Illinois Public Media News
Prosecutors in Rod Blagojevich's corruption case have asked a judge to bar defense attorneys from arguing at the former Illinois governor's upcoming retrial that playing all the hundreds of hours of secret FBI recordings would prove his innocence.
Blagojevich and his lawyers have complained for years that the government took the recordings out of context by playing on a small percentage of them. They argue that heard in their entirety the recordings would demonstrate Blagojevich never did anything illegal.
But in a 25-page motion, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Chicago, government attorneys say there are no grounds to suggest either that unplayed tapes would help exonerate Blagojevich or that prosecutors intentionally selected recordings that lacked necessary context.
"The court has also made clear that the court, rather than the government, is the final arbiter of what is, and what is not, presented to the jury," the motion says. "Yet the defense has continued to suggest otherwise."
Blagojevich faces 20 charges, including that he sought to exchange an appointment to President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat for campaign cash or a top job. His first trial ended last year with jurors agreeing on just one count _ convicting Blagojevich of lying to the FBI.
Wiretap recordings were at the heart of the prosecution's case at the first trial and will be just as crucial at the second, which is set to begin April 20.
One of Blagojevich's attorneys, Sheldon Sorosky, declined to immediately comment on the motion Tuesday, saying attorneys expected to respond later.
Disappointment today at Chicago's Adler Planetarium, as the museum was snubbed in its bid to host one of the retiring space shuttles.
The Adler piped the NASA announcement live into its 3-D Universe Theater. The assembled crowd offered polite applause as the winning institutions were announced: museums in Los Angeles, New York, Washington, DC and Florida.
Adler president Paul Knappanberger offered congratulations, though said he was a bit perplexed by the New York museum's success. He says it's a missed opportunity for the planetarium.
"A shuttle would have been a game changer, I think," he told reporters. "It's a national treasure, it's an icon of American achievement. I don't think any other artifact approaches that icon status."
The Adler is expected to get one of those other artifacts as a consolation prize -- the shuttle flight simulator used to train NASA astronauts. It's reportedly three stories tall and replicates the shuttle's crew compartment. Knappenberger called it the "next best thing," and said the museum will likely build a new enclosure to hold it.
Knappenberger says the failed shuttle campaign was funded almost completely with donated money and services.
(Photo courtesy of John F. Kennedy Space Center/Wikimedia Commons)
An American flag flying upside down outside a museum in eastern Illinois has upset a few people but the man behind it says he means no disrespect.
Harold "Sparky'' Songer is director of the Vermilion County War Museum in Danville. He says he's flying the flag upside down because he's bothered by federal defense spending cuts and what he sees as diminishing military support.
He says he's flying the flag as a distress signal. An upside-down flag is considered a legitimate military distress signal.
Songer is a veteran of World War II and the wars in Korea and Vietnam.
Local resident Chris Perrault told The News-Gazette in Champaign that as he took pictures of the flag Monday he heard complaints from people passing by that the flag display was disrespectful.
An Indiana House committee is taking up a bill that would require nurses, doctors, dentists and other medical workers to pay for a national criminal background check when applying for a state license.
Bill sponsor Republican Sen. Patricia Miller of Indianapolis says current policy relies on the honesty of health workers to accurately report convictions when applying for licenses. About 198,000 people are currently licensed or certified in one of the 20 professions specified in the bill.
An Indianapolis Star investigation last year found several instances in which nurses failed to report arrests or convictions on their license renewal applications without the nursing board knowing about the incidents. The bill allows boards to require people seeking license renewals to submit to a national background check.
The University of Illinois will permanently remove about 2,200 seats from Memorial Stadium because the bleacher seats are getting too old to use.
Illinois spokesman Kent Brown said Tuesday the move will drop the stadium's capacity from 62,870 to about 60,600.
Brown said the aluminum bleacher seats in the stadium's south end zone were installed in 1982 and intended to be temporary.
Engineers who have examined the seats say they should be removed. Brown said the seats aren't unsafe yet, but might be in a few years.
He added that the next phase of stadium renovation could include work in the south end zone so there's no point in replacing the seats yet.
Chicago's Adler Planetarium is scheduled to find out Tuesday if it will be the future home of a NASA space shuttle.
NASA has four space shuttles it's looking to put on display. Adler Planetarium is one of 21 museums or science centers bidding to be the new home of a space shuttle.
The Smithsonian Institution has already laid claim to the oldest of the shuttles, Discovery. That leaves the fates of Atlantis, Endeavor and Enterprise up in the air. NASA estimates the cost to display one of the shuttles is around $28.8 million.
Adler Planetarium is facing off against other institutions such as the Museum of Flight in Seattle and the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. NASA is scheduled to announce the winning homes of the shuttles on Tuesday at noon from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
(Photo courtesy of John F. Kennedy Space Center/Wikimedia Commons)
It appears the cause of the fire that shut down two restaurants and a clothes store in Champaign's Campustown district will remain undetermined.
City fire department spokeswoman Dena Schumacher says investigators removed a number of items while doing a physical inventory of the building in the 600 block of Green Street, and the specific origin of the fire remained undetermined.
The March 23rd fire started somewhere in the southeast corner of the ceiling of Mia Za's café. The building also houses Zorba's restaurant and Pitaya clothing.
The eastbound lane of Green between Sixth and Wright streets will remain closed through at least next Monday, while crews remove debris resulting from the fire. The adjacent sidewalk will remain closed during that time as well.
The bench trial of two Champaign County landlords continued Monday morning.
Bernard and Eduardo Ramos run the Cherry Orchard Village apartments, located outside of Rantoul in an unincorporated part of Champaign County. Cherry Orchard has been under scrutiny for the last three and a half years ever since state health inspectors discovered raw sewage seeping into nearby farmland. Champaign County officials say six out of eight apartment buildings on the property are in violation of the local health ordinance.
Acting as his own attorney and speaking through a translator, Eduardo Ramos called one witness during Monday's hearing - his son, Bernard.
Eduardo asked Bernard if it is possible to re-open the affected apartment buildings without clearance from a government agency.
"We have to fix them first before we open them," Bernard replied.
Bernard said he will 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.
Bernard said he and his father shouldn't get blamed for the sewage and septic issue since the Bank of Rantoul owned the property when health inspectors first noticed a problem in 2007.
"We got blamed for things other people did," Ramos 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.
Assistant State's Attorney Christina Papavasiliou says under the law, the Ramoses have a duty to maintain the property, which she says they have neglected to do.
"If you exercise possession or control," Papavasiliou explained. "Even as a landlord or in any capacity, you can be accountable under the ordinance."
Papavasiliou is pushing for an injunction that would prevent people from living in the apartment complex until the sewage problems are fixed. She is asking presiding Judge John Kennedy to fine the Ramoses $500 a day until the sewage and septic systems are fixed, and another $500 for everyday it takes them to vacate remaining tenants.
She says tenants are still living in buildings that are not up to code. 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.
During Monday's trial, the Ramoses requested a motion of continuance, saying they needed 14 days to subpoena an official with the Illinois Department of Public Health who works on issuing licenses to house migrant workers. Judge Kennedy rejected the motion, calling the testimony of the official "marginal at best."
Once the request was denied, Eduardo Ramos filed a motion of prejudice against Kennedy.
"I have been a lawyer for many, many years and have not seen this type of verbal violence before," Eduardo said.
Eduardo explained he had studied law in his native Bolivia, but not in the United States.
Another judge, Jeff Ford, was brought in to take up the prejudice claim, and that motion was also denied.
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 the trial. 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.
The prosecution rested its case last Wednesday. The trial will resume Friday, April 15 at 2:30 PM.
(Photo courtesy of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District)
Last week's news that the state was going to stop offering a popular health insurance plan to government employees is being met with a backlash. On Monday, a bipartisan legislative panel heard testimony surrounding the decision, but details remain sparse.
Severing Illinois' 30-year relationship with Urbana-based insurer Health Alliance would save the state money. So says the Department of Health Care and Family Services, which last week announced state workers can instead sign up with Blue Cross Blue Shield's managed care. Savings is pegged at about $100 million per year.
But Health Alliance C-E-O Jeff Ingrum says the decision will "disrupt doctor patient relationships for ten thousands of state employees and their families."
Ingrum disputes the projected savings. Health Alliance has filed a formal protest. That puts the bid process under review, which means little information is being released.
Thousands of downstate state employees are caught in the middle. They could be forced to pay more for coverage or change doctors. The review could also push back the annual open enrollment period.
Once the review is complete, a legislative commission will have the final say over the health insurance contracts.
The state's rejection of Health Alliance from its new menu of health plans for state employees has prompted the Urbana-based medical plan provider to mount a campaign in its own defense --- including the filing of a formal protest with the state.
Health Alliance officials note that they provide exclusive HMO coverage for several providers including Carle (Health Alliance and Carle Physicians Group are both owned by the Carle Foundation). Without a Health Alliance plan, state employees and retirees will have no access to those doctors under an HMO plan.
But the new health plans for state employees offer other plans that include Carle. They are open access plans --- three-tier plans that work like HMO's at their lowest tier, but offer more expensive access to more doctors at their 2nd and third tiers. Two open access plans from PersonalCare and HealthLink would offer access to Carle doctors at their 2nd tier.
Without giving specific numbers, PersonalCare CEO Todd Petersen says the price difference between Tier One and Tier Two is not a big one.
"There is a difference in deductible and co-payment," Petersen said. "They (the 2nd tier prices) would be a little bit higher. But it's still --- compared to the general market --- it would still be one of the richest benefits on the market today."
Petersen predicts that Carle and and other providers with exclusive contracts with Health Alliance will make arrangements with other health plans --- but not until after Health Alliance's formal protest is heard.
"But then, I do expect that the market will adjust to the new realities and you're likely to see providers participating in products that they have historically not participated in," Petersen said.
In the meantime, Petersen notes the bottom tier of PersonalCare's open access plan includes several central Illinois medical groups and hospitals, including Christie Clinic, Provena, Sara Bush Lincoln and hospitals in Gibson City and Decatur.
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