Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 03, 2010

Jurors Answer Judge’s Questions as Blagojevich Trial kicks Off

The judge in the corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has begun questioning potential jurors for the case.

Among the first questions Judge James Zagel asked them today were whether they had read much about the case and whether they could set aside any preconceived notions about Blagojevich.

The former governor is accused of scheming to profit from his power to fill President Barack Obama's former Senate seat. He denies any wrongdoing.

One potential juror said she had seen the former governor's wife, Patti Blagojevich, on a reality TV show eating a bug.

Jurors were referred to in the courtroom by numbers only. Zagel plans to keep the jury anonymous until after the trial and denied a request by news organizations to reverse that.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 03, 2010

Terre Hute NAACP Branch Ordered to Reorganize

The NAACP's national headquarters has ordered its Terre Haute branch to reorganize and remove all of its top officials for failing to comply with the civil rights group's policies.

The Baltimore-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People sent a letter to its Terre Haute branch directing it to reorganize and remove all of its elected officers and executive committee members.

Rev. Gill Ford of the national group says the branch is being reorganized, not disbanded.

The move comes seven months after the Terre Haute branch hosted the statewide NAACP convention in Terre Haute. That event attracted 300 statewide delegates.

Categories: Civil Rights

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 02, 2010

I-57 Crash Victims ID’d as Mississippi Women

Three people killed in a nine-vehicle crash on Interstate 57 have been identified as Mississippi women traveling to Illinois' Amish country.

Coles County Coroner Ed Schniers says the women killed Monday just north of Mattoon were: 61-year-old Sheila Douglas of Batesville, Miss.; her mother, 80-year-old Juanita Hall of Sarah, Miss.; and family friend Doris Mayo, who was 68 and also lived in Sarah.

Police say another of Hall's daughters, 58-year-old Anne Faust of Sardis, Miss., remains hospitalized.

Friend Angelisa Weaver of Sardis says the four were driving to the Amish country that's about 15 miles north of Mattoon.

State Police say 12 other people were injured when a big rig crashed into cars slowing for construction.

Categories: Biography, Transportation

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 02, 2010

Family Searches for Son, a Missing U of I Student

Relatives and friends have been looking for two weeks for a missing University of Illinois student but so far have no leads.

Police in Urbana say Nizam Ahmed was last seen May 17 packing up his car at the mosque in Urbana where he lived. He was supposed to arrive in Indianapolis to visit relatives later that day.

Urbana police Detective Matt Quinley says investigators have no reason to believe foul play was involved. He says they've received no tips about the 23-year-old Danville native.

Relatives say he left his cell phone behind and there's been no activity on bank accounts.

Ahmed's father, Syed Ahmed, says hundreds of people are praying for his son.

Categories: Biography, Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 02, 2010

Blagojevich Corruption Trial Starts Thursday with Jury Selection

18 months after his arrest on federal corruption charges, jury selection begins Thursday in Chicago in the trial of Rod Blagojevich. The former Illinois governor is charged with trying to trade state decisions and appointments for cash and political favors --- including an appointment to the President Obama's old Senate seat.

A University of Illinois law professor says a major point of contention in the Blagojevich trial will be the link between favors granted by the former governor and requests for campaign donations and favors.

Professor Andrew Leipold says he thinks arguments by the defense will not focus on what Blagojevich said, but on what those statements mean.

"When the former governor said X, did he mean, 'and if you don't give me money I won't do it', says Leipold. "Or was he discussing two different topics: 'I'm prepared to do this'; and perhaps separately, 'Are you going to be contributing to my campaign, because we're doing a lot of good work, and I would value your support'."

Leipold says that question will make testimony by someone like former Blagojevich aide Lon Monk especially important ... because he would be in a position to know the former governor's intentions. Monk is cooperating with federal prosecutors in the Blagojevich trial.

Meanwhile, while opening arguments in the trial are still days away, Blagojevich has been make his cause before the public,w ith TV and radio appearances, and the publication of a book.

Leipold says it's an unusual move for a defendant in a trial.

"The notion that your client would be out going on talk shows and on the radio and on reality television is normally not something that defense lawyers would encourage", says Leipold. "Anything the governor says in any of his many, many, many public appearances are fair game, in the sense that if he says something that turns out to be different that what he says at trial, then he's subject to impeachment by that."

And Leipold says it's clear that Blagojevich intends to testify in his own defense at the trial. It will be Blagojevich's word against his words recorded in wiretapped conversations that prosecutors say show the former governor engaging in a "public corruption crime spree".

But Leipold says he expects the defense to argue that Blagojevich's requests for money and political favors were not connected to any of his actions as governor.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 02, 2010

Champaign County Board Members Are In No Hurry To Come Agreement with Employee Unions

Two Democratic Champaign County Board members say there's been a real sense of cooperation with employee unions as the county seeks out more than a million dollars in cuts.

Both Labor Subcommittee Chair Sam Smucker and committee member Brendan McGinty say there's no sense of urgency in getting an agreement approved. 127 employees, including 70 union workers, are expected to take furlough days in the next fiscal year. Smucker says the county is trying to avoid layoffs, and without naming specifics, says both sides have discussed a number of other mechanisms to make up for a lack of state funds. "I think all of them have been discusseed publicly and privately, and again, the thing that's most heartening is I think the employees really do recognize the situation that the county's in and are coming to the table with that sort of seriousness."

McGinty says departments did a good job of avoiding layoffs and furloughs last year by trimming travel and training budgets. And he says department heads have left the equivalent of one payroll off their budgets for the last six months. "They handled that in different ways," said McGinty. "But we've done it, for all intents and purposes, with minimal impact to our work force. And that's been a real show of cooperative spirit between the employees and department heads and elected officials."

Smucker says he hopes any additional cost-saving measures will put Champaign County in a position to provide regular raises a couple of years from now. The majority of the union workers impacted by furloughs are clerical staff. Another $600,000 in cuts may be required, but county officials are waiting to see if the flow of funds from state appropriations and county fees improve.

The Champaign County Board's Labor Subcommittee meets again Thursday afternoon.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 02, 2010

Blagojevich Trial Will Go On Despite Defense Request

A federal judge in Chicago today turned down a last-minute request for a delay in former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's corruption trial and told his attorneys to get ready to start picking a jury tomorrow.

The impeached Illinois governor's racketeering and fraud trial is set to get under way following 18 months of skirmishing in the courts and the media.

Blagojevich and his brother, Nashville, Tenn., businessman Robert Blagojevich, have pleaded not guilty. They're accused of scheming to profit from the governor's power to fill the U.S. Senate seat that President Barack Obama vacated following his November 2008 election.

Blagojevich's lawyers contend they've been swamped by as many as nine million pages of documents, 270 hours of tapes and summaries of interviews with more than 700 people. They say they haven't had time to prepare.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 02, 2010

Illinois Governor Won’t Say Where He Will Cut Budget

Gov. Pat Quinn isn't saying exactly how he plans to cut state spending to close the multibillion dollar budget gap --- only that he's going to.

Just days after Illinois lawmakers left many key spending decisions up to Quinn, the governor said Tuesday only that he's willing to make the tough cuts that lawmakers are unwilling to make.

But when pressed for details, Quinn talked only about how some costs will be trimmed through furlough days for lawmakers and himself and a reduction in travel expenses for state workers. Those steps don't come close to closing a $13 billion budget shortfall.

Quinn was clear on what he does not want to cut and hopes he won't have to cut much: education, public safety, human services and health care.

That would rule out cuts to most of the state budget.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 02, 2010

Champaign City Council Disbands Liquor Advisory Commission

After 17 years, the Champaign Liquor Advisory Commission is no more. The Champaign City Council voted 8-0 Tuesday night to dissolve the panel set up to advise council members on changes to the Champaign liquor code.

Issued discussed by the Liquor Advisory Commission in recent years include Unofficial St. Patrick's Day, package liquor deliveries, and regulations for nuisance parties. But the commission -- which was made up of six Champaign liquor license holders, two University of Illinois representatives and a city council member --- canceled many of its monthly meetings, and held actual meetings just four times in the past year. The Liquor Advisory Commission had never exercised its powers to hold hearings or inspect bars and liquor stores. Champaign Mayor and Liquor Commissioner Jerry Schweighart says the panel no longer serves a useful purpose.

"They only meet once a month for what, an hour, hour and a half", says Schweighart. "Some of these issues drug on for a long time with the LAC studying them. On some of these things, I need a quicker response. So I think I can get that quicker response by using direct communication with all the license holders."

Schweighart says the Liquor Advisory Commission canceled many meetings, because there were few issues for them to discuss. "And they were getting frustrated with that", adds the mayor. "I know that some of the commissioners were disgusted with the fact that they'd spend so much time on an issue, and then the council would just totally out-of-hand reject it. So, there was frustrations on both parts."

No Liquor Advisory Commissioners or other liquor license holder spoke up about the vote to disband the panel during the council meeting.

Schweighart says he'll keep in touch with liquor license holders by mail and email, and reach out to members of the now defunct commission informally when he needs their input. In the meantime, the mayor says he's looking at phasing out some other city commissions he thinks are no longer needed.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 01, 2010

Parkland Offering Help to Adults Heading Back to School

More and more adults are going back to college to resume their studies or start from scratch - but they also fear standing out in a class of 19 or 20 year old students.

But the head of the adult re-entry center at Champaign's Parkland College says that's one common misconception of higher education. Billie Mitchell's program helps about 450 older students navigate the college routine, and she says those students make up a growing percentage in many Parkland courses.

"The younger students learn a lot from the experienced students and vice versa," Mitchell assured. "So don't be afraid of that -- very seldom is it going to be 24 19-year-olds and only one person who's raising a family and that sort of thing."

But Mitchell says another misconception among returning adult students is that they can jump right into college again without much planning. She says financial aid is among the facets of college life that adult students have to prepare for well before any deadlines. That's why Parkland is hosting a "transitions" workshop next month for students who are considering juggling college with their family and career lives. The workshop is set for July 8th.

Categories: Education

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