Illinois Public Media News
Republican Sen. Mark Kirk has three words for U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald: Stay in Chicago. Fitzgerald's name has surfaced among potential nominees to replace outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller, whose nonrenewable term ends in September.
Kirk said Monday he doesn't wish Fitzgerald any ill will in his career but "gosh, we need him here.'' Kirk said he would miss Fitzgerald "greatly'' if he was promoted to the FBI. Under Fitzgerald, the office has prosecuted two former Illinois governors, including the upcoming retrial of ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges.
But Fitzgerald is a potential nominee who could have trouble with congressional confirmation. Some Republicans think he overreached in his prosecution of I. Lewis "Scooter'' Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, in the Valerie Plame affair.
A new report finds conditions at a south suburban cemetery are worse than expected.
Archaeologists examined Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip. That's where Cook County Sheriff's officials in 2009 uncovered an alleged scheme in which workers dug up graves and resold the plots.
In a letter to the sheriff's office, archaeologists report bodies were buried in a Burr Oak corner thought to be unused. Officials had thought the corner could be used for new burials, but Sheriff Tom Dart said Monday the archaeologists found bones and pieces of burnt coffins in an area of the graveyard thought to be available for new graves.
Dart said he thinks up to 600 bodies could be improperly buried in that section - double what he had estimated.
"That area, as we had said, frankly, a year and a half ago, needs to be treated as a memorial," Dart told reporters. "That's exactly what needs to be done here. No one in good conscious can go out there and attempt to bury people there."
Dart said he doesn't know why some of the coffin pieces were burnt.
He said Burr Oak is at capacity.
"It's our hope that this report, once and for all, makes clear that if you dig at any level in these areas, you're going to find human bones, pieces of coffins and God knows what else," Dart said in a written statement.
The cemetery is going through bankruptcy and trying to find a new owner. A lawyer for the company overseeing Burr Oak said Dart's claims were inaccurate, but he wouldn't comment further.
Meanwhile, four Burr Oak workers face charges of criminal wrongdoing. All four remain free on bond while awaiting trial.
The Vermilion County Board has scheduled an emergency meeting for Tuesday night, to make sure the renovation of a Danville middle school gets started without delay.
For the work on South View Middle School to proceed, a building permit must be authorized by the local regional school superintendent. But the post became vacant last week, with the sudden resignation of lame-duck Superintendent Mike Metzen --- three months before the end of his term.
Because of that, Cheryl Reifsteck --- who was elected last November to succeed Metzen --- has already moved from assistant superintendent in the Vermilion County office to acting superintendent. But without county board action, she said she does not have the authority to approve the South View renovation work.
"I sought some legal assistance through the Illinois State Board of Education, to advise me that because Mr. Metzen had vacated his office, he could no longer sign that building permit," Reifsteck said. "And because I was not official(ly) appointed, I would have to be appointed before I could sign that as well."
Vermilion County Board Chairman Jim McMahon said the board will meet Tuesday night for the sole purpose of appointing Reifsteck as Vermilion County regional school superintendent. He said this will allow the Danville school district to get the construction work at South View started as soon as possible.
"The architect for District 118 will be in the audience," McMahon said. "So after she (Reifsteck) is sworn in, he'll ask her to sign the permit immediately. So I can tell you, that's how critical this is."
Vermilion County Republican leaders recommended Reifsteck to fill out the remainder of Metzen's term. She will be sworn in again for her full term in July.
Metzen resigned from the regional superintendent's post last week, to avoid having a scheduled salary reduction affect his pension.
The emergency meeting of the Vermilion County Board is scheduled for Tuesday, March 22nd at 6 PM, in the Courthouse Annex in downtown Danville.
Despite a tongue-lashing from a federal judge in Chicago on Monday, lawyers for Rod Blagojevich say they'll forge ahead with a request to cancel the ex-Illinois governor's retrial and sentence him immediately on the sole conviction against him.
The motion to sentence Blagojevich on his sole perjury conviction and toss out the other 20 counts against him was a long-shot. Federal Judge James Zagel refused to dignify it with a ruling Monday, saying Blagojevich's defense lawyers didn't file their paperwork properly.
When lead Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky pressed Zagel to "indulge" him and issue a ruling anyway, the judge suggested it was more a publicity stunt than a legal request, and adding that if he ignored it, the request would "vanish into thin air."
But Sorosky, undeterred, pressed further, at which point the Judge reorted by lecturing him on the role of the three branches of government, saying that it was the executive branch Department of Justice that enjoys the power to drop criminal charges - not a judicial branch federal judge.
"To borrow something from legislative procedure," Zagel said, "this particular motion is going to die for want of a second. So we're done with it."
But afterward, Sorosky still seemed optimistic.
"Oh, one never knows," Sorosky said when asked about Zagel's comments. "Look at the March Madness tournaments - the No. 1 team lost! Pittsburgh!"
The five-page filing says Blagojevich isn't conceding any guilt, including on the conviction of lying to the FBI. That's the only count jurors agreed on at his 2010 trial. Blagojevich's lawyers argue that a second trial would be an "imprudent" use of taxpayer dollars. The government's supposed to foot the legal bills for the broke ex-governor.
Blagojevich faces a maximum five-year prison term for the lying conviction. Several of the 20 charges he'd be retried on carry a 20-year sentence.
Blagojevich's retrial is due to start in a month.
(Photo by Sam Hudzik/IPR)
Tuesday will mark a month since Indiana House Democrats arrived in Urbana as part of a legislative boycott.
Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma claimed last week that negotiations with the more than 30 House members were over, but Democrats like Charlie Brown of Gary remain optimistic that things are improving daily between the two sides.
He and a number of colleagues were back in their home districts for a while on Friday, gauging the public's thoughts on the Democrats' walkout. Brown said the public has not been fully informed about the labor and education bills for which they're seeking amendments, particularly a controversial school voucher measure. He said allowing any student to attend private school with public tax dollars can hurt a public school's ability to maintain its core curriculum.
"If you're going to have a diminishing enrollment in those buildings, you still have all of those fixed costs to deal with," he said. "So they're going to be losing the per pupil amount that would be be distributed, and yet still having the same kind of fixed cost that they had in the past."
Democrat Dale Grubb of Covington also said more people in his district were supportive once explaining the bills that prompted the boycott.
"Many people had sent messages of distaste about what's transpiring," Grubb said. "But once they learned a particular issue or two, and the consquences of having passed those, changed their mind and understand that there were some amendments necessary and needed for some of these bills."
He contends the two sides are close to agreements, calling the next stage of negotiations with Republican leaders 'the last 50 yards of a 1-mile run.'
Grubb said there is too much invested to turn back at this point.
In a bracket filled with upsets, top-seeded Kansas is jumping for joy.
Twin brothers Marcus and Markieff Morris combined for 41 points and 24 rebounds, powering Kansas past Illinois 73-59 on Sunday night to ensure the Jayhawks wouldn't make an opening-weekend exit from the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.
The Morris twins scored 24 of Kansas' first 29 points in the second half, punctuated by consecutive two-handed slams by Markieff that made it 62-51 with 3:51 to play. After an Illinois turnover at the other end, the twins each followed Tyshawn Taylor in making leaping spins into teammates to start a timeout.
The Jayhawks (34-2) avoided revisiting their loss to another No. 9 seed, Northern Iowa, exactly a year earlier and also on Oklahoma soil. Instead, they're moving on in a bracket filled with underdogs.
No. 11 seed VCU and 12th-seeded Richmond will join them in the Southwest regional semifinals in San Antonio. Kansas plays Richmond on Friday.
Mike Davis led the Fighting Illini (20-14) with 17 points and seven rebounds. Star point guard Demetri McCamey was hardly a factor, finishing with just six points and seven assists.
McCamey didn't make his first basket of the second half until there was 2:15 left, after Markieff Morris followed his earlier throwdowns with another two-handed alley-oop slam that he had to reach down and retrieve before dunking to make it 66-51.
That completed a 10-0 surge that finally put away the Fighting Illini - hardly a small-time upstart with a senior-laden roster featuring pro prospects McCamey and Davis, who both put their names into the NBA draft before returning for one last season.
The Jayhawks had been down this road before, and never liked it much. Before Northern Iowa, they had another bad experience in Oklahoma City back in 1998, heading home early after a loss to eighth-seeded Rhode Island. Back in 1992, Kansas lost to No. 9 seed UTEP in Dayton, Ohio. All time, the Jayhawks were just 3-2 against No. 9 seeds in their second tournament game.
Stanford is the only other team that's failed even twice to make it to the round of 16 as a top seed.
There's nothing more to add to that dubious history now. Instead, coach Bill Self can celebrate a win against Bruce Weber, the man who replaced him as the Illini coach and once held a mock funeral to encourage everyone in Champaign to move on.
The Illini were within two after Mike Tisdale's jumper to open the second half, and again after Davis' hook shot a few moments later, but never could find out if the Jayhawks would get nervous if they got behind.
Markieff Morris ended up with 24 points and 12 rebounds and his brother had 17 points and 12 boards. Taylor, playing with his right middle finger taped to his ring finger, added 13 points.
D.J. Richardson scored 15 and Tisdale chipped in 13 points and 11 rebounds for Illinois.
Eager to avoid another early exit, Kansas raged out to an 18-6 advantage in the first 61/2 minutes. Markieff Morris nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key, giving a confident nod of his head after it went through, and Tyrel Reed followed with his own 3. After a timeout, Elijah Johnson skied for a two-handed throwdown of Marcus Morris' alley-oop pass and the Jayhawks were up by a dozen with 13:39 still left before halftime.
The Illini, retreating toward midcourt with the shot clock running out, got a lift when Brandon Paul's 25-footer from the top of the key dropped in for 3 and eventually pulled back within 28-25 when Richardson finished off a 10-2 comeback with a 3-pointer from the right wing.
All those late-season struggles are behind Mike Davis and Illinois. The NCAA tournament is all that matters now.
Davis tied his season high with 22 points, Demetri McCamey added 17 points and seven assists and Illinois dominated UNLV 73-62 Friday night to set up another meeting between Fighting Illini coaches past and present in the Southwest region of the NCAA tournament.
The ninth-seeded Illini (20-13) took control with an early 15-0 run and led by as many as 25 in a surprisingly easy rout, after losing 10 of their previous 16 games to bring into question whether they'd even make it into the 68-team bracket.
"We always talk about it. It's not what you do at the beginning of the year. ... ... It's about what you do now," McCamey said. "Everybody will forget about what you did at the beginning of the season or the Big Ten season if you go out and win in March."
Bruce Weber's squad led by double digits throughout the second half against eighth-seeded UNLV (24-9), with former Illini coach Lon Kruger in charge. Next up for Illinois is a Sunday night clash against No. 1 seed Kansas and Weber's predecessor, Bill Self.
"It's been such a long time. Both Lon and Bill did tremendous job at Illinois. I respect them. Everywhere they've been they've been very good coaches, there's no doubt," Weber said. "At Illinois, they helped the program.
"I'm just worried about Kansas. That's what I'm really worried about, their players and seeing if we can match up with them."
Illinois moved to 15-0 this season when McCamey has at least seven assists. The Illini played without freshman reserve Jereme Richmond, who was suspended for violating unspecified team rules. Weber said he hadn't decided whether Richmond will play Sunday.
Oscar Bellfield scored 14 to lead the Runnin' Rebels, who had lost just three of their previous 13 games - all against BYU and San Diego State, the Mountain West's pair of top-10 powers.
"It's disappointing for the guys because they played really well in the last month especially, and doing the things they needed to do to create the opportunity to be here," said Kruger, going against Illinois for the first time in his 25 years as a college coach.
"To play like that in the first half, everyone was disappointed for sure."
Illinois was ranked as high as No. 12 at midseason but faded with a series of late-game failures. That wasn't an issue this time.
The Illini were on from the start, handling UNLV's in-your-face defense with ease and building a 23-point lead while shooting 63 percent in the first half. The Runnin' Rebels went scoreless for a span of nearly seven minutes in the first half.
McCamey ran the show, setting up his teammates early and then getting to the basket himself. He started the Illini's big run with back-to-back layups and finished it off with a 3-pointer from the left wing that made it 29-12 with 6:51 left before halftime.
Mike Tisdale answered UNLV's next basket - Anthony Marshall's driving layup that resulted in a three-point play - with a highlight-reel throwdown of Brandon Paul's alley-oop and Illinois kept rolling.
McCamey provided the finishing touches with another 3-pointer that dropped in at the halftime buzzer, putting Illinois up 46-24, and then leaped into a teammate before heading to the locker room.
It was the second time in the last three games the Illini were so dominant in the first half. They also rushed out to a 46-21 halftime lead against Indiana on senior day in Champaign. But in between, they squandered a 12-point lead in the final 81/2 minutes against Michigan at the Big Ten tournament to provide a fresh reminder of a season-long quandary heading into the NCAAs.
"I thought they played with a bounce to their step. When that happens and one team gets an upper hand like that, the other team's on it's heels," Kruger said. "It's not like our guys wanted to play with less energy, but Illinois won all of those energy battles. That kind of snowballed on us."
UNLV got within 61-45 on Stanback's jumper with 8 minutes left, but D.J. Richardson hit back-to-back 3-pointers and then a layup to bump the lead back to 22 by the 5-minute mark.
A Rebels rally that came way too late made the score look deceivingly close in Illinois' first NCAA tournament win in five years.
"It meant something to our kids, to our seniors, and I'm hoping now they can want more," Weber said. "I told them before the game it's their expectations that matter. How do they approach the game? How do they approach the tournament? What's their desire? It's the same attitude we've got to have on Sunday. We've got a tougher opponent, obviously."
The next task is to make it out of the opening weekend for the first time since losing to North Carolina in the 2005 national championship game. And it won't be an easy one against the Jayhawks, who have lost twice all season and will be trying to exorcise the demons of a second-round loss against Northern Iowa last year.
"It's going to take a special effort,"
Weber said, "but it's possible on Sunday.
The month-long saga over Gov. Scott Walker's plan to drastically curb collective bargaining rights for public workers in Wisconsin took a turn Friday that could force a dramatic rebooting of the entire legislative process.
A judge temporarily blocked the law from taking effect, raising the possibility that the Legislature may have to vote again to pass the bill that attracted protests as large as 85,000 people, motivated Senate Democrats to escape to Illinois for three weeks and made Wisconsin the focus of the national fight over union rights.
But Walker's spokesman and Republican legislative leaders indicated they would press on with the court battle rather than consider passing the bill again.
"We fully expect an appeals court will find that the Legislature followed the law perfectly and likely find that today's ruling was a significant overreach," Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and his brother, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, said in a joint statement. "We highly doubt a Dane County judge has the authority to tell the Legislature how to carry out its constitutional duty."
Dane County District Judge Maryann Sumi granted the temporary restraining order in response to a lawsuit filed by the local Democratic district attorney, alleging that Republican lawmakers violated the state's open meetings law by hastily convening a special committee before the Senate passed the bill.
Sumi said her ruling would not prevent the Legislature from reconvening the committee with proper notice and passing the bill again.
In addition to restricting the bargaining rights, the law would require most public workers in the state to contribute more to their pension and health care costs, changes that will amount on average to an 8 percent pay cut. Walker's spokesman Cullen Werwie was confident the bill would become law in the near future.
"This legislation is still working through the legal process," Werwie said.
Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said the decision will be appealed because the Legislature and the governor, not a judge, are responsible for enacting laws and can't be blocked in a dispute over the procedures under which a law is passed. His spokesman Bill Cosh said an appeal would be filed Monday.
Even if the Legislature is forced to come back and take up the bill again, at least one Senate Democrat will be there. Sen. Tim Cullen said he would not leave the state again.
"I think that does great damage to the institution," Cullen said. "I have no regrets about doing it once, but that was in extraordinary times to try to slow the bill down."
The Senate couldn't pass the bill in its original form without at least one Democrat to meet a 20-member quorum requirement for measures that spend money. With the Democrats in Illinois and refusing to return after three weeks away, Republicans convened a special committee last Wednesday to remove the spending items. The bill then passed with no Democrats present.
That move is being challenged in another lawsuit brought by Democratic Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, who argues that the bill as passed still should have required the 20-member quorum. A hearing on that was set for April 12.
Opponents of the law were hopeful the judge's ruling temporarily blocking enactment of the law would lead to concessions.
"I would hope the Republicans would take this as an opportunity to sit down with Democrats and negotiate a proposal we could all get behind," said Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach.
The head of the state's largest teachers union said the Legislature should use this as a chance to listen to opponents of the measure, not vote to pass the same bill again.
"Wisconsin's educators call upon the Legislature to take this as a clear signal that Wisconsinites will not tolerate backroom deals and political power plays when it comes to our public schools and other valued services," said Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council.
Marty Beil, director of the state's largest public employee union, said in a statement, "We are gratified to see some of our so-called `leaders' finally held accountable for their illegal actions."
Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne filed the lawsuit this week alleging the open meetings law was violated because 24 hours' notice wasn't given for a meeting of the special legislative committee convened to amend the bill.
Justice Department attorneys argued that notice on a bulletin board posted about two hours before the committee meeting was to start last Wednesday was sufficient under rules of the Senate.
The judge said DOJ couldn't show the committee was exempt from the 24-hour notice requirement. She said Ozanne could ultimately win the case and ordered Secretary of State Doug La Follette to hold off on publishing the law - the last step before it can take effect. La Follette had planned to publish the law on March 25.
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca of Kenosha said the ruling was a move in the right direction.
"I'm very pleased," Barca said. "As you know, I felt from the moment they called this that this would be a violation of open meetings law. This is an important first step in this regard."
The bill was part of Walker's solution for plugging a $137 million state budget shortfall. A part of the measure would require state workers to increase their health insurance and pension contributions to save the state $30 million by July 1. Other parts of Walker's original proposal to address the budget shortfall were removed before the bill passed last week. The Legislature planned to take those up later.
A golf course in Paris Illinois closed over the winter, but the bank that took possession of it hopes to auction it off to a new owner who will have it open this spring.
The 119-acre Sycamore Hills Country Club is up for sale in an "absolute auction", which means no minimum bid. Aumann Auctions of Nokomis is handling the auction, along with the Moss Auction Team of Paris. Aumann's Kelly Hogue says First Bank and Trust of Paris approached them about selling the golf course last month --- and put the auction together unusually quickly.
"They wanted to immediately find a new owner to have the golf course ready for spring play," Hogue said. "They took the golf course back on a Monday - signing a deed in lieu --- and called us immediately. We met with them on Wednesday, had a contract on Friday. No one in the auction industry has ever heard of a bank moving that quickly."
Sycamore Hills first opened in 1920 --- the restaurant and banquet hall on the grounds opened about four years ago. Bids are being taken on the two facilities both together and separately. Hogue said the current highest bid for the golf course and restaurant combined is at around $150,000.
Hogue said the facility was opened for public inspection on Thursday, and the turnout was impressive.
"We had hundreds of people," Hogue said. "And we rented golf carts. We had people all over the course, and hundreds of people at the clubhouse, looking over the items."
The final day for bidding on the golf course and restaurant is March 29th. Bids are being taken online only, but Hogue said they will be taking bids at the golf course on March 29th. She said the new owner can take possession immediately, even before the sale is closed. While the bank is hoping that Sycamore Hills reopens for golf, Hogue said it is also zoned for residential use.
Any day now, Champaign County officials will learn if a new chemical processing plant will set up shop in the community.
Few details are being released about the facility. John Dimit, the chief executive officer of the Champaign County Economic Development Corporation, said officials from the company are reviewing seven sites in addition to Champaign County to host the plant.
"It's actually a type of facility that takes industrial waste - steel mill waste in particular - and recaptures the waste, concentrates it and re-sells it," Dimit explained.
Dimit said the chemical plant would employee around 200 people, and be located north of the community in an area ready for development. He said the company behind the project intends to invest $250 million to have it completed by 2013.
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