Friday, May 31, 2013

Death of a Downstate judge, downfall of another

Joseph D. Christ was serving as an Assistant State's Attorney in far Downstate St. Clair County when the judges of the 20th Judicial Circuit elected him as an associate judge this past February.

Ten days after he was sworn in, Judge Christ was dead.

At first, the death of the 49-year old, married father of six was attributed to natural causes. That's what Marlon A. Walker reported in the March 12 editions of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Walker wrote that Christ died on a duck-hunting trip with friends.

More specifically, he died in a Pike County hunting lodge owned by fellow Judge Michael N. Cook.

And then, as Robert Patrick reported for the Post-Dispatch, the Pike County Sheriff (who doubles as Pike County Coroner) found cocaine underneath Judge Christ's body. Toxicology reports suggested the presence of both cocaine and alcohol and authorities are now convinced that Christ died of a drug overdoes.

Judge Cook was only other person in the hunting lodge when Christ died and Cook was arrested on federal drug charges on May 22. But these charges are not related to the death of Judge Christ.

Beth Hundsdorfer of the Bellville News-Democrat wrote in a May 27 story published on the Post-Dispatch website that Cook appeared for an initial hearing before the federal magistrate last Friday "wearing cut-offs, a 'Bad is my middle name' T-shirt and shackles as he was arraigned on federal charges of possessing a weapon while using drugs and possession of heroin." Cook was arrested in the home of a 34-year old friend and former client, Sean McGilvery, who has also been charged, according to Hundsdorfer's article, "on two federal counts, conspiracy to distribute, and possession with intent to distribute heroin."

On May 28 the Springfield State Journal-Register carried an AP story claiming that a St. Clair County probation worker, James Fogarty, admitted to an FBI informant that he'd provided cocaine to both Judges Cook and Christ.

Paul Hampel writes in the May 29 Post-Dispatch that Cook has resigned from the bench -- or tried to. The Supreme Court had not yet received Cook's resignation letter and, according to Hampel's article, "The Supreme Court requires that a judge’s resignation be in writing to the chief justice, with a copy to the justice in the district in which the resignation takes place and to the director of the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts." The delay may be caused by the fact that Cook's access to the outside world is currently limited: Though free on bail, Cook has entered a drug treatment facility.

St. Louis television station KSDK reports that Judge Cook handled 90 percent of the circuit's drug court cases.

Cook, 43, was elected an associate judge in St. Clair County in 2007. He was appointed a circuit judge by the Supreme Court in October 2010, a month before he would have won election to the bench in an uncontested race.

The mysterious pricing of medical services -- the government reveals what it is charged and what it pays for a variety of medical services

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), f/k/a the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA), recently released a massive report on health care costs comparing, according to the agency's press release, "comparing the charges for services that may be provided during the 100 most common Medicare inpatient stays" that hospitals bill to the government.

Quoting from the CMS press release:
These amounts can vary widely. For example, average inpatient charges for services a hospital may provide in connection with a joint replacement range from a low of $5,300 at a hospital in Ada, Okla., to a high of $223,000 at a hospital in Monterey Park, Calif.

Even within the same geographic area, hospital charges for similar services can vary significantly. For example, average inpatient hospital charges for services that may be provided to treat heart failure range from a low of $21,000 to a high of $46,000 in Denver, Colo., and from a low of $9,000 to a high of $51,000 in Jackson, Miss.
Just for fun, I looked at the report and selected a number of Chicago area hospitals comparing prices billed for treatment of chest pains. Interestingly, at least in this miniscule sample, the amounts paid are not necessarily proportionate to the amounts billed. These are my notes:

Treatment for "Chest Pain"

Hospital Name Amt. Billed Amt. Paid
Swedish Covenant$23,159$4,229
Jackson Park$22,150$5,023
Resurrection Medical Center$20,641$3,679
Mt. Sinai$17,735$5,671
Little Company of Mary$17,392$4,042
Advocate Christ Medical Center$16,155$4,843
Mercy Hospital$10,553$5,040
Stroger (Cook County) Hospital$7,616$4,229

Now the CMS press release suggests (but, in fairness, does not claim) that the amounts billed to the government are also the amounts billed to private insurers for the same services. I don't believe that to be the case. Based on my experience in handling injury claims, it seems to me that hospitals bill one price to Medicare and Medicaid but a different (and lower) price to private insurers. The amounts billed may even vary from insurer to insurer. It seems to me that Blue Cross might negotiate a different rate for (say) an overnight hospital stay than United Health, while the government receives still a third figure for the overnight stay of a Medicare or Medicaid recipient. Perhaps someone with knowledge on this point might leave a comment -- although I'd bet that hard data on every hospital's private insurer billing is guarded like the Colonel's original recipe or the formula for Coca-Cola.

I can understand how a service might be priced differently from hospital to hospital: One hospital's treatment philosophy might differ from another. Hospital A may have more experienced (older and pricier) physicians on staff than Hospital B. One can imagine all sorts of reasons -- although some of the variances revealed by this report seem rather extreme.

Still, for me, the real question is how the health industry gets away with no-set-price pricing for the same service at the same hospital. Can you imagine going into your neighborhood Jewel and finding that the same box of one dozen eggs or gallon of 2% milk might have three or four different prices depending on who brings it to the checkout line?

HT to the ISBA listserv, where I first saw a discussion of this report.

For further reading, see the Washington Post Wonkblog, One hospital charges $8,000 — another, $38,000

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

James Crawley announces 2014 judicial bid

Chicago attorney James P. Crawley has announced that he plans to run for judge in the 2014 judicial primary.

An Illinois attorney since 1990, Crawley practices law with James P. Crawley & Associates, Ltd.

Crawley says he will seek slating from the Democratic Party for either a countywide judicial vacancy or in the 10th Judicial Subcircuit, where he resides (Crawley is a resident of the Jefferson Park neighborhood).

Crawley's campaign says that Crawley's "volunteer activities include serving on the board of Jane Addams Hull House–Uptown Center, and AIDS Care, Inc., a residential facility for people living with acquired immune deficiency syndrome. He served on the citizens’ advisory council to the Chicago Police Department, and has donated to inner-city youth organizations such as Mercy Home for Boys & Girls, the Women Everywhere Project, and Windy City Hoops, which organizes activities in neighborhoods hard hit by gang violence."

According to his campaign announcement, Crawley was born in Joliet, and raised in a family of union workers. He received his undergraduate degree in 1986 from Loyola University Chicago and his law degree in 1989 from Saint Louis University School of Law. During his college years, Crawley served as an aide to then-U.S. Senator Paul Simon.

Crawley advises that he is a member of the American Bar Association, Illinois State Bar Association, Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, Chicago Bar Association and Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago. Crawley is also a member of the trial bar of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and is admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court. Crawley has been married since 2008, his campaign announcement states.

Daniel E. Ingram is the Chair of Crawley's campaign committee, Citizens to Elect James Patrick Crawley. The committee can be reached by email at

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Michael Strom announces 9th Subcircuit judicial bid

It begins.

Chicago attorney Michael A. Strom has announced his candidacy for judge in the north suburban 9th Judicial Subcircuit.

Licensed in Illinois since 1977, Strom is currently of counsel to Strom & Associates, Ltd.. He was formerly an attorney for CNA Insurance.

Strom is the 2012-2013 President of the Decalogue Society of Lawyers and for 27 years has worked as a teacher and coach with the Chicago Coalition for Law-Related Education, teaching course work on criminal and civil trial process at South Shore High School and coaching high school mock trial teams that in city-wide competitions. (Strom's LinkedIn page notes that South Shore has won two citywide championships during his tenure.)

Strom's campaign committee can be reached at

Attention 2014 Cook County Judicial Candidates: If you're ready to go public with your 2014 plans, send me an email. Use that link or the link in the Sidebar of this blog.