Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 11, 2012

Theft From DeWitt County Traced to India

Police say thieves in India used the signature of a local official in central Illinois to forge a check and steal $45,000.

It was as easy as going online, where an image of the DeWitt County treasurer's signature was available.

The (Bloomington) Pantagraph ( ) reported Saturday that the fake check was submitted electronically to a bank in New York in November. The funds were reimbursed when the fraud was uncovered.

DeWitt County Sheriff Jered Shofner says the thieves struck again late last month. They attempted to steal more than $35,000 from the village of Wapella. This time, the thieves tried to transfer funds to an account in Japan.

Investigators concluded the thieves were using a check for a tax distribution from the county that was posted on the village website.

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 10, 2012

Lawyers Group Supports Cameras in Illinois Courts

The Illinois State Bar Association supports the Illinois Supreme Court's plan to test the use of cameras in state courtrooms, the head of the attorneys group said.

"The Illinois State Bar Association fully supports the pilot program and access to the courtrooms in general," John Locallo, the ISBA's president, told The Quincy Herald-Whig ( ). "We are very excited about it and it's a great opportunity to bring to the public access to the judicial system."

Locallo, a Chicago attorney, said he has had informal talks with some of his association's 33,000 members and support for the test program has been strong.

He said part of what makes Illinois' test program attractive is that it allows judges to control what happens in their courtrooms.

"I think what is different about the Illinois program, compared to programs nationwide, is that the way it is set up, the judge only has to show good cause to restrict the media," Locallo said. "In Illinois, it allows the judge to decide if the media can be in the courtroom, and his final decision cannot be overturned. Since the judge is in charge of controlling the courtroom anyway, who better to be in charge of the media and the litigants?"

The Illinois Supreme Court in January announced it would start allowing cameras and recorders in state courts on an experimental basis with the aim of eventually pulling Illinois for good out of the group of 14 states that ban extensive media access at trials. The court later chose the 14th Judicial Circuit to begin testing the policy because it is on the border with Iowa, which already allows cameras in courtrooms.

Locallo made his comments Thursday in Quincy, where he addressed cameras in courts and other issues during a meeting with the Adams County Bar Association.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 09, 2012

IL House Approves Cellphone Driving Ban

Illinois already bans texting while driving. And it's illegal to use a cell phone when driving in construction and school zones.

Even more restrictions could be down the road. The Illinois House approved a measure Thursday that would ban drivers from using their cell phones without a hands-free device.

The proposal only applies to holding a phone up to your ear, using a headset or speakerphone would still be permitted. Representative John D'Amico, a Chicago Democrat, sponsored the legislation.

Chicago is one of many cities in Illinois that already have a similar ban in place. D'Amico says that creates a patchwork of regulations that's confusing to motorists. He says he realizes people don't always drive with both hands on the steering wheel, but having another hand free could help a driver avoid an accident.

"I want to make sure that that second hand is available to be on the wheel, right now if you got that hand on the phone to your ear and one hand on the wheel, you can't react quick enough," D'Amico said.

The measure passed 62 to 53. Critics say singing in the car, applying makeup or drinking hot coffee are just as distracting as talking on the phone. They say it's overregulation and would create an easy opening for racial profiling.

First-time offenders would be charged 75 dollars and get a moving violation, a citation akin to a speeding ticket.

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 09, 2012

Death Penalty In IL Repealed One Year Ago Today

It's been exactly one year since Illinois got rid of the death penalty. But there are still questions about the fairness of the state's criminal justice system.

When Gov. Pat Quinn signed the law abolishing the death penalty, he said capital cases were too prone to error.

"We have tried over and over again to come up with a perfect system that makes no mistakes with respect to carrying out the death penalty," Quinn said. "We have found over and over again mistakes have been made."

People who worked for years to eliminate capital punishment are happy it's gone. But they say the system is still far from perfect. With death off the table, the state stopped paying for indigent defendants to have extra attorneys and expert witnesses at trial.

"The odds of someone being wrongfully convicted certainly have gone up, because not as much money is being put into the cases," said John Hanlon, the legal director of the Downstate Innocence Project. "Some might argue that a natural life sentence is just about as bad as a death sentence, because you spend the rest of your life in prison."

Hanlon used to represent defendants in capital cases. He said in better economic times, he hopes the legislature would consider spending to even the playing field for defendants facing life.

Rep. Dennis Reboletti (R-Elmhurst ) has filed several bills to reinstate the death penalty. Reboletti, who is a former prosecutor. said some crimes are so heinous, they deserve the ultimate punishment.

"We had people on death row that murdered multiple victims," Reboletti said. "Murdered children. Home invaded and then murdered people. Raped them, murdered. And the sentence that's most appropriate -- is death."

Last year Reboletti tried to put the death penalty to a statewide referendum. That and a measure to reinstate it were approved in committee and made it onto the House floor, but they were never called for a vote.

This year he has not had as much success: Reboletti's bill to reinstate the death penalty hasn't even been assigned to a committee.

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 09, 2012

State Bar Assoc. Supports Cameras In IL Courts

The head of the Illinois State Bar Association says his group supports plans to allow cameras in courtrooms.

Association President John Locallo tells The Quincy Herald-Whig that his group considers it a great opportunity to bring access to the judicial system to the public.

The Chicago attorney says his group is excited about the plan.

Locallo made his comments Thursday in Quincy, where he addressed cameras in courts and other issues during a meeting with the Adams County Bar Association.

The Illinois Supreme Court has decided run a pilot program to test the use of cameras in state courtrooms. Locallo says he's had informal talks with some of his association's 33,000 members and support for the test program has been strong.

Tags: media, courts

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 09, 2012

Illinois Fires Coach Bruce Weber

Fighting Illini men's basketball coach Bruce Weber will not return next season.

U of I Athletics Director Mike Thomas has announced that Weber, whose team lost to Iowa in the first round of the Big Ten tournament on Thursday, has been dismissed.

Weber came to Illinois in 2003, and guided the team to its first Big Ten title in more than 50 years, and a berth in the Sweet 16. In his second season, the team earned another Big Ten title, finishing with a record of 37-2, losing only to North Carolina in the NCAA title game. But the Illini have had a rocky season, losing 12 of their last 14 games. The Illini closed the year 2-12.

Weber said he is proud of what he accomplished at Illinois, but knows coaching is a bottom-line business.

"Trying to get us to come together as a team, we all had a link and mine was the last one," Weber said. "I only wish I could have connected it, and we had something special to finish the season."

Assistant Coach Jerrance Howard will fill in for Weber on an interim basis. Athletic Director Mike Thomas said a national search will begin to find a new head basketball coach.

"We will move quickly, but we will move diligently, and I'm excited about the prospects of this program for the future," Thomas said. "Certainly, a key to that is feeling like we have the right person in place to lead what is a very national program. "

Weber has three years remaining on his contract, and will receive a buyout of $1.3 million annually.

This is the third dismissal for Thomas, who fired football coach Ron Zook and dismissed women's basketball coach Jolette Law a week ago.

Categories: Education, Sports

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 08, 2012

Illini Fall to Iowa in Big Ten Tourney

The Fighting Illini are out of the Big Ten Tournament after one game.

Illinois lost a second half 7-point lead, and fell to Iowa 64-to-61 Thursday in what could be Coach Bruce Weber's final game.

After the game, he said his team is likely on the bubble for an NIT bid. DJ Richardson says the rumors about Coach Weber's future were not a distraction on the court.

"You hear stuff going around campus, people say stuff here and there," Richardson said. "But we still do what we have to do, and the coach still coaches us, and he does a good job of getting us through the tough situations. Me and Brandon (Paul), the upperclassmen have been leaders. We try wherever we can to help the coach out on the court, we just have got to do a better job out there."

Illinois closed out the regular season losing eight of nine. Meyers Leonard had 18 points and six rebounds, and D.J. Richardson and James Bertrand added 11 points each for Illinois.

Matt Gatens scored 20 points for the Hawkeyes. Iowa has won four of six and will play number 1 seed Michigan State Friday.

Categories: Education, Sports

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 08, 2012

Champaign Circuit Clerk, Auditor Candidates Square off in Forum

The League of Women Voters and the NAACP hosted a forum Wednesday night at the Champaign City Building with the Democratic candidates running for Champaign County circuit clerk and auditor in this month's primary.

Each set of candidates was given an hour to answer a series of questions, but they were not allowed to address each other with their responses. The auditor candidates went first.

Just about a year ago, a referendum to eliminate the office of auditor as an elected post was on the ballot. Voters turned it down, by a vote of 57 percent to 43 percent. The auditor's office has been controversial in Champaign County after email and phone records reported by the News Gazette showed current Auditor Tony Fabri spent little time at work.

The Democratic candidates in the race are George Danos, Kevin Sandefur, and Ben Carlson. They say that they want to bring confidence and transparency back to the office.

George Danos, whose financial background includes jobs in the healthcare and insurance industries, said he would concentrate on making sure county government is fiscally responsible.

"The county deserves a veritable watchdog in the office, one zealous about making sure that our tax dollars are well spent," Danos said. "One who is accessible to both the public and party officials."

Kevin Sandefur is an accounting information systems developer. He said if elected, he would see to it that county finance information gets posted online.

"Who else is going to step up and provide the information to the public in a way that is easy enough for them to understand, easy enough for them to obtain in order to provide the accountability and transparency and openness in government that we need?" Sandefur said.

Meanwhile, Ben Carlson, who works in the insurance industry, said he would like to make the office more efficient by updating technology.

"You know, we've got over 25 years of technology in the current office," Carlson said. "Are you going to keep the current accounting system? Are we going to discuss how to improve that?"

Whoever wins the Democratic nomination for auditor will face Deputy County Clerk John Farney in the general election.

Meanwhile, the Democratic candidates for circuit clerk also took part in the forum. With Linda Frank stepping down as Champaign County circuit clerk after nearly 20 years in that post, the three Democrats running for her seat in the March primary are Barb Wysocki, Lori Hansen, and Evelyn Underwood.

During the forum, the candidates agreed that making court information more accessible to the public should be a priority.

Barb Wysocki, who is a former Champaign County Board member, said part of that involves doing a better job training staff on using technology.

"When the same data has to be entered at two or three different points just to get information circulating or moving between offices, that to me is a human problem more than it is perhaps a technological problem," Wysocki said.

Lori Hansen, who is a law librarian for the Champaign County Circuit Court, said she also wants to find ways to improve services through the use of technology. She said computer stations should be installed in the lobby of the courthouse, so that the public can print out forms before a court appearance.

"Access to justice requires access to information, and information is power," Hansen said. "I want to give the information and power to the people who use the circuit clerk's office."

Hansen added that she would like to keep the self-help desk at the courthouse open, which had briefly closed because of budgetary reasons.

Evelyn Underwood, who is a former member of the Urbana Education Association, agreed that maintaining the self-help desk is a good idea. Underwood said she would also like to see more people serve on juries.

"I can't make them serve, but I would like to encourage them to serve on juries," Underwood said. "It will bring about justice if we have more people of color serving on the juries."

The circuit clerk candidate who wins the primary will face off against Republican Stephanie Holderfield, who currently sits on the county board.

The primary election is set for March 20, 2012.

(Photos by Sean Powers/WILL)

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 08, 2012

Pacifica Quartet Leaving U of I, Starts at Indiana Next Fall

The University of Illinois is losing the Pacifica Quartet.

The Grammy-winning string ensemble has accepted an offer from Indiana University, and is leaving at the end of the spring semester. In addition to a large touring and recording schedule, the group performed often at the U of I's Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

Center Director Mike Ross says they've matured beautifully in their nine years on campus. He says the ensemble's time at the U of I has allowed their relationship to change over time.

"One of the forms that I enjoy the most is the form of collaborative thinking, and brainstorming, and imagining the future," Ross said. "As well as ways to enable the art forms that we work with to have as much impact on the well-being of individuals and families and communities and societies on our global collective as possible."

Violinist Sibbi Berhnardsson, who is a member of the quartet, said the move had nothing to do with Illinois' finances, or other issues at the U of I. He said the quartet struggled with the move, but saw it as a challenge to become part of the storied school of music at Indiana.

"We are very much aware that we are giving up a lot, " Berhnardsson said. "And the only reason we accepted this was it just felt it was a good time sort of take on a new challenge. They have wonderful faculty there, and it's a storied music school.'

In 2009, the Pacifica Quartet won a Grammy for the Best Chamber Music Performance of 2008.

(Photo courtesy of Krannert Center for the Performing Arts)

Categories: Education

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