Illinois Public Media News
A defiant ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich says prosecutors are trying to prevent his lawyers from proving his innocence at his upcoming corruption retrial.
Blagojevich stood outside his house Wednesday declaring his innocence and blasting prosecutors for objecting in advance to lines of questioning the defense wants to pursue.
It was a virtual replay of what he did on the eve of his corruption trial last year. Blagojevich was convicted on just one of 24 counts - lying to the FBI.
Blagojevich's retrial begins next week. And neither prosecutors nor defense lawyers have given any indication they'd be willing to cut a plea deal that would render a trial unnecessary.
The 54-year-old faces 20 charges, including that he sought to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.
(AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File)
The beating death of a mentally disabled man living in a group home, and the disclosure that officials knew the home was unsafe, could lead to increased protection of people with disabilities.
The Illinois House voted 115-0 Wednesday to toughen oversight of group homes. Abuse allegations would trigger state reviews. New managers could be brought in to run unsafe homes. Employees would undergo periodic background checks. More inspection records and abuse reports would be available to the public.
The measure now goes to the Senate.
The legislation was inspired by the death of 42-year-old Paul McCann, who was beaten to death in January at a group home in Charleston.
Two of the home's employees have been charged with murder, accused of kicking and punching McCann for 45 minutes because he stole food. They have pleaded not guilty.
McCann "did not deserve to be beaten to death because he took a cookie without permission," Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, told his fellow legislators. "Ladies and gentlemen, you heard me correctly. He was beaten to death by an employee of this home who was entrusted with his care because he took a cookie without permission."
Records obtained by The Associated Press show Illinois officials knew residents had been abused at the network of group homes that included McCann's facility.
Conditions at homes run by the nonprofit Graywood Foundation were "totally unacceptable," according to a 2009 memo an Illinois investigator wrote.
The memo was written almost a year after murder charges were filed against two employees in the 2008 death of Dustin Higgins, another resident who lived in a Graywood group home.
The state eventually stopped them from admitting new residents, but the families of people already living at the homes say they had no idea about the problems.
Illinois now has 9,300 adults with developmental disabilities living in group homes, family homes and apartments run by more than 200 community agencies.
The group homes, known as CILAs for "community integrated living arrangements," are likely to be used more widely in Illinois after a lawsuit over the civil rights of adults with disabilities.
The Illinois Republican Primary is 11 months away, but Carol Pope isn't waiting until the last minute.
The Illinois Appellate Justice from Petersburg announced this week she will run for a full term in the 4th Appellate District.
"I wanted to get an early start, get going," Pope said. "I'm a hard-working person, I'm organized; and I wanted to get out there and start meeting all the people in the whole 4th District."
The 57-year-old Pope said her experience as both a trial judge in Menard County and appellate justice in the 4th District have given her a good perspective on her work.
"In my county, I was the only sitting circuit judge," Pope explained. "So I heard everything. I did the traffic calls, I did the felonies, I did the misdemeanors, I did the divorces, I did the civil work. And then on the appellate court - what we do, we have 30 counties in the 4th appellate district, and we hear all of the appeals from the trial courts in those 30 counties."
Prior to becoming a judge, Pope served six years as Menard County State's Attorney. She was appointed to the circuit court in 1991, and elected the following year.
Pope was appointed to the Appellate Court in 2008. She's running for a seat now held by appointed Justice Robert Cook, who is not running. Cook came out of retirement last month to fill the vacancy created when Justice Sue Myerscough was appointed to U.S. District Court.
Illinois' 4th Appellate Court District covers 30 counties from Indiana to Missouri, including Champaign, Vermilion, McLean, Macon, Piatt, Ford, Sangamon and Douglas.
A newspaper wants the judge in former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's upcoming retrial to order that government and defense lawyers make recently sealed filings public.
Attorneys for the Chicago Tribune have filed a motion in U.S. District Court making that request. It cites constitutional rights to access the information.
Blagojevich's second corruption trial is set to start next Wednesday. And both sides have filed more than a dozen sealed motions or sealed responses to motions in recent months. They've also filed many motions that aren't sealed.
The Tribune's late Tuesday motion says both sides have "indiscriminately filed documents wholly under seal, without overcoming the strong presumption of public access.''
Judge James Zagel could rule on the matter as soon as Thursday at a scheduled status hearing in the case.
When a worker is injured on the job, Illinois has a system in place to determine if, and how, a company should compensate its employee. But businesses say the workers compensation system is out of date and abused. They're campaigning for a major overhaul of the process. They may succeed. At a meeting of local chambers of commerce and independent business owners on Tuesday, April 12 in Springfield, Governor Pat Quinn and leaders in the Illinois General Assembly said changing the status quo is a top tier goal. But as Illinois Public Radio's Amanda Vinicky reports, it's a politically dicey task, considering the push backfrom unions, trial lawyers, and doctors.
Businesses that have been clamoring for a redo of the workers compensation system liked much of what they heard from the state's political leaders who say it's also their priority. Chamber of commerce members and independent businesses owners met in Springfield on Tuesday.
Businesses say the workers compensation system is so expensive and abused ... companies don't want to locate in Illinois.
Governor Pat Quinn appears to have gotten the message.
"We've got to take on the need to reform our workers compensation system," Quinn said to applause from the gathering. "We can do it."
Another Democrat, Senate President John Cullerton, called it the most important piece of legislation that can be passed this spring to improve the state's business climate.
"We must act immediately to bring that system under control and make it competitive with that of other states," Cullerton said.
The GOP's General Assembly leaders signaled their support too.
"We need a dramatic overhaul of workers' comp," Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno said.
But Cullerton told the business leaders there's not enough support to pass any plan right now. He said it will take compromise to win approval from powerful interest groups representing trial lawyers, hospitals, unions and businesses. He said that a plan by Governor Quinn to cut costs and professionalize practices is a good first step, noting there is room for compromise on a key dispute ... whether employees should prove injuries were caused by their current job.
Businesses say paying for work-related injuries is too costly.
There will still be an event Wednesday night in Clinton to discuss a plan to store toxic substances in the city's landfill.
But the purpose of the event has shifted from an environmental hearing to an informational meeting hosted by a concerned citizens' group. The U.S. EPA had postponed the hearing Friday night out of concerns that the federal government would shut down, and has yet to reschedule.
The owners of Clinton Landfill are seeking a permit to allow for the storage of toxic substances called PCB's. A group called WATCH, or We Are Against Toxic Chemicals, is afraid they could eventually leak from the landfill, threatening the Mahomet Aquifer.
Group President George Wissmiller said he has had his share of questions over the proposal the past few years.
"There apparently is no agency that can react to the idea that this is just a bad idea," he said. "It's irresponsible to dump PCB's on top of the water supply for 750,000 people. But if the U.S. EPA regulations and the Illinois EPA regs and everybody else's regs allow it, they're going to do it in spite of the fact that it doesn't make any sense."
Wissmiller said members had already promoted the hearing, and didn't want residents showing up, only to find that Clinton High School was locked. He said Wednesday night's main function will be to tell the public that there are ways to block the plan locally.
"If local government has an ordinance or a regulation that limits dumping of this particular type of waste, the federal government can't permit the hauler to violate that ordinance," he said. "So they are, in fact, restricted by local ordinances."
Wissmiller said the group could also enact a DeWitt County ordinance that stipulates how landfills are set up. The informational meeting runs from 6 to 8 Wednesday night at Clinton High School, with an open house starting at 5 PM.
The head of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees says higher education in the state must do a better job forging relationships with business and political leaders.
Board Chairman Chris Kennedy says in the two years he's been a trustee, the university has begun reaching out more to those in business and government. Kennedy is in charge of Chicago's Merchandise Mart. He says the U of I has to show the impact investments in higher education can make on the economy. He adds colleges and universities in Illinois have failed to successfully convey the message. Kennedy says too few business leaders even know the names of Presidents and trustees at the state's colleges and universities.
"Even if we could name them, we probably haven't received a call or opened an invitation from them to join in building a relationship with someone like Duck Durbin or Mark Kirk," Kennedy said. "These university leaders are not pushing the business leaders to become engaged with federal officials or to try to improve funding for the research institutions in our state."
Kennedy says that lack of coordinated effort has had a devastating effect on the ability to garner a larger share of federal research dollars. He made his remarks at the University' Springfield campus.
Researchers in Chicago are beginning a study Tuesday that they hope will extend the life of urban trees.
All those trees you see lining shady Chicago sidestreets actually have it pretty rough. Their average lifespan is less than ten years. That's compared to fifty or sixty years for their suburban cousins.
Bryant Scharenbroch is a soil scientist with the Morton Arboretum. He said all those city roads and buildings make soil too dense.
"When you compact the soil to make it suitable for infrastructure, you're also making it kind of a hostile environment for trees," he said."
So scientists are testing out biochar, a sort of super-heated charcoal made from plant matter. Ancient Amazonians were using biochar on their crops centuries ago, but its affects on trees haven't been widely studied, said researcher Kelby Fite, with Bartlet Tree Experts.
Biochar adds nutrients into the soil, like compost, but lasts a lot longer.
"So compost may degrade in a matter of a handful of years, whereas biochar could be stable for hundreds, or even thousands of years," Fite said.
The researchers will monitor sample trees in the Bucktown neighborhood for the next couple years.
Millikin University in Decatur welcomed its 14th President this month. Dr. Harold Jeffcoat previously served as President and CEO at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth. He spoke with Illinois Public Radio's Jenna Dooley about his vision for the small, private university.
(Photo courtesy of Millikin University)
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