Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 14, 2011

Lawsuit Accuses State Farm of Lying About Candidate Donations

Lawyers accuse State Farm Insurance of lying about and trying to cover up the amount of company support in a massively expensive race for State Supreme Court back in 2004. A filing alleges fraud against the State Supreme Court.

The case involves a class action lawsuit involving State Farm's policies on use of after-market auto parts in repairs. In 2005, the State Supreme Court overturned a billion dollar judgment against the Bloomington insurance giant with the key vote of newly elected Justice Lloyd Karmeier.

The plaintiffs now want the high court to at least reconsider the case without Karmeier. And they'd prefer the original billion dollar verdict in their favor.

Court papers allege at the time, State Farm characterized its donations to Karmeier as...a limited number of officers and employees making quite modest contributions. In fact, the filing indicates an investigation by a retired FBI agent shows State Farm lobbyist Bill Shepherd helped recruit Karmeier for the race, and funneled loads of money through the Illinois Civil Justice League to Karmeier.

Bill Shepherd also was a member of the Civil Justice League's Executive Committee. State Farm then denied that Ed Murnane, the head of the Civil Justice League, ran Karmeier's campaign, something now confirmed by e-mails. The filing says Karmeier knew State Farm was bankrolling him to the tune of two and a half to four million dollar, or up to 56-percent of all his funding and still failed to recuse himself from the case.

The filing notes the billion dollar ruling in State Farm's favor is either a coincidence or an impressive rate of return on State Farm's investment. In either case, the argument goes, other justices should have disqualified Karmeier from hearing the issue because of a serious risk of actual bias.

The plaintiffs quote a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a different case that....just as no man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause no man should be able to choose a judge in his own cause. The filing says State Farm's immense efforts created a constitutionally intolerable probability of bias and possibly denied them their due process rights.

State Farm responds to the new allegations by saying only that the case was decided years ago and the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was rejected.

Categories: Business, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 13, 2011

U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald: Patriot Act Critical to War on Terror

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald says the most important change in fighting terrorism over the past 10 years has been a new cooperation between the intelligence and law-enforcement communities. The cooperation is a result of the Patriot Act.

Prior to 9/11, there was a wall between the law enforcement and intelligence communities, he said. The wall arose largely as an effort to prevent domestic spying on U.S. citizens, but Fitzgerald said it meant there were two teams of people protecting the United States, and those teams weren't helping each other. He said he could get more information from an Al Qaida operative than he could get from some people in his own government.

"It used to be, 'Why should I share something with you? What is your need to know? And if someone finds out I shared it, how am I going to justify myself to my boss that I gave out that information?' That's been reversed. People now think, 'What is my duty to share? And if it's found out that I have information that I didn't share with someone, how am I going to justify to myself that I sat on it?'" he said.

Fitzgerald said now law enforcement regularly meets with the intelligence community, and he says that's been a key tool that wasn't available before 9/11.

He focused his comments in a speech Monday on assessing the war on terror, but Fitzgerald also took questions from the audience of business and civic leaders. One of the questions involved public corruption and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Fitzgerald wouldn't comment on Blagojevich's case, but he says too many people think corruption is a problem just for law enforcement.

"If I could have a dollar for everyone who's ever come up to me after we've convicted someone to say, 'Yes, we knew he or she was doing it all the time and we wondered when someone was going to get around to do something about it,' and I bite my lip, but I want to just smack them up side the head and say, 'Well the person you wanted to do something about it was you,'" Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald has been the U.S. Attorney in Chicago for 10 years. That's an unusually long tenure, but he says Chicago is his home and he loves his job and he has no plans to leave it.

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 13, 2011

Smoke from Minnesota Wild Fire Moves into Illinois

The National Weather Service says smoke from a forest fire in Minnesota is spreading into sections of northern Illinois.

The weather service says the smoke started moving into Illinois on Tuesday because of northerly winds moving behind a cold front. The fire is more than 400 miles northwest of Illinois. Forecasters say the smoke is expected to continue spreading across much of northern Illinois through Tuesday evening. Westerly winds are forecast in Illinois early Wednesday.

Residents should expect hazy skies and a burning odor. The fire in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a lake-dotted region along the Minnesota-Canada border, was sending a plume of smoke and haze across the Upper Midwest.

Those with burning eyes, respiratory conditions and difficulty breathing should use caution.

Categories: Environment

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 13, 2011

Quinn Adds New Wrinkle to Gambling Expansion

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is airing another concern about gambling expansion that would add a new Danville casino and four others in the state.

Quinn has repeatedly harped about insufficient regulation in the bill and on Tuesday he said he was worried it could shortchange education funding.

But Democratic Rep. Lou Lang of Skokie said Illinois would still get millions of new dollars if the expansion is approved, even with changes in the sliding scale for taxing casino revenues.

Quinn has talked down the expansion but the governor doesn't have the legislation yet to sign or veto. Lawmakers have held on to it since May to try to deal with Quinn's concerns.

Lang says Quinn has discussed items but not provided a specific list of changes to the bill.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 13, 2011

Champaign City Council to Revisit CVB Funding

At least two Champaign city council members believe the local convention and visitors bureau is a valuable asset.

But the level of the city's financial commitment to the Champaign County CVB will be weighed Tuesday night, two months after the city of Urbana chose to pull its $72 thousand in funding and use it instead for public safety. The Champaign County Board later provided a $15 thousand donation of its own.

City council member Tom Bruno calls the area a tourist attraction, but not a natural one that doesn't need the backing of promotions offered by the CVB. Fellow council member Marci Dodds also backs the agency, and sits on its board. But she questions if Champaign's CVB funding should benefit a community no longer supporting the agency.

"Do you want us to go out and say to the other people: 'you need to fully fund," Dodds said. "If you don't, you don't get the benefits of the CVB in quite the same way you did before. And I think that that's certainly something I'm comfortable with."

Dodds said it's a mistake long-term not to promote tourism in Champaign, since it will impact the region economically. She's also surveyed other council members, and says they also support funding the CVB at some level.

Bruno said supporting other communities, like Urbana, is unavoidable.

"It very well may be that it's difficult to attract people to the city of Champaign without having some of them choose to stay the night in Urbana," he said. "So because it's difficult to target that, it still may be in the city of Champaign's best interest to just generically attract people to this region."

Like the hiring of a new police officer, Bruno admits it's hard to track the benefits of what the Convention and Visitors Bureau funding does for the city.

The Champaign city council meets Tuesday night in a study session, beginning at 7. Bruno said he expects the council to take final action on CVB funding by October.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 13, 2011

Portable Storage Container Rules Set For Urbana Vote

When rules for using portable storage containers come to the Urbana City Council for a final vote next week, they'll be a little more flexible than first proposed.

City officials want to place limits on how big a storage container can be that's left on residential property --- and how long it can stay there. A permit to store the containers in a driveway or yard would be good for 30 days. But Urbana planning manager Robert Myers said they want to allow for situations when more time is needed --- such as during a home construction project.

"Occasionally, construction projects will go on for weeks and even months," Myers said. "So someone may really need to put their personal belongings into storage for a longer period of time, and have a portable storage container in their driveway for longer than 30 days. So in situations like that, the zoning administrator could determine to allow it longer."

Urbana council members worked out the changes during a committee session Monday night. The limit on keeping the containers in a public right-of-way, such as a street or sidewalk, would still be 72 hours, with no extensions. And the volume of container space would still be limited to 20 feet by eight feet by eight feet --- although multiple containers equaling that amount may be allowed.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 13, 2011

Community Forum Provides New Input for Unit 4 Supt Search

A search firm has nearly completed collecting its criteria for what the Champaign community wants in a new school superintendent.

A forum Monday night brought out new input from parents and others who say Unit 4 needs someone with close tabs on the community, and puts the student first, regardless of race or socioeconomic status.

Jennifer Shelby will serve on a committee that will conduct the second round of interviews. She said she is concerned about low-income students that can fall through the cracks.

"The kids that go home hungry, and the level of poverty in the school district, which I think the community likes to keep under wraps," Shelby said. "I'd like to see that brought to the forefront."

The forum at Centennial High School brought out about 50 people, and lasted just over an hour. Parent Charles Schultz said he was surprised more didn't attend, but was happy to hear calls for fiscal discipline under a new superintendent, the hiring of more minority teachers, and better communication lines overall.

"They need to work with the board," Schultz said. "Because the (Unit 4) board is responsible to the community, and if there's no chain of command between the community and the board and the superintendent, then the community is not going to be very happy, and the board may not be very happy."

Others at the forum suggested improved school safety, working on a tight budget, and improving the district's school of choice system to add to what's already been compiled from nearly 900 on-line surveys. Laura Bleill says the lack of communication between the district and parents in that school of choice process is frustrating. The co-founder of the Chambana Moms.com web site also believes that Unit 4's next leader needs to open lines of communication that extend beyond the classroom.

"Interfacing with the community is key," Bleill said. "I think this district does a lot of things behind closed doors that should be opened up to the public, and that the public should have more input into how the schools are run and how the future is for our children."

Champaign City Council member Will Kyles said the new superintendent needs to bring about a change in culture within the classroom, noting that some teachers are afraid to talk to their students.

The search firm School Exec Connect will use the forum and surveys to form a profile for a new superintendent. Edward Olds with the search firm says the turnout was typical for such a forum. The comments from the event will be combined with input at smaller meetings Tuesday that include the local NAACP chapter, Champaign County's Chamber of Commerce, and a local teachers' union. The top replies on Unit 4 surveys included finding someone who had worked in a similar size district, and encouraged positive student behavior.

The firm will choose 12-to-15 candidates from more than one-thousand applicants, then narrow it to 5-to-7 finalists that the Unit 4 school board will interview in November. The new superintendent will be hired late this year, and start next July.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 12, 2011

Former CUPHD Administrator Pleads Guilty

Former Champaign County Public Health Administrator Vito Palazzolo, 55, has accepted a guilty plea for a single count against him related to the misuse of the health district's resources, according to the Champaign County State's Attorney.

Palazzolo had been charged with making unauthorized purchases amounting to roughly $16,500 on personal items, including meals, trips, and tools.

In exchange for a guilty plea of official misconduct, other charges related to theft and misapplication of funds were dropped. Palazzolo was sentenced on Monday to 18 months of probation. He must also pay $5,000 in restitution to the public health district, and serve 50 hours of public service.

"The State's Attorney's Office is very pleased to have resolved this case in favor of the CUPHD, and appreciates the hard work of the Champaign Police Department in assisting in this complicated investigation," Champaign County States Attorney Julia Rietz said.

Julie Pryde took over Palazzolo as public health administrator after he was fired four years ago.

"No place needs this type of distraction," Pryde said. "We have a lot of work to do, and we don't need this type of distraction. So, I'm really glad that this is behind us, and I am pleased that the agency will be getting some restitution back for the questionable purchases."

Pryde said since Palazzolo's departure, efforts to monitor how employees spend the department's money have been beefed up.

The charges against Palazzolo were first filed in November 2009, but the case was delayed due to various motions by Palazollo's previous attorney, Robert Kirchner, who passed away this year. Through another attorney, Palazzolo withdrew those motions and entered the guilty plea.

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 12, 2011

UI Spokeswoman: Law School Data Prompts ‘Vigilant’ Investigation

A University of Illinois spokeswoman says an investigation into College of Law profile data is an example of a new climate on the Urbana campus.

The assistant dean of admissions in the college has been placed on administrative leave concerning median test scores and grade point averages point averages that had been exaggerated for the class of 2014.

U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the new climate established by the Board of Trustees and new administrators will distance the university from the 2009 admissions scandal.

"Any organization this large--there are going to be things that happen," she said. "There are going to be mistakes made, there are going to be bad judgments, that sort of thing. I think what sets us apart is how it's been handled. And that's really what's most important for the university, and the integrity of the U of I."

The Daily Illini and News Gazette are both reporting that the admissions dean who was placed on leave is Paul Pless. Kaler wouldn't confirm that information, but would say that assistant dean for academic affairs John Columbo has taken over those duties.

The university's ethics office received a tip last month and the reported inaccuracies were discovered Friday.

Categories: Education

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 12, 2011

Quinn Vetoes Bill to Raise Illinois Electric Rates

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has vetoed legislation to increase electric rates for consumers across the state.

The measure was part of a $3 billion, 10-year plan to give Commonwealth Edison and Ameren money for infrastructure improvements and a modern Smart Grid. The bill does not guarantee higher electricity prices, but any future hikes could take effect immediately - rather than first going through a lengthy review.

Quinn's action came as no surprise as he already pledged to veto it, saying the legislation didn't have enough consumer protections and would unfairly raise electric rates.

"It may be a dream come true for Commonwealth Edison, but it's a nightmare for consumers in Illinois," Quinn said. "I think we want to make it clear to the public that they should not be gauged with paying unfair rates for something that they don't really feel is delivering better service."

Quinn urged lawmakers Monday to let his veto stand and said everyone should go back to the bargaining table. He said the starting point should be a plan put forth by the Illinois Commerce Commission, which regulates utility rate increases.

ComEd said opponents were off base about the legislation known as Senate Bill 1652 or SB1652.

"Despite the rhetoric of the legislation opponents, SB1652 does not guarantee profits, will not result in automatic rates increases and does not strip the authority of the ICC," ComEd said in a statement. "Illinois customers want more than the status quo. We look forward to working with members of the General Assembly to help make grid modernization and economic growth a reality in Illinois."

Ameren Illinois spokesman Leigh Morris said he is disappointed with the governor's decision to veto the legislation.

Morris said among the changes tied to modernizing the state's electrical distribution system would be fewer power outages, an additional 700 thousand smart meters, and improved energy efficiency.

"Because of the regulatory process that we would have to follow without this legislation, it would take at least 30 years to archive what we could do in 10 years with this legislation," he said.

Morris said Ameren is optimistic that there will be enough support in the General Assembly to override the governor's veto.


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