Monday, May 30, 2016

Norwood Park observes Memorial Day

The 2016 Norwood Park Memorial Day Parade was held this morning under picture postcard conditions.

We can't have a parade without politicians -- maybe this could happen elsewhere, but never in Chicago. The first political group down the street Monday morning was Water Reclamation District Commissioner Frank Avila... and family.

There were more politicians on the march, but first there were old police cars...

...and modern fire engines...

... and historical reenactors....

They were far enough away when they loosed a volley that my granddaughter Diana was fascinated, not frightened.

The parade Grand Marshal was 95-year old Army vet Morris Factor. According to Heather Cherone's article, posted May 2 on DNAinfo, Factor served with Merrill's Marauders in Burma (now Myanmar).

Smyser Elementary School's marching band provided entertainment.

For more pictures from today's parade, turn to Page Two.

What is a supermajority for?

Tomorrow, unless something miraculous happens, another Illinois budget deadline will be missed.

Illinois has become a national joke -- but many of our citizens, especially those who are poor or elderly, or students enrolled at state colleges and universities, or dependent on government pensions, are not laughing.

The people I talk to all blame Gov. Rauner -- and I agree that Mr. Rauner has been intransigent, unreasonable and wholly derelict in his duty to put forth, and obtain, a balanced budget.

I accept, pretty much without reservation, the Democratic narrative that Mr. Rauner's idea of "compromise" is pretty much equivalent to a demand for unconditional surrender.

But even a political dummy like me understands that Mr. Rauner's pension-ripping, term-limit-demanding, public employee-baiting, union-bashing rhetoric plays well in certain circles. It's just good politics.

I also accept, also without much hesitation, that the Democratic budget, recently unveiled and passed by the Illinois House in a legislative blink of an eye, contains bouquets for every Democratic constituency and interest group without providing the revenue to pay for the largesse. I don't know if it's really $7 billion out of whack, as the Republicans charge, but I can accept that it's a wish list, not a serious budget proposal.

A political dummy like me understands that a proposal like this, that makes extravagant promises to so many, plays quite well in certain circles. And makes Rauner look Scrooge at his worst. Again, it's just good politics.

But I'm old enough to remember Richard J. Daley -- Daley I. I was in college when he passed away; I never met the man. I'd been to a prayer breakfast with Mayor Daley -- and several thousand other people -- just a few days before he died; that was about as close as I got.

I do remember, though, that the first Mayor Daley used to preach that "good government is good politics and good politics is good government." I'm not holding up Daley I as a plaster saint and I don't want to get sidetracked talking about Daley's legacy.

But it just seems to me that, with this saying, the first Mayor Daley had a point. And both sides in the ongoing debacle in Springfield seem to have lost sight of the principle. Again (and this is my partisan bias, I suppose) I can sort of understand Gov. Rauner not grasping the idea -- after all he's just a Republican -- but I'm finding it hard to believe that Speaker Madigan and President Cullerton seem also to have forgotten this basic axiom.

And yet, at least on paper, Speaker Madigan and President Cullerton have supermajorities under their control. In theory, they could craft a real budget, and pass it, and pass it again over Governor Rauner's almost-certain veto.

And it hasn't happened.

Granted, even a political dummy like me understands that any realistic budget will include an income tax hike. I pay taxes. I won't be thrilled about an income tax increase. Especially with my Chicago property taxes going higher than anything SpaceX can launch. But, staying with the outer space theme here, as Carl Sagan might have put it, we are 'billions and billions' in debt. We have to start paying down our debts.

Also, any realistic budget is going to disappoint some interest groups. Not every program can be funded as much as some might like. And surely there must be some sinecures for politicians' idiot relations and soft-landing spots for retired or defeated politicians that can be identified and uprooted. Messrs. Madigan and Cullerton have been in Springfield a long time; if it makes you feel better to say that they're part of the problem, go ahead. But what productive end does that serve? And who is in a better position to figure out where to make the least painful cuts? And there would have to be some significant cuts in a serious budget.

Oh, there'd be howls. In our culture, how could there not be? But all members of the disparate strands of the Democratic Party's supermajorities could find something in a realistic budget to sell back in their districts: The restoration of stability and predictability in various social programs might be more important in Chicago, the cuts and other efficiencies might be more important Downstate or some suburban districts. Putting the state back on a solid financial footing, tax hikes notwithstanding, would appeal to financial and business interests.

Moreover, a budget passed by a veto-proof majority would render Gov. Rauner a complete nullity. He could speechify until he turns red in the face (he could hardly be expected to turn blue, right?) but he would be irrelevant.

And if you really want to get crazy, maybe a serious budget could be made palatable to one or more Republicans. A few more dollars might have to be cut here or there, but it would diminish Rauner even more.

Oh, even a political dummy like me understands there are risks: For example, some vulnerable legislators might be defeated as part of the inevitable anger and backlash that follows any tax increase. But, c'mon, from the standpoint of the Democratic Party, our legislators have the best and safest boundaries that computer science can conjure. Now, a political dummy like me thinks that some of our poisoned, hyperpartisan political atmosphere might dissipate if the state were instead blessed with fair, contiguous, and competitive districts... but we can't expect everything all at once. And we need a budget now. Does anyone seriously think that the Democratic Party would be turned out of the majority in Springfield for doing its job... and Rauner's? Or is there a fear that, somehow, Rauner will get credit, at least in some circles, where it is absolutely not deserved?

But, even if there's a backlash, even if there are losses, even if Forbes or the Wall Street Journal lionizes Mr. Rauner for getting steamrolled -- what is a supermajority for if it's never used?

Why wouldn't proposing and passing a serious budget despite Gov. Rauner be good government and good politics?

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Should a judicial hopeful's politics be taken into account when passing on his or her qualifications?

You may have missed this article a few Sundays ago when it appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times: Rough Road To Judgeship For Top Aide To Anita Alvarez, by Robert Herguth. (The link is to the BGA website, where the article was also published.)

I don't know Daniel Kirk; I think I have been introduced to him, but I've never worked with him, or even seen him in court. I don't know if he'd be a good judge or a bad one.

I learned, from reading Mr. Herguth's article, that Mr. Kirk has served as First Assistant State’s Attorney, as Anita Alvarez’s chief of staff, and as Alvarez's campaign chairman.

I also learned, from Herguth's article, that Mr. Kirk had been rated "recommended" by the Cook County Bar Association in his pursuit of an associate judgeship -- and that the rating was thereafter pulled. Reversed. This is not a situation where a prior favorable evaluation had grown stale because of the passage of time and a new evaluation committee disagreed with its predecessor; rather, this is a situation where Mr. Kirk was first approved... and then he wasn't.

Herguth mentioned that "Alvarez’s lackluster history of prosecuting police for excessive force and other alleged misconduct," had made her quite unpopular in the African American community, particularly after the release of the Laquan McDonald video.

So... was Kirk's close association with Alvarez the reason his favorable rating got pulled? Herguth asked the question:
Arlene Coleman, president of the Cook County Bar Association, would only say “there were concerns” expressed by her group’s judicial evaluation committee about Kirk, so his rating was revisited by her board and, ultimately, downgraded.

“I’m not going to say what all those concerns were,” Coleman said. “I don’t think we have to give a reason why, we have a right to change our minds.”

Either way, she acknowledged the switch was unusual and added that Kirk has appealed his “not recommended” label.
If I get word about the disposition of the appeal, I will advise.

Meanwhile, in the absence of an explanation, speculation abounds. And it's difficult not to see a political motivation in this ratings switch.

Now, FWIW readers who have not been directly involved in judicial evaluations, either as candidates or evaluators, may be shrugging their shoulders here. After all, getting on the bench, whether by election or by appointment, is, after all, an inherently political process, right? Once Anita Alvarez's office became a focal point of community protest and media criticism, didn't it just make good political sense that the county's oldest and largest African-American bar group would reverse an initial favorable recommendation for one of Alverez's top lieutenants? Alvarez's reelection bid was supported by only 28.68% of the electorate countywide -- but she proved really unpopular among African-American voters. For example, in Chicago's 21st Ward, Alvarez received only 7.47% of the vote. In the 8th Ward, she received only 7.52% of the vote, 7.54% of the vote in the 6th Ward.

The problem, however, is that politics isn't generally supposed to factor into judicial evaluations. The Cook County Bar Association website, for example, says, "judicial candidates and sitting judges are evaluated on litigation and professional experience, legal knowledge and ability, sensitivity to diversity and bias, judicial temperament, diligence, punctuality, professional conduct, health and age, impartiality, character and integrity." No mention of political considerations there.

The Chicago Council of Lawyers says expressly, "The Council does not evaluate candidates based on their substantive views of political or social issues. Nor do we take into account the particular race in which a candidate is running or the candidates against whom a candidate is running."

I've often argued that an individual's political leanings are particularly unimportant for a person seeking a judicial position. U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts famously analogized a judge's role to that of a baseball umpire, merely calling the balls and strikes. Such an analogy seems particularly inappropriate for a justice of the highest court in the land -- but it does seem pretty descriptive of the role of a trial court judge. If both are faithful to their oaths of office, a Trotskyite judge and a hidebound reactionary judge should usually arrive at the same conclusion when applying the law to a given set of facts (one may be happier about the outcome than the other, depending on the case).

Whether a judge has voted for Republican or Democratic candidates should not matter when evaluating whether Mrs. Jones ran the red light. On the other hand, a judge who is such a political ideologue that she automatically assumes all police officers are liars -- or, contrariwise, is certain that police officers never lie -- would be a terrible judge, right?


FWIW readers: Do you think bar associations should take a judicial hopeful's political opinions or associations into account when passing on his or her qualifications? If so, how? If not... how can bar association JECs avoid considering a candidate's politics?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

BGA, Sun-Times, Law Bulltetin collect Kogan Awards; John Rooney receives Career Award

Chicago broadcaster Geoffrey Baer provided the keynote address at this year’s celebration of the Chicago Bar Association’s Herman Kogan Media Awards this past Tuesday, May 10 at Maggiano’s, Chicago. The annual awards are presented by the CBA to honor journalists who cover the legal community, courts, judges, police and public officials who administer justice. Joining Baer were special guests, journalist John Flynn Rooney of the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, who was being honored for his career, and Rick and Mark Kogan, sons of Herman Kogan.

Last August, Rooney, a 27-year veteran of the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin announced his retirement due to the progression of ALS. Rooney was honored with a special “career” Kogan Award, as a way to formally and personally thank him for his years of observing and reporting on the law, the courts, and the legal profession.

Of Rooney, former CBA president Justice Michael B. Hyman, who made the presentation, said, "Our legal community was truly fortunate to have had such an honorable and capable reporter as John. On a daily basis, John told our stories, and told them with integrity and accuracy, insight, and dedication to the highest ideals of journalism."

The Kogan Awards have been presented every year by the Chicago Bar Association since 1989. Award categories are: print - legal beat reporting, print - feature or series reporting, broadcast, and online reporting. In addition to the Kogan trophy, a $1,000.00 scholarship donation is made in the name of each Kogan winner to the university English or journalism department of his/her choice.

CBA president Hon. Patricia Brown Holmes hosted the luncheon event, while Kogan committee chair Dennis Culloton emceed the awards presentation.

Keynoter Geoffrey Baer captivated the audience of lawyers and journalists with his unique gift for imparting history through storytelling about Chicago’s past. He touched on several points in the City’s history when legal issues affected the course of events. He cited philanthropist Montgomery Ward’s years of legal wrangling to establish Grant Park; aldermen and bribes in the digging of train tunnels under the City; property disputes over the relocation of railroad lines; a lawsuit between St. Louis and Chicago over the reversal of the course of the Chicago river that ended in the U.S. Supreme Court; a graveyard that spared a suburban golf club from annexation for the railroad; and an all-out brawl between the citizens of Wheaton and Naperville over County records complete with a violent midnight raid and the formation of a posse.

2016 Kogan award winners

In the “Print – Legal Beat Reporting” category, the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mary Mitchell was awarded the Kogan for her series of columns on police shootings. Mitchell began to use her column to explore the now famous videotape settlement before the rest of the public was aware of Laquan Macdonald.

Also in this category, two Meritorious Awards were presented. The first of these went to Timothy O’Neill, of the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, for his piece “Justice Kennedy Shines Light On Prisons’ Dark Side In Concurrence” on the long term effects of solitary confinement. The columnist told the story of one prisoner’s suicide and asks if solitary drove him to the action.

The second Meritorious Award went to Law Bulletin reporter Lauraann Wood, whose coverage of the Illinois statehouse left no stone unturned in pursuing answers about the pension fight and the legal issues surrounding it. Wood helped her readers understand the Illinois Supreme Court rulings on the issue, the oral arguments before the Court, and the legislature’s reactions in law and policy making.

In the “Print-Feature or Series” category the Kogan Award winner was Roy Strom of Chicago Lawyer Magazine for his expose, “Prosecutor. Police Chief. Perhaps Both.” This remarkable article asked why the LaSalle County State’s Attorney was allowed to set up a team of investigators which formed a de facto secondary police force in the county. The article led to the Illinois Supreme Court hearing a review of the case. It also revealed that money seized by county officials from drug traffickers that is supposed to go to drug addiction treatment organizations was not getting to its appropriate destination. The article caused the State’s Attorney to make a sizable contribution to heroin addiction treatment centers in LaSalle County with the confiscated funds.

In the same category, the Kogan judges voted a Meritorious Award to Tim Novak, the Chicago Sun-Times investigative reporter, for “McPier And Its Attorney, Langdon Neal.” The investigation revealed the corruption that plagues the workings of the McPier Agency, which owns McCormick Place and Navy Pier including how its law firm has profited to the tune of $99 million over the years.

In the “Online” category, the Kogan Award went to Andrew Schroedter of the Better Government Association for his piece “Did Ex-Chicago Detective Frame Multiple Suspects?” The article shines a light on the cases of more than 12 men, almost all Latino, who accused a retired Chicago detective of being a frame up artist.

Also in this category, a Meritorious Award was presented to Robert Herguth and Andrew Schroedter of the Better Government Association, for their piece “Accused Of Raping Intern, Cop Still On Force.” The article suggested that irregularities in the handling of an accusation against a Forest Park officer by an intern create suspicion that the department protected a police officer who should have been investigated rigorously.

About The Herman Kogan Media Awards

The Herman Kogan Media Awards Competition was established in 1989 to honor local journalists and legal affairs reporting. The competition celebrates the career of Herman Kogan, "a true friend of the CBA," whose career spanned more than 50 years and included experience as a reporter, feature and editorial writer, editor, author, historian, biographer, literary critic, radio host and television executive.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Great Strides Walk for Cystic Fibrosis Foundation May 22 at Diversey Harbor

There's still time to register for, or donate to, the Great Strides Chicago Walk for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The event steps off from Diversey Harbor on Sunday, May 22 at 11:00 a.m. Registration opens at 9:30.

If you click on the first link in the preceding sentence, you'll be taken to a page where you can register as a walker, register a team to walk, or donate to the cause.

But -- as you've no doubt guessed already -- this isn't just a generic plug for a charity walk. I have an angle.

One of the "teams" registering for the walk in two weeks is called "Katie's Smelly Cats," a group organized in honor of Katie Kelly, who passed away this January, at only 26 years of age, from CF-related complications. That's a link to the team page in the preceding sentence; that's a fairly recent picture of Katie Kelly on the right.

Katie's Smelly Cats is the brainchild of three of Katie's lifelong friends and grammar school classmates (Immaculate Conception School, Class of 2004), Brigid Olsen, Bea Toda, and Allison Welch. (On the left you see Katie Kelly and my younger daughter Brigid, to Katie's right, at a birthday party a long, long time ago.) The team name, I'm told, was inspired by the TV show Friends. Don't ask me how; I don't know. What I do know is that my older daughter, Katie Stoner, has volunteered to help her sister and Bea and Allison organize this fundraising effort. I was asked to give their joint efforts a little publicity. "Well, Dad," one of my daughters said, "you're always publicizing fundraisers for judicial candidates. How about our event?"

And I didn't think either one of them ever read this blog.

Anyway, for any of you who might not know, cystic fibrosis is a life-threatening, genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and progressively limits a person's ability to breathe. The defective gene causes a thick buildup of mucus in the lungs, pancreas and other organs. In the lungs, the mucus clogs the airways and traps bacteria leading to infections, extensive lung damage and eventually, respiratory failure. In the pancreas, the mucus prevents the release of digestive enzymes that allow the body to break down food and absorb vital nutrients. This is not one of these extremely rare conditions that afflicts only a few. The Kellys aren't even the only family in my parish who have had to cope with this condition.

CF affects different people differently, some worse than others. Katie Kelly was often sick. She had long stints at Children's and, later, at Northwestern -- but she was no invalid. In between these "tuneups," as they were sometimes called, she was as vital and energetic as anybody else. And maybe just a wee bit more besides.

Great strides (notice how I worked in the event name there, kids) have been made in controlling the disease in recent years, extending life expectancy for persons with CF, but there is as yet no cure. Events like this upcoming May 22 walk will help, eventually, to find that cure.