Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 14, 2011

Prosecutors: Blagojevich Not Fulfilling Bond Terms

Attorneys for Rod Blagojevich have asked a judge for permission to speak with the jurors who recently convicted the impeached Illinois governor on multiple corruption charges.

A filing with U.S. District Court on Thursday seeks access to jurors as the defense prepares post-trial motions. It doesn't specify the motions, but it's widely expected Blagojevich will appeal his convictions.

Defense attorneys often interview jurors about how they reached a verdict in a search for fodder that could bolster their appeal.

Jurors found the 54-year-old Blagojevich guilty on 17 of 20 counts, including attempted extortion for trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.

Several jurors told reporters after the retrial they liked Blagojevich and hoped to acquit him. But they said they believed the evidence was overwhelming.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 13, 2011

Study Shows Race a Factor in Illinois Traffic Stops

A new study shows race could play a role in traffic stops across Illinois.

An Illinois Department of Transportation and University of Illinois at Chicago study of traffic stops in 2010 found that minorities are more likely to be cited or to be asked for a consent search than white drivers. The research is part of a state rule that requires police to record the details of traffic stops and report them to the DOT. For the last few years, the research has revealed similar results.

Adam Schwartz, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said the ACLU wants state police to get rid of consent searches entirely. A consent search is when an officer asks the driver if he or she can search the vehicle. Unlike other searches done by police, a vehicle search can be done without a warrant. All the officer needs is consent from the driver.

"Given the danger of conscious or unconscious bias being in play, we think that consent searches always will yield a disparate impact against minority motorists. It simply is too subjective a technique to apply," Schwartz said.

In June of this year, the ACLU of Illinois filed a complaint to the United States Department of Justice. According to Schwartz, the ACLU wants there to be a federal investigation into Illinois State Police practices, and for the US DOJ to issue a ban on the use of consent searches.

Schwartz said the new study confirms the need for such action.

"We think that it's a technique that can't be cured or reformed," he said.

Monique Bond, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Police Department, said they are in the process of reviewing the raw data and expect an internal review to be completed within the coming weeks. She said that no decision had been made to cease consent searches.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 13, 2011

U of I Files Appeal in Case Concerning Student Records

The University of Illinois has formally appealed a federal judge's ruling that student and family records be disclosed.

The brief filed Wednesday stems from a lawsuit filed last year by the Chicago Tribune. The U of I denied Freedom of Information Act requests filed by the paper seeking the names and addresses of parents of Urbana campus applicants who were enrolled over more qualified ones.

The University contends those records are protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. U of I attorney Sam Skinner said information like test scores are protected due to privacy issues, similar to what is seen in health care.

Skinner said it is clear the measure should apply to both admitted students, and those who apply and are rejected.

"What they're really looking for in this particular case is students who were admitted, and what the information is on their students, including information about the families, where they live, and also there's a request pending that deals with actual ACT scores and other information," Skinner said. "We think that's clearly covered by FERPA."

The U of I complied with prior FOIA requests from the Tribune, submitting nearly 6,000 documents, including e-mails, but the Tribune filed suit over redacted names in those e-mails. The investigation of the so-called Category I list resulted in the resignation of former U of I President Joseph White, and the resignations of six of nine U of I Trustees. The university said failure to comply with FERPA could mean the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds for financial aid and academic grants.

The Champaign News-Gazette is not a party to this lawsuit, but also filed many FOIA requests. Publisher John Foreman said scholarship recipients should be public information, or the system should be abolished altogether.

"It's our belief, and I think it's been demonstrated a number of times over the years, that many of these scholarships are political rewards to family members, friends, and campaign workers," he said. "Who knows who else?"

Oral arguments are expected in the fall, but Skinner said he does not expect a resolution until late this year at the earliest. He said the court will have a chance to respond, then the U of I will have a chance to file some additional briefing. In granting the University's stay the order pending appeal, U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall welcomed an appeal so protections afforded by federal law could be clarified.

Categories: Education, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 13, 2011

Asian Carp Discovered Near Lake Decatur

Decatur city officials say low water levels and high heat is what killed several thousand fish, including the invasive Asian carp, below the dam between Lake Decatur and the Sangamon River.

The discovery of the fish did not come as much of a surprise to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Spokesman Chris McCloud said the fish tend to move in migratory areas.

"Illinois has the most rivers, lakes and streams of any state in the entire country, and many of those tributaries are connected," McCloud said. "So, is it a surprise that they're there? No. It's just that we have not seen them in that many numbers in quite a while."

Asian carp have long been in the Sangamon River, but have never been seen so close to the lake. Lake Maintenance Supervisor Joe Nihiser said he noticed the Asian carp a couple of weeks ago, but he said there is no evidence to suggest that the carp have made it into Lake Decatur.

"We will just continue to monitor the tail pool to see what kind of activity we have with these Asian carp," Nihiser said. "Naturally they swim upstream to where there's water that is moving or has ripples in it."

The fish have spread throughout the Mississippi, Illinois and Ohio river basins.

The Asian carp are known to compete with other fish for food by eating large quantities of plankton. Decatur city officials worry that the fish may damage sport fish populations.

Anyone who catches a silver carp or bighead carp alive should call Decatur Lake Management at 217-424-2837.

Categories: Environment


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 13, 2011

Feds Sweep Up Chicago ‘Outlaw’ Biker Gang

Federal prosecutors say seven members of an outlaw biker gang from Illinois are now facing racketeering charges, after being caught up in a multi-state sting operation Tuesday.

In all, federal officials say they rounded up 18 members of the "Wheels of Soul" motorcycle gang. A grand jury indictment alleges that 15 of them employed various criminal activities, including murder, arson, and kidnapping, while jockeying for power against rival gangs.

The government says the Wheels of Soul gang was strictly hierarchical. The seven defendants from northern Illinois have nicknames like Big T, Q-Ball, and Thundercat, according to the indictment. Federal prosecutors say members were always required to carry a sort of survival kit with them, including a weapon, a flashlight, a needle and thread.

Some were allegedly dubbed "one-percenters," and received a diamond patch to put on their motorcycle vests that identified them as select members who routinely committed crimes for the gang.

Several of the defendants have hearings scheduled before a federal judge in Chicago later this week.

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 12, 2011

Vermilion County Board Approves Wind Turbine Ordinance

The Vermilion County Board overwhelmingly approved a measure Tuesday night by a vote of 22-1 to issue a land permit to an energy company that wants to construct a large wind farm in Vermilion and Champaign Counties.

The lone dissenting vote came from board member Terry Stal.

Chicago-based Invenergy is looking to build 104 wind turbines in Vermilion County starting northeast of Kickapoo State Park. The company is willing to pay the county up to $90,000 a year in property taxes and an additional $150,000 in building permit fees.

Vermilion County Board Chairman Jim McMahon supports the plan, touting its economic advantages for the community.

"Land owners get anywhere between $4,000 and $8,000 a year for leasing a piece of their land for the wind turbine," McMahon said. "So, you get the economic boost of people getting money because of the wind."

Darrell Cambron of rural Rankin has opposed the project from the start. Cambron said that the Vermilon County wind ordinance, which allows the wind turbines within 1,000 feet of a home is simply too close. He is urging county officials to give the plan a second look.

"It seems like they keep getting bigger all the time," Cambron said. "I've talked to other people who have had them around their homes, and they have problems with them."

Each wind turbine would be 492 feet tall, and have the capacity of producing 1.6 megawatts. Cambron said he is concerned that the large wind turbines would create too much noise and shadow flicker. However, McMahon said those concerns could only be addressed if Vermilion County had a zoning ordinance, but he said county simply does not have one on the books.

"I have no jurisdiction to look at those issues when it's a building permit," McMahon explained. "If you were going to build a building, and you needed a permit for that building, you have to produce that that building is a sound building, and it's not going to fall over or somebody get hurt."

The wind farm would stretch to Champaign County, where there would be 30 additional turbines north of Royal and just south of Gifford.

Champaign County Board member Alan Kurtz, a Democrat, said the county's wind farm ordinance, which took three years to develop, will allow the county to reap the benefits, including hundreds of jobs.

"I was able to put together a coalition of Republicans and Democrats, and we passed a wind farm ordinance by a supermajority of 25 out of the 27 votes on the county board," Kurtz explained. "It's obvious that there was a consensus for wind farms here in Champaign County and the revenues that it will bring to us."

The Champaign County Planning and Zoning Department received its application this week to build the wind farm. A set of public hearings on the project is scheduled Aug. 25, and Sept. 1, 8 and 29 at the Champaign County Zoning Board of Appeals.

"I don't know if the county board is going to want to do a study session," county zoning director John Hall said. "They are all pretty familiar with the wind farm requirements since it was such a relatively recent amendment, so I never presumed that they would want a study session...there are no plans for a study session at this time."

The Champaign County Board could vote on the application as early as Oct. 20.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 12, 2011

Union Workers Protest Pay Raise Freezes

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn said he had no choice but to cancel pay raises for some 30,000 employees of 14 state agencies.

Union workers were expecting a 2 percent pay raise, but were blindsided earlier this month when the governor scrapped the raises to save the state approximately $75 million.

Members of the labor group AFSCME picketed across the state Tuesday to protest the governor's decision. About a dozen of them showed up along Mattis Avenue in Champaign. Wayne Matthews, a 33-year employee with the Illinois Department of Public Health, was at the rally. He said union members have made plenty of sacrifices over the last few years, and he said they deserve their salary increases.

"Two percent is still better than no percent, which is what we've had for a long time," Matthews said. "We've actually - in this contract - pushed back our raises, and volunteered furlough days and other things to save the state money. This is how we're rewarded."

Tara McCauley, a staff representative for AFSCME local 31, was also in Champaign during the picket. McCauley said the governor's decision to cancel the raises was unprecedented.

"We've negotiated contracts with Illinois governors for decades," McCauley said. "We've never had a governor try to go back on a raise that he's negotiated. You know, we've got a signed contract, so we feel that this isn't Wisconsin, this isn't Ohio. We're not going to allow our governor to take away people's legal rights to collectively bargain. So, it is about a bigger issue for us as well."

Speaking to reporters earlier in the day, Governor Quinn defended his actions.

"The General Assembly did not provide any money for pay raises for the AFSCME state workers," Quinn said. "That is the long and the short of it. I cannot give them money that the General Assembly hasn't appropriated in terms of a raise."

AFSCME had supported Quinn, a Democrat, in the November election. Just prior to that endorsement, the union agreed to defer raises while Quinn guaranteed two years without layoffs.

The union filed suit in federal court in Springfield last week to block the pay freeze. The group contends the pay raise rejection was illegal, and it is bringing in an arbitrator to settle the dispute.

The Illinois Federation of Teachers has also joined in AFSCME's lawsuit.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 12, 2011

Judge Keeps Catholic Charities Foster-Care Contracts in Place

(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)

A Sangamon County judge has granted a preliminary injunction that keeps the foster-care and adoption contracts between the state and Catholic Charities in place.

In granting the injunction, Circuit Judge John Schmidt says the discontinuance of the contracts could cause irreparable harm to families the organization serves.

Diocese officials in Peoria, Joliet and Springfield sued to hold up enforcement of a law that would force them to place foster kids with gay couples. They oppose on religious grounds the Illinois civil union law allowing gays to adopt children or provide foster care.

"This is a great win for the 2,000 children under the care of Catholic Charities, protecting these kids from the grave disruption that the state's reckless decision to terminate would have caused," according to a statement by Peter Breen, executive director and legal counsel of the Thomas More Society. "We will continue this fight until all young people in need now and in the future are guaranteed their right to receive the high-quality foster and adoption care that the Catholic Church has provided for over a century to Illinois children."

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services says it won't renew foster-care and adoption contracts with the not-for-profit organization Catholic Charities.

The move involves about 2,000 children, but state officials say their foster care won't be affected.

The next hearing is scheduled for August 17, 2011 at 9 AM, where Judge Schmidt will assess the merits of the case.

Categories: Government, Politics, Religion

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 12, 2011

Catholic Charities, Illinois Cut Ties Over Civil Unions

Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn is defending the state's civil union law in a dispute with a Catholic adoption agency.

State officials say they won't renew foster care or adoption contracts with Catholic Charities. The organization has received state money in the past, but Catholic Charities has said it would not comply with the new civil unions law signed by Quinn.

Quinn said the law granting gay couples many of the same rights as married couples is staying put.

"We're not going back," Quinn said. "Any organization that decides that because of the civil unions law that they won't participate voluntarily in a program, that's their choice."

Quinn said another agency is helping coordinate more adoption services. There are four Catholic Charities offices around Illinois.


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