settlement offers must be made within one year of filing (or within one year of the July 1 effective date of this new statute) and not accepted within 90 days thereafter. Of course, if they are accepted, there's no problem... right? But I believe this provision has been included to prevent any "pocket veto" of a settlement offer; no outright rejection is required before the settlement offer "counts" for purposes of §2-1303(c). And if the ultimate verdict is lower than the highest timely settlement offer, there is no prejudgment interest. And prejudgment interest interest accrues only on the difference between the highest timely settlement offer and the ultimate verdict.

Where it applies, prejudgment interest will be assessed at a rate of 6%.

No matter how long a case pends, there is a five year limit on prejudgment interest.

When a case is voluntarily dismissed, prejudgment interest stops accruing. It starts up only when the case is refiled.

Schools and other units of local government are exempt from prejudgment interest.

In January I made a prediction that I think still makes sense. To wit, there are probably two categories of tort cases where the new amendments to §2-1303 are most likely to increase settlements or judgments, and they are typically viewed as being at the opposite ends of the litigation food chain: medical malpractice cases and soft tissue auto accident cases where a substandard carrier insures the defendant. These are not coinicidentally the two most common types of tort cases to go to trial. In soft tissue cases with substandad carriers, the prospect of prejudment interest may prompt some behavior modification -- the low-ball final settlement offer will have to come sooner, or be made in a few more cases. But substandard carriers and med mal carriers take their very different types of cases to trial for the same reason: They generally do pretty well. There's no interest to pay on a defense trial verdict.

The Law of Unintended Consequences strikes again: Updating links

The Supreme Court updated its website this week, with splashy new colors, increased functionality, user-friendliness, mobile-compatibility and so on and so on.

All good, right?

Not so great, actually, for FWIW. Every link to every post-2011 public domain Illinois case citation changed when the new website launched. Every case citation I've linked to here... no longer worked. I ascribe this to the Law of Unintended Consequences, not to any conspiracy, vast or otherwise, or animus on the part of the Supreme Court or any court personnel. But it's still a pain in the neck to go back and fix links.

I've tried to do that this morning, and I've gone back through a few years of posts in search of newly-bad links. I'm sure I've missed some. I'm equally sure that you, Dear Reader, will enlighten me as to any I have failed to correct that you may happen across.

I'd have settled for a little less mega in the mega-menu if the links could have stayed the same.... Sigh.

Thursday, June 03, 2021

Shell game in Springfield: A shell bill transforms into a proposal to put polling places in all county jails and then mutates (twice more) into a bill moving the primary from March to June

And so much more besides....

What follows, gentle readers, is the full text of SB825 as introduced on February 25, 2021 by Senate President Don Harmon. I include this as an image, lest I be accused of exaggerating.

This landmark legislative proposal was duly referred to committee, passed out of committee, and thereafter sailed through its First and Second Readings in the Senate.

And yet some say our legislature is ineffective!

The day after this historic bill was scheduled for its Third Reading in the Senate, on April 14, an "amendment" was offered. This "amendment" purported to replace everything after the enacting clause (all that careful draftsmanship gone to waste!) with an amendment to amend §19A-20 of the Election Code to allow county sheriffs outside of Cook County to establish temporary branch polling places in their county jails. (Section 19A-20 had previously allowed this to be done at the Cook County Jail.) A subsequent amendment was offered in the Senate on April 21 providing an effective date for this statutory amendment, but let us not get too bogged down in the legislative minutiae at this point, especially because none of it matters.

Suffice to say that SB825, now a substantive piece of legislation, albeit only three pages long, zoomed through the Executive Committee on April 21, arriving back on the Senate floor on April 22 where the "amendments" were adopted and the bill passed, arriving in the House and receiving its First Reading on April 23.

The bill was assigned to the House Ethics & Elections Committee on May 4; it was approved by that committee on May 11 and, on May 25, received its Second Reading.

Then, on May 30, the penultimate day of the legislative session, an "amendment" was filed in the House, once again deleting everything after the enacting clause, and adding 156 pages of stuff. Tucked away in there were provisions needed to move the March primary into June. This was the big story. The rumor that this was in the works had been circulating for some days. After the rumor appeared in Politico Illinois Playbook, I even reported it here (on May 28). Capitol Fax linked to this first House "amendment" in a May 31 post.

But the dough had only begun to rise. On May 31, just this past Monday, the very last day of the session, the 156 page House Amendment No. 1 was withdrawn and a new House Amendment No. 2 was substituted in its stead. This "amendment" also deleted everything after the enacting clause and added 447 pages of stuff.

Now, I ask you -- even if you support everything in these 447 pages -- and how could you know what was in there -- not even Evelyn Wood could plow through all that text in the few minutes legislators had to consider it, along with all the other things foisted on the General Assembly in its closing hours -- is this any way to run a government?

Anyway, yes, SB825, as ultimately amended (the Senate promptly concurring in the bill as amended) also moves the March primary to June 28. That did not take 447 pages. So what else does SB825 purport to do? SB825 also:

  • Requires election authorities to use ".gov" website addresses and take steps to insure the integrity of those websites;

  • Requires the ISBE to prepare a one-page document explaining the voter registration process to high school students and requires high schools to provide this document to students;

  • Prohibits high schools from prohibiting nonpartisan voter registration activities on school grounds;

  • Requires the ISBE to provide guidance to local election authorities about ballot tracking procedures and related terminology and summarizing requirements for voting, curbside voting, early voting, and vote by mail;

  • Sets January 13, 2022 as the start date for circulating petitions for the new June primary;

  • Specifies signature requirements for 2022 only -- and, if I'm reading this correctly, reducing the expected judicial signature requirement by one-third (but, please, consult your election lawyer on this---I am not an election lawyer and I am not giving legal advice here);

  • Permits vote by mail ballots to be requested between March 30 and June 23;

  • Creates a petition filing period of March 7 to March 14;

  • Sets an April 28 deadline for write-in candidates in the primary election;

  • Provides for early voting to begin on May 19;

  • Requires vote centers to be set up for the 2022 elections "at an office of the election authority or in the larges municipality within its jurisdiction" where voters can vote on election day regardless of the precinct in which they are registered;

  • Repeals all of these special dates and requirements, including the many I did not mention, as of January 1, 2023;

  • Makes Election Day -- November 8, 2022 -- a state holiday, but only for 2022;

  • Provides that aldermen in Chicago and statewide will now be referred to as "alderpersons";

  • Provides generally for gender-neutral language in the Election Code, deleting references to "males" and "females," referring to "committeepersons" instead of committeemen, and so forth;

  • Changes the rules regarding the use of motor vehicles by political committees;

  • Changes rules regarding the random audit of certain political committees;

  • Adds a new section on curbside voting;

  • Allows voters to join a list of permanent vote by mail status voters and specifies a procedure to be followed in this regard;

  • Requires election authorities to notify qualified voters of the option to vote by mail and apply for permanent vote by mail status;

  • Allows inmates in county jails outside Cook County to vote in temporary branch polling places within the jailhouse (the one-time full extent of SB825... remember?)

  • Specifies public notices to be given when a vacancy occurs in the office of State Senator or Representative in the General Assembly;

  • Specifically provides for members of the General Assemby to also seek election to any unit of local government (allowing St. Rep. Thaddeus Jones to run for reelection as Mayor of Calument City when his present term expires, and if he so chooses), and prohibiting any further moves by municipalities to prevent this;

  • Extending the reapportionment deadline for county boards outside Cook County to December 31 and to develop or revisit any reapportionment decisions made this year in November, after actual Census data becomes available; and

  • Making convicted felons eligible for municipal office after receiving a restoration of rights from the Governor (effectively reversing a recent decision of the Illinois Appellate Court which would have barred Markham Mayor Roger A. Agpawa from office);

That's not an exhaustive list; I'm merely exhausted. Also, the change to §7-10.2 of the Election Code, pertaining to name changes, probably deserves its own post, given the importance of that statute in a number of recent judicial elections. And I apologize in advance for any errors of omission or comission in the foregoing summary.

Anyway, SB825 now awaits the Governor's signature which, presumably, will be forthcoming. Mind you, presumption and reality sometimes differ -- but that's a story for a different day.