Illinois Public Media News
The bench trial of Cherry Orchard Village landlords Bernard and Eduardo Ramos continued Friday afternoon in Champaign County Court.
The Ramoses are accused of failing to legally connect sewer and septic systems for six out of their eight apartment buildings on the property, located right outside of Rantoul. The apartment complex has traditionally housed many migrant workers.
The landlords have pledged to take responsibility for the property, promising to have the six apartment buildings that are in violation of the county's health ordinance re-opened by this summer.
There is typically an uptick in occupancy at the apartment complex during the warmer months due to an influx of migrant workers to the area. A 2007 migrant camp license application for the property reports there are at least 48 family rental units at Cherry Orchard.
Champaign County prosecutor Christina Papavasiliou is pushing for an injunction that would prevent people from living in the apartment buildings until the sewage problems are fixed.
"The injunction would be a cautionary measure," Papavasiliou explained during Friday's hearing. "It would do no harm to the defendants."
The prosecution is seeking $550 in restitution for expenses incurred by the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District on this case.
Though occupancy at the property is unknown, public health officials estimate at least eight single men continue to live there and have noted several cars parked outside apartment buildings. Papavasiliou said she wants the Ramoses to be fined for making the property available to tenants during the ongoing violation, but she said she is not sure that count will hold up in court.
"It's just so hard to prove that people were living there," she said. "Because these are all migrant workers...I just didn't get a hold of anyone willing to come forward."
Earlier in the week, Bernard said he and his father should not get blamed for the sewage and septic issue since the Bank of Rantoul owned the property when state health inspectors first noticed a problem in 2007.
"We got blamed for things other people did," Bernard said. "If anything was done to the property, we have nothing to do with it."
The property is currently owned by Bernard's sister, Evelyn.
Bernard and Eduardo could each face a one-time fine of $1,000 for attempting to repair the septic systems without proper permits and licenses. Taking the stand Friday and acting as his own attorney, Eduardo defended his actions and the actions of his son, Bernard, for trying to fix the property in 2007 when they first noticed sewage seeping from a septic system.
"I do not own any license," Eduardo admitted. "When we have a case of an emergency like that, we can't just wait and proceed. Every good citizen should take care of the people around us."
Papavasiliou stated that the Ramoses could have caused more damage by trying to fix the property without proper training.
During the trial, the Ramoses have tried to distance themselves as managers and owners of Cherry Orchard. Papavasiliou said under the law, they are obligated to maintain the property, which she said they have neglected to do.
"The defendants have based a large part of their testimony that they're not owners of the property," Papavasiliou said. "There's no grandfather clause for septic systems, regardless of how they found the property when they became owners."
The Ramoses have owned more than 30 properties in Champaign County, and have faced hundreds of code violations. Several of these properties, including Cherry Orchard, have been under foreclosure, according to the Champaign County Recorder's Office.
The Ramoses ignored a request for comment after Friday's hearing. In a 2009 interview with CU-CitizenAccess.org, Bernard Ramos said city housing inspectors have targeted him because he is Hispanic and rents to illegal immigrants. He said his financial problems were due to the decline in the economy and unemployment, which affected his tenants' ability to pay rent.
Presiding Judge John Kennedy said he will issue a ruling Monday, April 18 at 11:00 AM.
(Photo courtesy of Julie Pryde)
An Illinois House hearing Saturday in Champaign is just one of many being held by both chambers of the General Assembly, as work gets underway on drawing new legislative districts for the 2012 election.
But Republican lawmakers say the hearing schedule falls short of what's needed to get proper public input for the redistricting process. State Representative Chapin Rose of Mahomet said the House Redistricting Committee has scheduled no hearings for rural areas in the southern third of the state. Rose said the committee should hold another round of hearings once proposed district maps are drawn up.
"Once that committee meets in Springfield or Chicago, what we're saying is we should bring it back to statewide, so that people in Urbana have a chance to look at it, people in Carbondale have a chance to look at it, or wherever," Rose said.
Rose said that Democrats need to keep their promises about an open and transparent redistricting process since they control both legislative chambers and the governor's office.
A spokesman for House Speaker Mike Madigan said the redistricting process has been open so far. Steve Brown said many of the challenges in the process are not political, but technical and legal.
"Because Illinois does have to comply with the Voting Rights Act and address minority population issues, almost every ten years, these maps are reviewed by the federal courts, and found whether they're in compliance or not," Brown said. "And if not, they have to be corrected."
The House Redistricting Committee hearing in Champaign is set for Saturday, April 15th at 1 PM at the Tony Noel Ag Building at Parkland College. Also on Saturday, the Illinois Senate Redistricting Committee will hold its own hearing at 12 PM, at Kankakee Community College.
The Illinois House wants a full scale review of a prepaid tuition program.
The move Thursday follows revelations of questionable investments detailed in "Crain's Chicago Business."
The 35,000 parents who have money into the "College Illinois!" program expect they're making a sound investment in their child's future education at a state university. The plan is billed as a way to guard against future tuition hikes, but no guarantee exists if the fund runs short of cash.
Crain's reports the program is more than 30% underfunded.
The newspaper also uncovered a recent string of risky moves ... such as money being put into hedge funds ... as administrators try to make up lost ground.
State Representative Chad Hays (R-Catlin) said being too aggressive is a bad strategy.
"This is not a fund, in my opinion, that is a good place for the flavor or the day in terms of the newest investment strategy," Hays said. "This is a fund that really aligns itself with a pretty conservative investment."
Hays said he hopes an audit will give parents renewed confidence in College Illinois. In the meantime, he said he does not encourage College Illinois participants to withdraw their contracts.
The Illinois Student Assistance Commission, which manages the portfolio, is on record as welcoming the review. A letter to College Illinois participants says the program continues to be a "great choice."
In a separate action, the Illinois House separately approved a measure on Thursday barring members of the legislature from awarding scholarships to state universities to their family members. The so-called "General Assembly" scholarships are controversial, as some legislators gave the tuition waivers to children of campaign donors.
Legislation being lauded for making historic improvements to Illinois' education system passed the Illinois Senate Thursday night with no opposition, and it did so with the full backing of teachers' unions.
With their massive membership and money, teachers unions carry a lot of influence. Yet, not only did they back the package, they made considerable concessions.
No longer will tenured teachers have as much job protection. Teachers will be subject to performance reviews, and evaluations could mean some will lose their jobs. In Chicago, teachers may have to work longer hours, even if the union does not agree.
The Illinois Education Association's President, Ken Swanson, acknowledged the focus was on students. He denies the unions were more willing to give in after watching the clamp down on workers' bargaining rights in states like Wisconsin.
"What this shows is that to have meaningful reform that will work, you have to have the unions at the table," Swanson said. "Here in Illinois what we've shown is you do not need to have Draconian, unwarranted attacks on public employee rights, collected bargaining. You can do this through collective bargaining, you can do this through bringing the parties to the table."
Advocates like Jessica Handy, with the group Stand for Children, laud the changes as significant for students.
"Having a great teacher in the classroom is the most important school-based factor in effecting student outcomes, and this shift to making performance the driving factor in personnel decisions is ultimately a huge win for children," Handy said.
The package came together this week after months of negotiations. Despite having the support of unions, advocates, school administrators, and Senators on both sides of the aisle, it could see changes in the House.
House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) said that chamber may push for some revisions.
"We hope that any changes that we might decide would be appropriate would not so upset the apple cart that we would end up with nothing," she said.
There's a possibility changes to the package could lead a stakeholder to withdraw support. Under the measure, Chicago Public Schools may prolong their school year and lengthen the school day.
Mailings to the University of Illinois shed new light on what may have occurred when a bronze bust of Abraham Lincoln went missing more than 30 years ago.
The bust disappeared from Lincoln Hall in October 1979, but turned up a couple days later when an anonymous phone call led officers to its location - a tree stump on the U of I's golf course. The case was never solved, but just recently the college of Liberal Arts and Sciences got a response when making reference to incident in its 2011 winter newsletter.
LAS spokesman Dave Evensen said in the package, an altered male voice on a CD recording denied reports that the bust was damaged during the theft. He said this person went through great lengths to hide identity, with a fake name and address.
"This guy - he called himself the founder of the Statue Liberation Society," Evesen said. "And they were trying to find a way to make an impact on campus, and make these demands. And he recalled how they had stolen the Lincoln bust."
A few years later, Evensen said the group took credit for the 1982 theft and return of the bust of Lloyd Morey, a former U of I president and comptroller. It sought demands ranging from the enforcement of bike paths on campus, better dorm food... and better building security measures.
Evenson said LAS went to U of I police with the package, who said the case was closed since it went beyond the statute of limitations. The restored Lincoln bust is in the Spurlock Museum now, but will be back in Lincoln Hall once it reopens following extensive renovation work. The bust was created by Hermon Atkins MacNeil in 1928.
Illinois House Votes to Ban Trans Fats
Trans fats could soon be illegal in Illinois.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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