- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Arlington Heights Daily Herald. February 20, 2021.

Editorial: Gov. Pritzker should veto unfair legislation that will drive up product, health costs

The Illinois Trial Lawyers Association may have an argument that under current state policies, well-financed businesses and insurance companies can intimidate injured parties with costly court delays that eventually force them to accept smaller settlements than they are due.

But even if the lawyers are right that this happens routinely — a point that is open to debate — the law passed in a late-night rush at the end of the pandemic-shortened legislative session Jan. 13 is not the solution. COVID-weary and ITLA-beholden Democrats in the House and Senate may not have had the strength of will to acknowledge that. Hopefully, Gov. Pritzker will.

His veto can force the legislation back to the drawing board to get the scrutiny and debate it escaped last month.



Under House Bill 3360, plaintiffs who win a personal injury or wrongful death case in court must be paid not only the judgment determined by the court but an additional 9% interest on that judgment dating from the time the defendant first learned of the injury.

Nine percent.

That figure, apparently derived from the penalty already allowed under Illinois law for defendants who delay payment after losing a case, is the most openly apparent flaw in this bill. One can understand the logic of making it costly for defendants to withhold payments they’ve been ordered to submit, but to impose a punitive deterrent on defendants simply for exercising their right to dispute a claim against them is both unjust and vindictive. Two years ago, Gov. Pritzker and state lawmakers called it predatory for lenders to charge up to 9% interest on certain unpaid consumer debt and cut that limit nearly in half. It’s hard to see how the number is justified when applied to defendants who want to negotiate or plead claims against them.

The Milliman actuarial consulting firm studied the financial impact of HB 3360, by the way, and determined that through compounding, the new prejudgment figure will increase the cost of claims 72% in Cook and the collar counties, 53% elsewhere in Illinois. These costs eventually are passed along to consumers or force reductions in everything from health care to small retail products and services.

The trial lawyers contend that such computations are deliberately alarming and ignore the expectation that the prejudgment interest will encourage defendants to settle cases more quickly, and they assert that since only 3% of liability cases make it all the way to a court judgment, 97% of cases will not be affected. But this logic fails to recognize that the negotiations leading to those 97% of cases settling out of court will be unavoidably affected by the potential prejudgment costs. The truth is the prejudgment interest, in one way or another, will apply to every liability dispute.

The Illinois Health and Hospital Association says the costs of HB 3360 would leave many small medical operations just one case away from elimination and cause billions of dollars to be diverted from patient care to pay for higher insurance costs and higher settlements.

“That means resources won’t be there for vulnerable populations in Chicago and rural communities across the state,” the agency says in a position paper on the bill.

People who are harmed by the negligence or wrongdoing of other parties deserve to be compensated, and they ought not be limited or obstructed in the search for justice. HB 3360, however, addresses these noble aims with punishments and regulations that put small businesses at risk, unfairly punish any party wishing to dispute claims against it and drive up health care, product and insurance costs for almost everyone.

Veto the bill, Gov. Pritzker, and tell lawmakers and attorneys to work in the open to find a solution that is not only just but reasonable.

___

Chicago Tribune. February 22, 2021.

Editorial: If you’re worried about ending cash bail, you’re fearmongering, Pritzker says

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law Monday a bill that will eliminate cash bail in Illinois, allow for anonymous complaints against police officers in disciplinary hearings and overhaul law enforcement protocols to be more hands off when apprehending suspects.

Some of the material in the 700-page bill passed last month is laudable and worth exploring, as we’ve said previously. But it’s undeniable that nearly every law enforcement agency and prosecutorial association in the state is ringing alarm bells about the changes, which were shoved through the legislature with little debate in the middle of the night - by design.

Working groups, meetings and hearings between handfuls of legislators and stakeholders on the concepts of the bill during COVID-19 lockdowns last summer and fall - meetings that defenders claimed covered the bases for public input and education - do not suffice. Other states that eliminated cash bail took time to engage the public and bring law enforcement on board. Not here. It’s no wonder the rank-and-file law enforcement community is angry. The bill was sprung into the public spotlight only weeks ago and now it’s the law.

For that rush job and to those concerned about the bill’s impact on public safety, Pritzker offered only chastisement when he signed it Monday. Opponents don’t want any change, he said, “don’t believe there is injustice in the system” and are liars and fearmongers who prefer the status quo.

It’s something many of us have learned about this governor: offer any resistance or opposition to his policies and he’ll resort to blaming, mischaracterizing and shaming, even when there are legitimate questions at hand. If you voted against his graduated tax amendment to force discipline onto Springfield, you were brainwashed by Republicans. If you disagreed with his budget priorities or executive orders during COVID-19, you’re a “carnival barker.” And if you oppose this new law, you’re fearmongering.

This bill flew through the House and Senate during a lame-duck legislative session in January. The Senate voted on the bill in the middle of the night, and House Democrats cut off questions minutes before a new General Assembly was seated. Literally, minutes.

The new law allows for the release of anyone arrested and charged with a criminal offense, including those charged with felonies, while they await the conclusion of their cases - no detention at all. If judges determine an accused defendant is a flight or public safety risk who must remain behind bars, the bill requires judges to justify their decisions with “a written finding as to why less restrictive conditions” could not be offered. And each time the detained defendant has a court date, the judge must make justifications.

House GOP leader Jim Durkin called the governor’s support of the bill “an insult to our first responders, law enforcement and the law-abiding citizens of Illinois who work to live free of violence and destruction from the criminal element. It’s clear that Gov. Pritzker does not understand this bill and what it means to our criminal justice system.”

The Cook County system, through Chief Judge Timothy Evans, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Sheriff Tom Dart, among others, has been addressing inequities by reducing bail amounts for low-level offenses and avoiding jail time for nonviolent offenders. Criminal justice systems across the country have rightly emphasized that arrestees are not, and should not be considered, convicted criminals. They have due process rights.

But there’s legitimate worry about the effect of the law on public safety that cannot be brushed aside. Police officers increasingly are tasked with job expectations that are conflicting and frustrating.

Judges need more information and tools to assess risk factors of defendants now, without these new mandates.

Just a year ago after a violent weekend in Chicago that included the deaths of three children, Chicago police Superintendent David Brown said: “Electronic monitoring and low bond amounts given to offenders endanger our residents and flies in the face of the hard work our police officers put in on a daily basis to take them off the streets.”

How about no bond? How will this new law affect the reality on the ground for the police and the public that Brown described? Don’t dare ask.

___

Champaign News-Gazette. February 21, 2021.

Editorial: Toxic politics undermines rule of law

A two-year criminal investigation motivated by base politics results in a big, fat nothing.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul announced last week that there will be no criminal charges filed in connection with the criminal investigation into the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at a downstate veterans home.

That surely surprised many of those who followed the widely-publicized two-year probe.

But Raoul’s decision was sound, based on prosecutors’ assessment that they lacked evidence necessary to file criminal charges. The attorney general also issued a warning about expectations the public would do well to remember.

“You have to follow the evidence and match it up to the law, and it’s a very dangerous thing to have the presumption at the initiation of an investigation that there has to be a (criminal) charge,” Raoul said.

His words stand in stark contrast to what transpired in October 2018, when then-Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office disclosed its criminal investigation into the Rauner administration. That, by design, raised the specter of a handcuffed former Gov. Bruce Rauner eventually being paraded before news cameras.

For those who don’t recall, there was an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at a Quincy veterans home in 2015. The problem bedeviled state officials who tried to track down and eliminate the source of what was a serious health threat to the home’s residents and their family members as well as employees.

Ultimately, more than 10 people died, and another 80 got sick. The state spent substantial sums of money to remediate the problem without success before finally razing the facility and building a new one.

The issue became a political football - Democrats jumped all over the governor and Illinois Department of Public Health employees for their collective failure to eradicate the threat.

That was all well and good, certainly within the bounds of legitimate criticism.

But the month before the November 2018 gubernatorial election between Rauner and then-candidate J.B. Pritzker, Madigan’s office revealed its criminal investigation of Rauner et al. That’s hardly a flattering image right before an election.

Pritzker wasted no time taking political advantage of Madigan’s effort to take political advantage of the situation.

“Veterans, their spouses and staff continued to get sick and died on this failed governor’s watch. Their families deserve justice, and Bruce Rauner must be held accountable,” Pritzker told reporters.

Pritzker separated himself from Madigan’s revelation by neglecting to say that Rauner must be held “criminally” accountable. But that was his clear message.

So how ironic it is that in December, Pritzker found himself on the defensive after a coronavirus outbreak at a LaSalle veterans home caused 33 deaths. He disclaimed any responsibility because “sometimes because of the prevalence of the disease, because we don’t exactly know everything about it, it’s not preventable for everybody.”

Pritzker didn’t need Madigan’s help to claim his eventual landslide victory. But what’s striking is that Madigan reads the same public-opinion polls as everyone else, but still couldn’t resist mixing politics and law to give Pritzker an unnecessary boost.

The bottom line is that Rauner was portrayed as a heartless public official whose intent was to leave veterans home residents in mortal peril and, as a consequence, was just a couple steps ahead of the law.

The word “intent” specifically applies because one element of proving criminal conduct is proving the wrongdoer’s “intent.”

But in the Quincy case, public officials tried mightily - but failed - to eliminate the Legionnaires’ threat. Trying and failing to fix a problem is the opposite of intentionally not fixing a problem.

Under these circumstances, it’s no surprise Madigan’s successor dropped the case. Raoul had nothing to gain - and much to lose - by taking a dog criminal case to court on the strength of nonexistent evidence.

There was liability. But it was civil, not criminal. That’s why the families turned to the civil courts for compensation.

What’s equally clear is Madigan’s misuse of her authority, an intolerable abuse of the public’s trust. Illinois is known for its hardball politics, but Madigan stepped well beyond the bounds of propriety.

END

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