Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 14, 2011

Northwestern Professor Demands Independent Probe into His Ouster

The former head of a well-respected journalism program at Northwestern University wants an outside probe into why he been placed on leave.

David Protess was the head of the Medill Innocence Project at Northwestern until the university announced on March 29 that he had been placed on leave for making false statements to university lawyers about one of his investigations.

Protess said he and his students helped get twelve wrongfully-convicted men out of jail. And former Illinois Gov. George Ryan credited their work when he imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in 2000.

In May 2009, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office subpoenaed documents from Protess' students about one of their investigations into the case of a man convicted of murder. The school said Protess lied to Northwestern lawyers about which documents he had turned over to the man's lawyers.

Protess said the university has not provided all of the evidence against him, and he questions the university's motives for investigating him.

"One reason we've not gotten answers to those questions is because the review that the university conducted was done by three former prosecutors," Protess said. "You just can't have former prosecutors investigating an innocence project and expect to learn the truth."

Protess also accused the Cook County State's Attorney's Office of trying to discredit him because Protess had uncovered evidence that another man had been wrongfully convicted.

A Northwestern spokesman said the school will not release its full report about Protess, but he declined to comment further.

Tags: media

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 14, 2011

President Obama in Chicago Thursday for ‘Fundraising Kick-Off

President Barack Obama returns home to Chicago Thursday to raise cash for his re-election campaign. The main fundraiser, taking place on Navy Pier, is being billed as the "fundraising kick-off" to the 2012 campaign.

For $100, President Obama's supporters can get in, with $250 good enough for what're claled "preferred tickets." A Democratic official says the president will be introduced by Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, until last fall the president's chief of staff.

Mr. Obama is also attending higher-dollar events at a pair of swank Chicago restaurants, with individual donations topping out at - by law - $35,800.

After the evening of fundraising, he'll be staying overnight in the city.

The visit comes just over a week after the president filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission, technically declaring his candidacy. The field of potential Republican challengers includes Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 14, 2011

Judge Denies Request to See Obama Interview Notes

The judge presiding over former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's upcoming retrial has rejected a request from defense attorneys to let them see summaries of any FBI interviews with President Barack Obama.

Among the charges Blagojevich faces is that he sought to sell or trade an appointment to Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat for campaign cash or a top job. Obama has never been accused of any wrongdoing in the case.

Judge James Zagel said at a Thursday status hearing he's read the summaries and nothing in them is relevant to Blagojevich's defense.

Zagel denied a similar request before Blagojevich's first trial. The retrial is set to start Wednesday.

Zagel on Thursday also denied a request to delay the trial by several weeks to give defense attorneys more time to prepare.

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 14, 2011

Census: Hispanics Surpass Blacks in Most US Metros

New Census figures show that Hispanics now outnumber blacks for the first time in most U.S. metropolitan areas.

Hispanics became the largest minority group in 191 of 366 metro areas last year. Their population was lifted as blacks left many economically hard-hit cities in the North for the South and new Latino immigrants spread to different parts of the country. That number is up from 159 metro areas in 2000, when Hispanics were most commonly found in Southwest border states.

The new areas for Hispanics include Chicago, Grand Rapids, Mich., and Atlantic City, N.J., whose states will lose House seats in 2013.

The numbers from the 2010 count are having a big effect in many states, where political maps are being redrawn based on population size and racial makeup.

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 14, 2011

Second Insurer Protests IL HMO Switch

A second insurer is now protesting a state decision to hire a new HMO with a limited downstate network of doctors to provide health plans for tens of thousands of state employees and retirees.

Humana has joined Urbana-based Health Alliance in protesting the state's decision to contract with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois.

Chief State Procurement Officer Matt Brown told the News-Gazette in Champaign that reviewing the protests could take weeks. That could delay the scheduled May 1 start of enrollment for the new Blue Cross HMO plans.

The state says Blue Cross will save it money. But Humana and Health Alliance argue that many of the more than 100,000 people in their plans would have to travel to see primary care doctors or else pay higher rates by using preferred provider or open access plans.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 14, 2011

County Redistricting Commission Approves Map Design

A panel appointed by the Champaign County Board last fall has met its deadline to approve a new map consisting of 11 board districts for the 2012 elections, but the design could be rejected next month.

The county's Redistricting Commission reviewed six designs. It was allowed to forward multiple maps, but only the one known as '1-E' was approved on a seven-to-four vote. Backers say it maintains communities of interest, setting aside a 'majority minority district', or 60-percent African-American and Hispanic residents. But opponents say '1-E' lacks compact and contiguous districts, especially north and west of Champaign, where District 5 would take up much of the area.

An attempt by commission member and County Board Democrat Michael Richards to submit his own map was defeated eight to three. That was after Commission Chair and former Republican State Senator Rick Winkel suggested the incumbent had an ulterior motive on the independent panel.

"It's not your fault, Mr. Richards," he said. "But you are an incumbent member of the county board and a member of a political partisan caucus, and you are shifting lines here. It is reasonable for a member of the public to infer that you may have considered whether voters in a newly drawn district will re-elect you."

County Board Democrat and commission member Alan Kurtz took exception to Winkel's comment, calling it "the most partisan statement I've heard to date on this commission."

Richards said the approved "1-E" design will need some tweaking, but isn't sure how the county board will vote.

"It seems like everybody pretty much has the same idea about who should be in the same district," he said. "But I think, especially on things like the compactness of the maps, some of the others were okay. But I think that they require more from the commission if we're going to put them through. But again, I can't say what a majority of the county board is going to feel on the maps."

Designs 1E, 4D, and 5B were submitted by the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, and tweaked by Redistricting Commission. Two other failed maps were submitted by commission member Augustus Hallmon, and former Democratic County Board Candidate Eric Thorsland.

The board will discuss the map on April 26th, and is expected to vote on it May 3rd.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 14, 2011

Urbana’s Mayor, Legislator, Work to Keep UI Police Training Facility Open

Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said she believes her role on a state panel that sets training guidelines for police and correctional officers could help save a University of Illinois facility with the same purpose.

Prussing was named Tuesday by Governor Pat Quinn to the state's Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board. She said a top priority in the post is to find sustainable financing for the U of I's Police Training Institute.

Last fall, a faculty panel suggested the institute close by this December, saying there wasn't justification to spend the $900,000 annually to train officers on campus. Prussing said that created a backlash, and suggests the facility could be maintained in a fashion similar to an insurance fee enacted by the Illinois Fire Service Institute at the U of I.

"Which all makes sense because you train firefighters, and when they can do fire prevention, that affects the insurance industry," Prussing said. "So it all kind of ties together. I think something similar needs to be done for police. Because obviously, police play a vital role in making society livable for everybody."

Last fall, Mahomet House Republican Chapin Rose suggested a surcharge on those convicted of certain crimes could go to towards funding the Institute. He said a bill supporting that idea has generated more talk among area lawmakers this spring. The legislator said he has a long-term vision for the facility.

"If we're going to do PTI and keep it, I want it to be the best darn training academy in the world, " Rose said. "We should have other countries sending their police cadets and their police officers and their police leadership here to be trained."

The U of I is expected to make a formal pitch for sustaining the training center soon. Prussing met Wednesday with U of I Police Chief Barbara O'Connor and Interim Chancellor Robert Easter to discuss options.

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 13, 2011

Blagojevich Defiant Before Trial

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)

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 13, 2011

Ill. House OKs Tougher Oversight of Group Homes

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.

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 13, 2011

Appellate Justice Pope Seeks Full Term

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.

Categories: Government, Politics

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