September 16, 2012

First Woman Named to Indiana Supreme Court Since 1999

Gov. Mitch Daniels appointed Judge Loretta Rush to the bench of the Indiana Supreme Court on Friday — the first female appointee to the state's highest court in 13 years.

The appointment of the Tippecanoe County juvenile judge ends Indiana's distinction as one of only three states with all-male supreme courts, and makes Rush Indiana's first female justice since Myra Selby stepped down in 1999.

Rush said she shouted with joy when Daniels called Thursday to offer her the position.

"I hope your hearing has come back to your left ear — I gave him a very excited yes," Rush said during the news conference in the governor's Statehouse office.

Rush is the third justice Daniels has appointed to the five-member court in the past two years. She replaces Justice Frank Sullivan who stepped down after 19 years.

Many attorneys, legislators and former justices had called on Daniels to appoint a woman to the court.

Daniels said he hasn't been oblivious to the lack of women on the court but that high-quality picks were his top priorities.

"I do believe she was clearly the best available choice and I'm totally comfortable with it," Daniels said.

Rush, 54, is a Republican who was born in Scranton, Pa., and moved to Indiana in 1976. After graduating from Purdue University in 1980, she washed dishes and did other jobs to work her way through the Indiana University School of Law.

In November 1998, before her first term as judge for the county that includes Lafayette, a 27-year-old former juvenile client kicked in the front door of her home and tried to kill her husband. Rush hid their children and tried to get help, but she and her husband both were injured and she later had to have surgery. The attacker was convicted of attempted murder and burglary.

"I look at the children that find themselves in our court system and see the long-standing toll that child abuse, neglect, and untreated mental health can have on their adult lives," Rush wrote in her application for the court seat.

Only three states — Idaho, Indiana, and Iowa — currently have no women on their court of last resort, according to the National Center for State Courts.

"As a woman, as a lawyer, and a Hoosier I am delighted that now the highest court in the land — Indiana — will be representative of the state of Indiana," said Indianapolis attorney Karen Celestino-Horseman. "The three candidates were excellent, but given that there was no woman on the court, it was time."

The other two finalists picked by the state judicial nominating commission were men — Hamilton County Judge Steven Nation and Indianapolis attorney Geoffrey Slaughter.

September 11, 2012

Illinois Supreme Court Case Could Limit Police Searches

The Illinois Supreme Court heard arguments this week in a case that could limit police searches.The court is considering whether police are justified in searching a car when the only evidence of wrongdoing they see is a single bullet.

In the case argued on Monday, prosecutors asked the court to reinstate the charges against Michael Colyar.

Police say they saw what looked like a single rifle bullet in Colyar's car, which justified handcuffing him and doing a pat down. That led to finding more bullets and, eventually, a large-caliber handgun. Colyar was accused of having a gun while being a convicted felon.

Colyar's lawyer, Algis Baliunas, argued police were not justified in their search.

"There was no leaning, bending, anything that would give rise to suspicion of any criminal activity," Baliunas said. "As I indicate in my brief, these people could have been attending an NRA convention."

Lower courts agreed and suppressed the evidence, so Cook County prosecutors appealed to the Supreme Court.

Prosecutors say it is well-established that police can search people they talk to in order to protect themselves from attack.

September 08, 2012

Attorney Wants New Venue in Beason Killings Trial

An attorney for a man accused in the 2009 bludgeoning deaths of five family members in central Illinois wants to the trial venue moved because of heavy media coverage.

The (Springfield) State Journal-Register reports that attorney Dan Fultz says he will complete a required survey of nearby counties that could serve as alternate venues.

Fultz says he will then likely file a request to move the trial out of Logan County before a Dec. 3 deadline.

His client, Christopher Harris, is accused along with his brother of using a tire iron to kill Ruth and Rick Gee and three of the couple's children in their Beason home.

They're also charged with attempted murder for an attack on the Gees' then 3-year-old daughter, who survived.

September 03, 2012

Champaign County Courthouse Expands Electronics Ban

Cell phones have now been banned at the Champaign County Courthouse for more than 5 years. 

This week, that ban is expanded to include all electronics, including laptop computers, I-Pads, and e-readers. 

The order by Presiding Judge Tom Difanis was brought on by a Supreme Court ruling that instructs jurors not to engage in web research during a trial.

Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh says the public has been warned with signage, and cards handed out to those who have entered the courthouse recently. He says not only can online research create problems, but there’s nowhere for court staff to put such equipment once it's taken from those entering.

"You look inside the courthouse, and the way it's designed, there's really no room to put in lockers, or have storage for folks," he said.  "We have had rare occasions where people have tried to intimidate witnesses, and we are concerned that we don't want that to happen, and we don't happen people to intimidate jurors, and we certainly don't want their pictures broadcast all over."

Walsh says exceptions will be made for cameras for those getting married at the courthouse.  

The cell phone ban went into effect in March of 2007, but Walsh says people are still sent back to their cars who try to bring them in.  Exceptions are still made for some - including doctors, lawyers, and the media.

August 31, 2012

Farmers Can Transport Hay on Illinois Interstates

A new policy put into effect due to drought conditions in Illinois means farmers will be able to transport hay loads on interstates.

Illinois Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider on Friday announced that workers will be able to transport hay loads up to 12-feet wide on all state routes and interstates. State transportation officials say this will make processing and transporting hay more efficient. The drought hurt hay production in the state.

Schneider says farmers and truck drivers will be able to cut transportation costs and travel times throughout the rest of harvest season. Those moving hay loads will need a copy of an official authorization.

The new policy takes effect immediately. It expires Dec. 31.

August 30, 2012

Judge: Illinois Must Set Aside Union Money

The judge in a dispute over Illinois workers' pay raises is telling Gov. Pat Quinn's administration to hand over unspent money from the state budget in case he rules in favor of the employees.

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Richard Billik Jr. ordered a voucher for $18 million in unspent payroll money sent to the state comptroller. Millions of dollars more might also be involved.

The Thursday decree came a day before the state's authority to earmark spending from the last budget expires.

Quinn hasn't paid about $60 million in raises required by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees' contract from 2011 because he says the Legislature didn't appropriate it.

An arbitrator ruled in favor of the union but Quinn sued and Billik is deciding the case.

August 30, 2012

Illinois Warns Gas Stations Against Price Gouging

Illinois gasoline stations have been put on notice that authorities are watching them for any price gouging in the event Tropical Storm Isaac disrupts fuel supplies from the Gulf of Mexico.

Under state law, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan says her office can investigate gas prices in cases where a natural disaster disrupts supply.

She said Wednesday her office will be watching to see if price increases are justified by a spike in wholesale prices or if they're the result of illegal gouging.

Madigan says Illinois drivers hitting the roads during the Labor Day weekend should expect to see higher prices, in part because of the storm.

Isaac was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm Wednesday as it moved slowly across Louisiana.

August 29, 2012

New Illinois Law: More prison for Terror Threats

People convicted in Illinois of attempting to commit terrorism soon may have to serve more of any prison sentence they get.

Gov. Pat Quinn has signed into law a measure requiring that anyone convicted of such crimes serve 85 percent of their sentence. The new law takes effect in January.

Under current state law, a prisoner gets one day of good-conduct credit for each day served behind bars.

House Bill 5121 was motivated by the Madison County case involving Olutosin Oduwole.

The aspiring rapper was convicted of attempting to make a terrorist threat through some writings found in his car while he attended Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville. He was sentenced to five years in prison, although he may be eligible for parole after serving half of that.

August 22, 2012

Federal Court Stikes Down EPA Pollution Rule

A federal appeals court has struck down a plan by the Environmental Protection Agency to limit pollution that can contribute to unhealthy air in neighboring states.

According to the EPA, the rule was scheduled to go into effect in January, and would have cost $800 million a year to retrofit power plants with pollution reduction equipment.

Several large power companies and some states sued to stop it.

The appeals court agreed last December to suspend the rule pending its review.

In a 2-1 decision, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the Environmental Protection Agency's cross-state air pollution rule exceeded the agency's statutory authority. The court faulted the EPA for imposing "massive emissions reduction requirements" on upwind states without regard to limits imposed by law.

"Our decision today should not be interpreted as a comment on the wisdom or policy merits of" the EPA rule, wrote Judge Brett Kavanaugh, in a decision joined by Judge Thomas Griffith — both appointees of Republican President George W. Bush. "It is not our job to set environmental policy. Our limited but important role is to independently ensure that the agency stays within the boundaries Congress has set. EPA did not do so here."

Even with the measure being struck down, Indiana Energy Association President Ed Simcox said many utility companies are already making headway to reduce air pollution.

“Yes, there are certain pollutants that are released, but do we think that rises to the level of being injurious to the health of our citizens? No, we do not," Simcox said. "We think that these power plants are being run safely. We’ve taken measures to ensure that the air gets even cleaner than it is today.”

Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a coalition of utilities and energy companies, called the ruling a "stern warning" to EPA.

"The fair and appropriate regulation of electric power production in the United States is no mere academic exercise," he said. "When the EPA takes liberties with its legal authority, the result is higher prices for consumers, businesses, schools and hospitals. At a time of economic recession, the country cannot afford sloppy rulemaking of this sort. The EPA can and should do better."

The Natural Resources Defense Council wants the EPA to appeal the ruling.

"This rule would have prevented thousands of premature deaths and saved tens of billions of dollars a year in health costs, but two judges blocked that from happening and forced EPA to further delay long overdue health safeguards for Americans," said John Walke, who is the clean air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The EPA said it is reviewing the court’s decision before deciding what steps to take.

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