Friday, December 31, 2010

Links to 41st Ward Aldermanic candidate sites

Updated January 5, 2011
Updated January 22, 2011

How are aldermanic candidates trying to get their messages across in Chicago's 41st Ward? I made a survey this morning of the various places on the Internet where candidate information could be found. If this is incomplete, it is solely because of my inadequate computer skills and not because of any intentional omission or intended slight.

I will be pleased to update this as candidates add new sites. Send me an email (there's a link from the Sidebar) or leave a comment.

Candidates are listed in ballot order as per the Chicago Board of Elections.

Thomas Patrick Murphey
Thomas Patrick Murphey for 41st Ward Alderman (Facebook page)

Daniel T. Lapinski
Daniel T Lapinski for 41st Ward Alderman (Facebook page)

James J. Schamne
James J. Schamne for 41st Ward Alderman (Facebook page)

John Joseph Quinn
John Quinn for Alderman (web site)
Vote John Quinn 41st Alderman (Facebook page)
VoteJohnQuinn (Twitter feed)

Mary O'Connor
Mary E. O'Connor for 41st Ward Alderman (web site)
Mary E. O'Connor for Alderman (Facebook page)
YouTube videos.

Richard Gonzalez
Richard Gonzalez for Alderman - 41st Ward (Facebook page)
Richard Gonzalez Alderman 41st Ward (web site)

Maurita E. Gavin
41st Ward for Maurita Gavin (Facebook page)
Maurita E. Gavin for Alderman 41st Ward (web site)
YouTube Video here

George Banna
I was unable to find any dedicated campaign sites.

Barbara Ateca
Friends of Barbara Ateca (Facebook page)

Jim Mullen
Jim Mullen for Alderman (Facebook page)
Jim Mullen 41st Ward Alderman (web site)

Brock Merck
Mr. Merck has asked that I post this website link and personal Facebook page. He also has posted videos on YouTube. Here is a representative example.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Happy Meals suit presents choking hazard for some observers

The blawg Popehat was one of many outlets to cover a story a couple of weeks ago about a California mother who is suing McDonald's to ban toys in Happy Meals. The gist of the mother's claim is that her daughters (ages 6 and 2) harass her on a daily basis to buy them Happy Meals. This, she alleges, makes her decidedly unhappy -- and has caused her emotional distress to boot.

The California plaintiff, Monat Parham-Lee, purports to represent a class of unhappy mothers. She is represented in her suit, according to the Popehat post, "by attorneys affiliated with" the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an organization dedicated to 'transforming the American diet.' And, Popehat advises, the California plaintiff is also employed by the "'Cancer Prevention and Nutrition Section' of the California Department of Public Health" and is "tasked, professionally, by the State of California with ensuring that Californians eat their vegetables. The power that the State of California grants Monet Parham-Lee evidently is not enough. Monet Parham-Lee is taking the law into her own hands, to ensure that not only her own children eat their vegetables, but that everyone else is forced to make their children eat vegetables."

Parham-Lee tells the press that she has said "no" when her kids request more frequent visits to the Golden Arches, but that the demands continue. Popehat suggests that Parham-Lee should continue to just say no.

I would add that, if Ronald McDonald seems, in her judgment, to exert too great an influence over her impressionable children, Ms. Parham-Lee might limit how much TV the kids watch. When household necessity requires that the offspring be situated in front of the one-eyed monster, perhaps a DVD could be substituted for the 100th rerun of "SpongeBob SquarePants." Ms. Parham-Lee might consider something from the "Veggie Tales" series appropriate.

Changing the channel to avoid unwelcome marketing pitches seems a more appropriate response than presuming to file a class action suit.


Related: McDonald's suit over Happy Meal toys by California mom Monet Parham new low in responsible parenting (Op-Ed piece in the December 15 New York Daily News by Walter Olson of See also, Happy Meal lawsuit, cont'd, a December 17 post on

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Looking into the numbers about doctors leaving Illinois

In a recent post about the ATRA "Judicial Hellholes" report, I mentioned that the report contained some claims about the impact of Lebron v. Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, 237 Ill.2d 217, 930 N.E.2d 895 (2010). Specifically, ATRA claims (p. 11):
This ruling invites, once again, an increase in medical claims, along with the higher insurance premiums for doctors that such cases precipitate. In fact, a study conducted in the wake of the high court’s decision to strike down limits on noneconomic damages calculated the impact to be an immediate 18% jump in physician medical malpractice insurance premiums. Over time, and depending on the volume of claims and award amounts, this number may grow much higher.

Ultimately, such increases in the level of new litigation and insurance premiums will affect residents’ access to affordable health care as physicians scale back practices, particularly in high risk areas, or opt to move their practices to states with reasonable limits on liability. A recent survey found that half of Illinois medical students plan to practice in other states. As reported by the Chicago Sun-Times, 7 out of 10 of those choosing to practice elsewhere cited the state’s anti-doctor liability climate as a factor in their decision.
It may not be possible for a mere blogger to investigate the reasons underlying increases in medical malpractice premiums or even to verify the extent of any increases that have taken place.

However, it was widely reported that many Illinois medical students plan to practice somewhere other than Illinois. Carolyne Krupa's December 3 article for cited a recent study by the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine as the source of these statistics. It occurred to me that some other statistics in 2010 Illinois New Physician Workforce Study might provide some context and, perhaps, some insight into these figures.

As reported, the Northwestern study did find that, of medical students planning to practice outside of Illinois, some 67.6% did state that the medical liability environment was either a "very important" or an "extremely important" factor in reaching their decisions about where to practice (Table 8, p. 22). But is a perception that Illinois provides a 'hostile' medical liability environment really driving prospective physicians away from Illinois? Table 6 (p. 20) provides some food for thought:

(Click to enlarge.)

More than a quarter of the study respondents came to Illinois medical schools fully intending to leave as soon as they finished their studies. Only 9.3% of the respondents said they had planned to remain in Illinois at one time but have since changed their minds. Interestingly, fully one in five respondents said they could not find an acceptable job in Illinois.

Although the study notes (p. 8) that "[p]hysician supply is a top strategic priority for healthcare organizations," and cites "projections that physician shortages will reach crisis proportions in some places in the United States if something is not done to reverse the downward trend," the study also recognizes that there is, at least, a perception among study respondents that the Chicago and Cook County markets are saturated (p. 37): "[S]everal of the respondents noted that the high number of physicians in Cook County and Chicago impeded their abilities to find a position they desired, and lowered their potential compensation." (And respondents reported that doctors leaving Illinois are receiving higher salaries than those who are staying. See, Table 44, p. 48.)

A 'hostile' medical liability environment was not the only reason cited by young doctors for leaving Illinois (pp. 15-16):
Many of the respondents indicated they plan to leave Illinois to return to a home state or to be near family or friends. However, malpractice insurance rate concerns were mentioned repeatedly as a reason to practice outside of Illinois. Respondents emphasized extreme displeasure regarding the costs of employment in their fields in Illinois. Specific reasons for practicing elsewhere included the high costs for medical malpractice insurance, but also included what they perceived to be oversaturation of the Chicago market, low salaries in relation to the high cost of living and insurance rates, and intense demand from employers regarding work hours and productivity. Funding structures are another concern of new physicians. Some indicated discouragement with the pay structure of Illinois’ Medicaid program.
Other factors that influenced study respondents to set up shop outside Illinois included (p. 23):
Lower cost of living, higher reimbursement for physicians, lower income taxes, better compensation elsewhere, a more physician friendly environment, better opportunities for foreigners, cultural issues, research opportunities, and easier licensing restrictions are all factors that weigh in on respondents’ choice of location for practice. A few indicated that specifically Chicago and Illinois politics are driving them out of the state. Others said they wished to be able to practice medicine in an environment where the physicians are not practicing defensive medicine.
One of the more interesting facts that emerges from the Northwestern study is that most Illinois medical students aren't from Illinois in the first place. According to the Northwestern study (Table 3, p. 17), only 36.9% of Illinois medical students graduated from an Illinois high school. Of these Illinois 'natives,' 74.4% plan to remain in Illinois to practice. Meanwhile, 36.8% of medical students who went to high school outside of Illinois plan not to return to their places of origin. In other words, Illinois keeps three of four Illinois kids who stay in-state for medical school, but only one of three kids who come to Illinois from somewhere else.

If we're interested in keeping more Illinois medical graduates in Illinois, one logical response to this information might be to recruit more Illinois natives to our medical schools.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Laura Cha-yu Liu appointed to 8th Subcircuit vacancy

Laura Cha-yu Liu will be sworn in today as a Cook County Circuit Court judge. The Illinois Supreme Court appointed to an 8th Subcircuit vacancy in an order entered Tuesday. The appointment terminates December 3, 2012.

At the time of her appointment, Liu was a partner in the firm of Hogan Maren, Ltd. An Illinois attorney since 1991, Liu is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati Law School. Her undergraduate degree, in "combined science" was conferred by Youngstown State University.

According to her firm biography, Liu routinely handled "claims involving contract disputes, business and personal torts, federal civil rights, employment discrimination and retaliatory discharge, insurance coverage, and labor relations and collective bargaining. She also served as a Special Assistant Attorney General in a First Amendment lawsuit seeking an injunction to legislation involving regulation of video games in Illinois."

Also per the Hogan Maren biography, Liu "has extensive experience in assisting healthcare providers with managed care contracting, federal false claims and whistleblower litigation, civil antitrust claims and investigations, and Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement." Liu is a member of the Illinois Association of Healthcare Attorneys, and an Associate Member of the Illinois Association of Park Districts and the Township Officials of Illinois. She was a member of the 2008 National Democratic Convention Rules Committee. Her bar association memberships include the Chicago Bar Association, the Asian American Bar Association, and the Women's Bar Association of Illinois.

Cook County a "Judicial Hellhole"? Looking into the claims

The American Tort Reform Association has released its annual list of Judicial Hellholes and, once again, Cook County is prominently featured.

The catchy name and scary graphics almost guarantee press coverage and strong reaction. The report hasn't made a big splash in the Chicago papers as of yet, but then again, the report was just released this week. The Daily Herald noted the pending release of the "Judicial Hellholes" report this week with a story, by Ted Cox, quoting Thomas Demetrio (speaking "only partially tongue in cheek") as saying that ATRA's poor ranking of our local courts should be viewed as a "badge of honor."

Actually, Cook County's rating slipped a little in the current report. In ATRA's 2009 ratings, Cook County was the third worst jurisdiction in the country. This year, we were no better, or worse, than fifth.

ATRA blames judges for making jurisdictions into "hellholes." According to this year's report (p. 26), "Judicial Hellhole judges... may favor local plaintiffs’ lawyers and their clients over defendant corporations. Some, in remarkable moments of candor, have admitted their biases. More often, judges may, with the best of intentions, make rulings for the sake of expediency or efficiency that have the effect of depriving a party of its right to a proper defense."

The report goes on to cite some "tricks of the trade" of "Judicial Hellhole" jurists (pp. 27-28), but the report makes no claims as to the extent to which these practices are inflicted on Cook County litigants. Instead, in its description of why Cook County again makes the list (we've been a "Judicial Hellhole, now, since 2005), ATRA cites the following (pp. 10-11):
  • Cook County has "consistently hosted nearly two thirds of the state’s litigation, while serving as home to just over 40% of its population – a proportion that has gradually grown more lopsided over the past 15 years"
The ATRA folks suggest an image of greedy tort lawyers are descending on Chicago from all over the country, plotting to take unfair advantage of our biased courts and generous juries. But the Cook County court system handles a lot of cases -- and most of them are decidedly not tort cases. Collection cases make up a huge percentage of the county docket -- at least a dozen collection cases are filed for each tort case (and medical malpractice and product liability claims make up only a small percentage of the tort cases filed in this or any other American jurisdiction). A lot of the collection cases filed here are tied to one of our larger industries, namely the commodities business. Cook County is often the venue of choice for commodity firms. Persons living from Maine or California routinely consent to be sued in Chicago if they fail to meet a margin call and a deficit remains when their trading accounts are liquidated. Readers are invited to supply other examples in the Comments. But it is neither surprising nor sinister that there would be disproportionately more litigation in a world class financial center, such as Chicago, relative to the rest of the state.
  • In February the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed "a Cook County judge’s ruling that struck down a 2005 law limiting subjective pain and suffering damages in medical liability cases."
The reference is to Lebron v. Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, 237 Ill.2d 217, 930 N.E.2d 895 (2010). In this case, the court struck down "caps" on medical malpractice verdicts. This was the third time that the Illinois Supreme Court has invalidated an effort to put "caps" on malpractice verdicts. In other words, the court followed its settled precedent. It's usually the failure to adhere to stare decisis that gets the business groups up in arms about the judiciary.

The report makes some additional claims about the likely effect of Lebron that will be addressed in a future post.
  • "Elsewhere in the county, the litigation engine rolled on as usual with numerous questionable claims and awards, as in previous years." Three examples are provided:
  1. Suit was filed against a Cook County McDonald’s in August 2010, alleging that her hot chocolate was too hot. But no award has been made. The new suit was still pending when the report went to press.
  2. A woman is suing an Ohio vacuum cleaner manufacturer for $200,000 because it sucked hair off the back of her hand. Again, however, the report does not suggest that the suit has succeeded, only that it has been filed.
  3. A factory worker received a $30.4 million verdict in a "popcorn lung" suit alleging "that exposure to an ingredient used in the making of butter-flavored microwave popcorn can cause injury to the lungs."
This last citation sent me into Westlaw, looking for newspaper coverage of the verdict. Sure enough, both the Tribune and the Sun-Times covered the trial of Gerardo Solis, a South Elgin factory worker. According to the September 5, 2010 Tribune article, by Brian Slodysko and Erika Slife, Solis had "worked for various popcorn and popcorn-flavoring plants in the Chicago area since 1987. Over time, Solis, a father of three, developed bronchiolitis obliterans, a rare respiratory disease that has destroyed 75 percent of his lungs, leaving him with the minimum lung capacity a person needs to live. Fireworks displays or second-hand smoke can send Solis into brutal coughing fits, which can cause him to pass out." The damage was allegedly caused by exposure to the chemical diacetyl. Eventually, according to his attorney, Solis will need a lung transplant. (Maureen O'Donnell's September 6 article in the Sun-Times said that Solis is "awaiting" a lung transplant.)

The articles make clear that Solis sued 15 companies and one trade organization and that every single defendant except BASF settled out before trial. The amounts of the settlements were not disclosed.

At trial, according to O'Donnell's article, Solis put on evidence that, back in 1993, BASF's German parent, did a "study on rats that showed diacetyl caused lung damage but did not disclose the findings."

According to the Tribune article, "diacetyl is a naturally occurring compound that gives [microwave popcorn] butter its flavor. Studies have shown that the heated vapors of the chemical diacetyl lead to a breakdown of the airway branches deep in the lungs. The lung scarring is irreversible and can be fatal. " California and the Federal Drug Administration are considering a ban on the chemical and OSHA is considering rules limiting worker exposure to the chemical, although no bans or rules have yet been promulgated.

The Sun-Times noted that BASF was planning an appeal from the verdict.

The ATRA report concludes its review of Cook County (p. 11) by charging that such "rampant abuse of the civil justice system" comes with costs, citing, as an example, that Cook County spent $54 million on litigation involving just the county and its various agencies an amount that "dwarfs counties of similar size in the state and beyond." Actually, there are no counties of 'similar size' in Illinois, and few in the nation -- but it may well be that there may be other reasons, such as pinstripe patronage, that explain the high price tag -- not necessarily (or not exclusively) "the county’s 'infamously plaintiff-friendly courts.'"

Nor is ATRA optimistic about the future of the Cook County court system (p. 11): "[A]mazingly enough, Cook County voters and taxpayers also seem content with the status quo. Though several neutral legal groups deemed four circuit court judges unqualified for the bench, all were narrowly retained by voters in November 2010 elections."

For more background about the American Tort Reform Association, please turn to page two.