Monday, August 24, 2015

A spam comment that was just too crazy not to share (and clean enough that I could)

Submitted by a commenter this past weekend for a Page One post about CBA ratings in contested judicial races on the November 2014 ballot, this gem:
Yes! Finally something about hunting wild game

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Russ Stewart reports on the recent judicial pre-slating

Park Ridge attorney Russ Stewart, who has written a political column for the Nadig Newspapers since about forever, has weighed in on last month's Cook County Democratic Party Pre-Slating with a column entitled, "In Cook County, Judge-Making is Like Sausage Making." The link will take you to the complete column; here's a brief excerpt:
According to insiders, the candidates likely to be slated for the Circuit Court are Aleks Gillespie, Maureen Hannon, Alison Conlon, Brendan O'Brien, Daniel Patrick Duffy, Carolyn Joan Gallagher and Rossana Fernandez, Travis Richardson and John Lyke (who are black), and Devlin Schoop, who is backed by the gay bar association but who is not gay.

Alternates are Chaudhuri, Pat Spratt, Pat Heneghan, Carolyn Joan Gallagher, Mary Melchor and Joe Cleary.
Be sure to read the entire piece.

The Cook County Democratic Party's slating meeting has now been set for August 18 and 19.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Judicial blogger to appear on upcoming NTNM



Yours truly is honored to be a guest on an upcoming episode of Avy Meyers' North Town News Magazine.

This interview is scheduled to air on CAN TV, Channel 19 in Chicago, on Thursday, June 11 at 7:30 p.m. (a rebroadcast will follow on June 12 at 2:30 p.m.). The program will be aired for Evanston viewers on June 14 at 5:00 p.m.

NTNM also airs on many other local north and northwest suburban cable systems. Check local listings for airtimes in your area.

My thanks to NTNM host and moderator Avy Meyers and his entire technical crew Sonny Hersh for allowing me to repost this interview now.

NTNM is one of the few programs to actively seek out and provide a platform for Cook County judicial candidates to present themselves to voters. Candidates or their representatives should contact Avy Meyers directly (email and phone contact is available on the NTNM website).

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A call from AT&T... maybe

The Caller ID read "Toll Free Calle" – I think it safe to assume the last word was supposed to be ‘Caller’ – but no other identification was provided.

Most lawyers have staff to screen calls. Even many solos still have assistants who talk to potential clients, mollify existing clients, set up depositions and hang up on sales calls. But I have largely abandoned hope of ever hiring staff, all because employees have this all-too-reasonable desire to be paid on a regular basis. I am forced to listen to my own messages.

This automated message must have begun before my voice mail greeting had ended because the recording picked up in mid-word: "...vice provider about all your service options. A delayed response may result in an increased service rate or involuntary transfer of your business service plan. Please press 1 now to be connected. Please disregard this message if your business has already consulted an AT&T Solution Provider and applied a business service solution. If not, please press 1 now or call [not the number displayed on the caller ID – not even the same area code] between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. to speak to a service representative."

Now, I ask you... would you press 1? Would you call the number? Why?

This had clumsy, East-European-or-maybe-Nigerian-drain-your-bank-account scam written all over it, right?

Well, maybe not.

I ignored a number of these calls over a period of time -- and then my April office phone bill more than doubled.

Apparently, these really were calls from AT&T. Or at least some of them.

Now I don't know if you've ever had the misfortune of having to call AT&T. Most lawyers in firms have been spared this because they have office managers who are willing to bear this enormous burden. So let me try and explain it this way: If anyone like Ernestine still works there, they are very well guarded. The guard is a disembodied robot voice. The recorded male voice is preternaturally chipper. "I see you are calling from" -- and then he recites the number -- "is this the number you are calling about?" This unnatural cheerfulness only serves to aggravate me more. It is particularly galling when calling to report a service outage -- no, it's not the number I'm calling from you mindless mess of microchips -- if I could call from that number I sure as heck wouldn't be calling you!

Mr. Cheerful always wants to know if I want to pay my bill. The first 17 or 18 menu options that he offers all have to do with paying the bill. I will admit that I have exhibited a certain lack of patience on occasion when waiting for these often redundant and always unhelpful options to end. It is just possible, I must concede, that I have, on more than one occasion, attempted to interrupt the machine's recitation by stabbing zero, zero, zero on the telephone keypad and roaring, "I WANT TO SPEAK WITH A HUMAN BEING! NOW!"

In later, more reflective, moments, I have been forced to consider the possibility that, when screaming and stabbing at the keypad, no sane human being would want to speak with me.

At some point, Mr. Cheerful changed tack. My button-pushing and howling have had no effect whatsoever on the cheery affect of Mr. Cheerful. "In a few short words," he gushed, "tell me about why you are calling. For example, you can say, 'I want to pay my bill,' or 'I really want to pay my bill.'"

Granted, my response was probably not as specific as the designers of the system expected. But it was heartfelt nonetheless. "AT&T is a bloated, corrupt monopoly that was justifiably destroyed by the Federal Courts," I said, "only to be allowed to reassemble, through the criminal negligence of our elected representatives and government regulators, like the mythical Hydra, into a monster more terrible than before."

There was a noticeable pause. When Mr. Microchips spoke again, a note of concern has, for the first time, infected his cheerful tone. "I'm sorry, I didn't get that." But Mr. Cheerful rallied immediately, back on script, "In a few short words," he repeated, "tell me about why you are calling. For example, you can say, 'I want to pay my bill,' or 'I really want to pay my bill.'"

I was in fact calling about my bill and I unloaded on Mr. Cheerful once more. "I am not paying my bill! I am not paying this outrageous amount!"

It is all too easy for me to spare you the agony of how I got from this point to a very wary call-taker. I simply can't recall how I made it. The red mist swam before my eyes. I thundered. I shrieked. I may have sobbed. A few non-vital blood vessels burst, I'm sure, along the way.

The bottom line was that my "service plan" had indeed expired and I was being billed a la carte prices instead of the bundled price I had heretofore endured. The AT&T call-taker made an effort to sound sympathetic: "We don't want to change the pricing every year or so," he said, "but we are required by regulations to do this." This would be comforting, I suppose, or at least give me the opportunity to deflect my ire from AT&T to the government regulators were I not pretty well convinced that AT&T pretty much dictates those few regulations it will tolerate from a compliant government.

When one has no choice at all, one can only try and be gracious and take the punishment meted out: I would be forced to pay this ridiculously high April bill but, as a reward for calling, I could look forward to a new bundle of varied prices that somehow added up to only just a little bit more than I'd been paying previously. I knew I was supposed to be grateful for such condescension from my corporate betters. But I still had one more appeal to reason left: You know, I said, if you really wanted customers to re-configure their plans every year or two you could include a notice in the bill. The bill is the one communication from AT&T that I know is genuine. The anonymous phone calls or junk mass-mailings might or might not be for real, I explained.

Alternatively, I suggested, there's an AT&T store in the Loop. I can pay my bill there. Why can't I sign up for any required new rates there?

The AT&T call-taker waited me out, patiently, I thought. But he was dismissive. "We can't do that," he said, or, "That's not the way we do things."

And, indeed, why should AT&T change? AT&T cadged an extra $200+ from me in April -- multiply that over how many hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of similarly-situated small businesses and you begin to see the enormous profitability of the scheme -- and, as long as I insist on a landline for my office phone, I have nowhere else to go.

I am actively rethinking this whole need-for-a-landline thing.

Meanwhile, for the time being, I believe I can once again use my office phone as a tool in my legal practice, secure that I am back in the good graces of AT&T.

Or am I?

A week or so after the events herein recounted, around the time I reluctantly wrote that enormous check, I received a call from an unidentified toll free number. As before, the prerecorded message began before my voice mail greeting asked for a message: "...vice provider about all your service options. A delayed response may result in an increased service rate or involuntary transfer of your business service plan. Please press 1 now to be connected. Please disregard this message if your business has already consulted an AT&T Solution Provider and applied a business service solution. If not, please press 1 now or call [not the number displayed on the caller ID – not even the same area code] between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. to speak to a service representative." Yes, it was the exact same message I had previously disregarded to my subsequent (and expensive) regret. But, surely, it was just a case of AT&T being such a bloated monstrosity that this computer hadn't yet gotten the memo from the other computer that I had recently signed on for another hitch, right?

Then, a week or two ago, there was still another call from an unidentified toll-free number. Like we were taught about Homer's Iliad and Odyssey in high school, AT&T apparently likes to start its voice mails in medias res: "... AT&T business telephone service. Action is required to complete your pending service migration. AT&T recently replaced your business DSL service or installed new high-speed Uverse service at your business location as Phase One of our digital service migration. If your business utilizes two business lines or less, please press 1 now to schedule the voice segment of the service migration. AT&T will now complete Phase Two of your service migration by increasing your Internet speed up to 45 megabytes and/or add Uverse business voice service for less than your previous service cost. As an existing AT&T customer using Uverse, your business qualifies for up to a $100 Visa gift card for this service upgrade. This service will be less than your previous service cost. Please press 1 now to speak to an AT&T business solution provider about all your service upgrade options. Please press 1 now. Please disregard this message if your business has already provided an AT&T business solution provider and upgraded your Uverse service. If not, please call [a different toll-free number than the one allegedly calling] between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. to speak to a representative."

But I don't have Uverse. Well, I do, but for my suite as a whole, not for my individual business. And I have three lines. Does this even apply to me?

I promise you, Perry Mason never had to answer these kinds of questions. I've never seen the show, so I can't be sure, but I doubt that even Better Call Saul has had to bother with this stuff. But, as was said in E.T., so it may also be said here: This is reality, Greg.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Norwood Park remembers -- 2015 Memorial Day Parade, continued

This post continues from a post on Page One.

Here are more pictures from today's Norwood Park Memorial Day Parade. For even more parade pictures, scroll down this page or click this link.


State Rep. Michael McAuliffe and Cook County Commissioner Peter Silvestri had a vehicle in the parade

A group from Garvey School



















 A group from Onahan School


An anti-O'Hare noise group, fairchicago.org, had a contingent... and a pretty clever sign: "Ground Control to Mayor Rahm."


A group from Resurrection High School participated.



Cub Scout Pack 3958 from Norwood Park Lutheran Church

Norwood Park remembers -- Memorial Day Parade, part three

Herewith a final set of pictures from today's Norwood Park Memorial Day Parade.

Cub Park 3965 from St. Juliana School


Cub Pack 3978 from St. Thecla School



St. Thecla School also had a large non-Scouting contingent.





The Norwood Park Historical Society was also represented.




Cub Scout and Boy Scout groups from St. Monica's marched in the parade, as did Girl Scouts from Troop 41640, sponsored by the Congregational Church of Jefferson Park.




Groups from Taft High School, including the Taft Navy JROTC, marched near the end of the parade.







Another band, a few old cars, and representatives of the Chicago Police Mounted Patrol Unit closed out the parade.  And then the rains came again.





Thursday, February 12, 2015

JRW: Punishing kids for the sins of alleged grownups is completely wrong


My son Joe was looking for another place to pitch one summer. This was a decade or so ago when he was playing high school baseball. Maybe he'd just graduated; I don't remember exactly. I do remember that some of his school teammates recruited him to pitch for the Morton Grove American Legion team where they had signed to play.

There was a problem, however. We lived within the boundaries of the Portage Park American Legion team. Portage Park had to give up its territorial claim on Joe before he could legally pitch for Morton Grove. Paperwork was involved. (When isn't it?) But, with the help of the Morton Grove coach, the proper authorities in Portage Park were contacted and the papers duly completed. Joe was able to play on the same team as his friends.

I couldn't help but remember that story yesterday as the news about Little League International's decision to strip Jackie Robinson West of its national title stormed across the Internet. I didn't have the heart (or the stomach) to turn on local sports radio during the day. Watching the news last night was painful. I loved the JRW story. Like so many in Chicago, I watched the games on TV and rooted for those kids; I was so happy when they won. I was a fan.

I remembered a couple of other things yesterday, too. I had occasion to coach my youngest son, Jim, when he played at Oriole Park. Oriole Park did not have a Williamsport team, but in addition to our house league teams for various age groups there were "all star" teams that played in various tournaments, mostly against area parks. No one cared about residence in those days, but there was always concern that unscrupulous coaches would try and load up their 10 or 11 or 12-year old teams with older players. Danny Almonte was the Little League scandal in those days -- the 14-year old pitcher who mowed down 12-year old lineups in Williamsport like a sharp scythe in a field of ripe wheat. As a result, I had to bring more than the equipment bag to tournament games; I carried a folder full of birth certificates, one for each kid on my team. No opposing coach ever demanded to check -- but I had them just the same. And tournaments got wise to forgeries, too: I had to get a bunch of duplicate birth certificates from the County Clerk's Office over the years for Joe and Jim both because a lot of tournament organizers refused to accept photocopies.

Because my kids played ball and because I coached (however badly), I had a chance to see and observe a lot about youth baseball. I came to one overwhelming conclusion: There is nothing wrong with youth baseball except grownups. If -- as Little League International has concluded -- some involved with JRW played games off the field as well as on, fibbing about where kids lived in order to assemble a super-team, I know one thing: The kids -- the players -- were not at fault. The JRW kids won the games on the field and their accomplishment should not be diminished, and certainly not invalidated, because of grownup foolishness.

As for the coaches and the directors or officers of the program? They're supposed to know, and follow, the rules. If they did not, whether intentionally or because of ignorance, they should be punished. There undoubtedly were forms that could have been completed to allow kids from outside the boundaries to play for JRW. If some actively tried to conceal the truth about their players' residences instead of getting the proper clearances, those persons should be banned.

Fr. Michael Pfleger and the Rev. Jesse Jackson used yesterday's JRW press conference to suggest a racial motive for Little League's belated investigation. The Evergreen Park coach whose complaints about residence issues sparked Little League's investigation is white. He was on all the TV newscasts last night, too, telling the world that he has had to change his phone number and seek police protection. Only Channel 9, to my knowledge, reported that the Evergreen Park coach is married to an African-American. His Evergreen Park team, according to Channel 9, is composed of mostly African-American and Latin kids. On the other hand, it is impossible to overlook the evidence that some people -- way too many people -- are taking an unholy glee in JRW's downfall. Still, I believe it oversimplifies matters to reduce this sad story to black and white. The color green is also involved. Green, as in the color of envy, and green, as in the color of money. Grownup concerns.

And the timing of all this stinks, no matter what anybody's motivation may be in pursing this investigation now.

I seem to recall that, in the small-time tournaments I was involved with, opposing coaches could check my kids' birth certificates right up until the first pitch was thrown. After that, the only thing that mattered was what happened on the field. Grownup interference -- except for coaches trying to intimidate younger, inexperienced umpires (and that's a whole other discussion) -- ended and the kids got to play their game. So should it be with Williamsport. While the TV cameras are out filming the kids going to go-kart tracks and amusement parks in the greater Williamsport area, the grownups can sort through and validate all the papers from all the players and run down any rumors they want. If a 14-year old is found masquerading as his own little brother, bench him. If a team is found to have a player from outside their assigned area (without the proper paperwork) bench that kid, too. But once the games start, all that matters is what happens between the lines. If it later develops that tournament officials were snookered by doctored paperwork, punish the persons who did the doctoring. But don't punish the kids. Don't change the results.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Wait -- there wasn't a phone call to Messrs. Madigan and Cullerton after all?

Yesterday, I went off on a speculative binge. I imagined what Bruce Rauner might have said to Messrs. Madigan and Cullerton when he supposedly called them on Election Night.

That's what I heard him say he did, although his spokespeople are now suggesting that my ears were lying to me. President Cullerton says a Rauner staffer spoke briefly with one of his staffers but there was no direct communication; Speaker Madigan's spokesman is saying there's no record of any attempt by Mr. Rauner to speak with Mr. Madigan.

Eric Zorn had an interview with President Cullerton (one of the big differences between real reporting and mere blogging involves actually talking to people) from which Mr. Zorn developed the distinct, and to me unsettling, impression that, if Mr. Rauner wants the "temporary" income tax rate of 5% to become permanent (or if he wants any interim rate between the imminent 3.75% rate and 5%) he will, in essence, have to beg for it.

Now here's where I get confused: I thought that keeping the 5% rate was necessary to keep Illinois afloat as we paid down some of our pension liabilities and backlogged bills. Republican Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka -- hardly a Quinn partisan -- said a drop in the income tax rate from 5% to 3.75% next year will be like giving the state a heart attack.

If that is the case, it seems -- at best -- unseemly to engage in brinkmanship with the incoming governor on this issue. Our state's credit rating is already in the dumpster.

I'm no fan of paying taxes -- taxes are at best a necessary evil -- but the key word in that phrase is necessary. Past administrations failed to make pension payments, counting on investment income and a growing economy to make up the difference. Then came the Great Recession. Now we have reaped the whirlwind. We have to pay the piper -- and our retirees -- somehow. And, much as I don't like to pay it, the income tax is a far, far better option than Mr. Rauner's suggested tax on services. At least that's what I thought.

Clearly, although I try to pay attention, I don't understand politics. And for all his apparent success in other arenas, neither, I think, does Mr. Rauner. But is it really necessary to use the tax rate issue to teach the governor-elect that there are three branches of government? Isn't Mr. Rauner destined to find out soon enough that being head of the Executive branch means nothing unless he can secure the cooperation of the Legislature?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

What Mr. Rauner should have said to Mr. Madigan last night and other unsolicited advice to the Governor-elect

We have about 24 to 48 hours to digest the results of last night's election results before the mayoral race swings into high gear....

Photo of Mr. Rauner voting yesterday,
taken from the Glenview News website.
Bruce Rauner's own campaign workers booed during his victory speech last night when he mentioned that he had called House Speaker Michael J. Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton. The TV Talking Heads were quick to praise Mr. Rauner's gesture, unpopular as it may have been in the hotel ballroom, pointing out that Mr. Rauner, who had until that moment put Messrs. Madigan and Cullerton on a par with Beelzebub in all of his public pronouncements, will need their cooperation if he is to have any chance to accomplish anything in his gubernatorial term.

But the Talking Heads didn't speculate, at least on the channel I watched, about what Mr. Rauner may have said.

Don't you wonder?

Here's the gist of what I imagine Mr. Rauner might have said: Since I know you are bound and determined to have the General Assembly make the "temporary" 5% income tax rate permanent, could you please get this done before I'm sworn in? Yes, I know Mr. Rauner expended millions on commercials prophesying that Gov. Quinn would do just this were he to be re-elected. And Mr. Rauner swore he'd insist on the rollback -- but that was never realistic. He simply does not have the votes in the legislature to accomplish this. Messrs. Madigan and Cullerton could wait until the new year to make the 5% tax rate permanent, forcing new-Gov. Rauner to veto the plan -- he absolutely would have to -- but a veto override, though it would render Rauner an irrelevancy at the outset of his term, may not be so sure a thing, even in a supposedly veto-proof General Assembly. Legislators who barely survived tight reelection races may be understandably skittish. Were the veto of the 5% income tax rate to somehow succeed, the plutocrats who run the credit rating agencies, Mr. Rauner's natural allies, would have no choice but to further downgrade the state's already terrible bond ratings. On the other hand, if a lame duck General Assembly makes the tax rate no-longer-temporary, Mr. Rauner can fulminate to his heart's extent from the sidelines, but without necessarily incurring potentially fatal damage to his credibility.

But that's just my imagination. Mr. Rauner may not have asked. But Mr. Rauner has stated ambitions for school funding, for property tax freezes, and other things that will cost money. Putting the income tax rate back to 3%, as much as he says he wants to, would presumably deprive Mr. Rauner of the opportunity to do much of anything except cut and prune spending and services. As an experienced corporate takeover specialist, Mr. Rauner may feel he knows all there is to know about cutting and pruning. But he may find that the lessons of the private sector do not readily translate to the public sphere.

If Mr. Rauner's budget plans remain somewhat nebulous, Mr. Rauner nevertheless packs for Springfield with two fully-formed ideas, both of them stinkers.

Even last night, Mr. Rauner was plumping for his term limits plan. Actually, we have a perfectly good term limits plan in place in this country already. It's called an election. Elections don't work very well as a term limits plan in Illinois most of the time -- but the problem here is not with elections per se, the problem we have is that Speaker Madigan is such a gifted map-maker. He has redrawn legislative districts in such a way as to prevent meaningful election contests just about everywhere, maximizing the strength of the State's Democratic voters, minimizing the impact of the state's Republicans. This does not make Mr. Madigan bad or evil; he is merely taking advantage of what the current law allows him to do. Mr. Rauner's term limits plan would, if it could be enacted (which it can't), force Mr. Madigan to give up the post of House Speaker. But it would not take the map-drawing pen from Mr. Madigan's hand. A truly non-partisan map drawing commission, on the other hand, just might succeed. The recent attempt to put a constitutional amendment allowing just such a commission failed in court, but the court may have provided a road map showing how the defects in the proposal can be cured.

The other truly bad idea Mr. Rauner floats is his service tax proposal. Basically, he would extend the sales tax on tangible goods to intangible services... like attorney's fees or hospital bills. Maybe some of the big law firms could absorb such a tax -- it might require only a software tweak -- assuming that well-heeled corporate clients are still willing to pay whatever Big Law requires, but a service tax would be a disaster for small service businesses generally (and small law firms in particular). Good Lord, we have enough trouble getting clients to pay bills now -- and Mr. Rauner would have us try and collect an extra 5 or 6 or 9% for the benefit of the State? Impossible.

And, of course, a service tax, like a sales tax, is just about as regressive a tax as one can imagine. That means it impacts poor people far more harshly than rich folks. If Mr. Rauner wishes to buy a new Timex to replace the one he wore out in his commercials, the sales tax on that item is a negligible portion of his vast income. But the poor person who buys the same watch pays a far greater share of his income as sales tax even though he pays the same sales tax as does Mr. Rauner.

Please, Mr. Rauner, drop this talk of term limits and service taxes.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

NBC bangs down the gavel on "Bad Judge"

NBC's Bad Judge will not be retained
On Election Day, the people have spoken. Or, at least, the Suits at 30 Rock have spoken: NBC's execrable "Bad Judge" has been cancelled, according to an article by Debra Cassens Weiss posted today on the ABA Journal website.

Weiss cites a strong letter of protest by the Florida Association for Women Lawyers as helping to push the show over the cliff. That, and bad ratings.

Still, I'd like to think my tough, but fair review ("Bad Judge, Worse TV") may have helped.

Maybe a little, anyway.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Voter ID statutes and a recent, real-life experience that prompts a question regarding same

One way you may give away your allegiance in the Culture Wars these days is by how you refer to statutes requiring voters to produce identification at the polls. These may be referred to as voter ID statutes, but the Red Meat Right refers to them as "vote fraud" statutes, and the True Blue Left calls them "voter suppression" laws.

To illustrate, just last Thursday Think Progress ran an article, "Surprise! The Roberts Court Just Halted A Voter Suppression Law."

The article refers to the recent case concerning the Wisconsin voter ID statute, Frank v. Walker. The Seventh Circuit heard arguments on the stay imposed by the Eastern District of Wisconsin against enforcement of the law on September 12, issuing an Order dissolving the stay that same day. 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 17653. The Order provided, in pertinent part,
After the district court's decision, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin revised the procedures to make it easier for persons who have difficulty affording any fees to obtain the birth certificates or other documentation needed under the law, or to have the need for documentation waived. Milwaukee Branch of NAACP v. Walker, 2014 WI 98, 851 N.W.2d 262 (July 31, 2014). This reduces the likelihood of irreparable injury, and it also changes the balance of equities and thus the propriety of federal injunctive relief. The panel has concluded that the state's probability of success on the merits of this appeal is sufficiently great that the state should be allowed to implement its law, pending further order of this court.

The appeals remain under advisement, and an opinion on the merits will issue in due course.
Due course rolled around on Monday, October 6, when the 7th Circuit issued its opinion in the Frank case. 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 19108. By Thursday, however, the United States Supreme Court had intervened to reinstate the original District Court stay. 2014 U.S. LEXIS 6734. The Supreme Court's Order provides:
The application to vacate the September 12, 2014 order of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit presented to Justice Kagan and by her referred to the Court is granted and the Seventh Circuit’s stay of the district court’s permanent injunction is vacated pending the timely filing and disposition of a petition for a writ of certiorari respecting case Nos. 14-2058 & 14-2059. Should the petition for a writ of certiorari be denied, this order shall terminate automatically. In the event the petition for a writ of certiorari is granted, the order shall terminate upon the sending down of the judgment of this Court.
Justice Alito dissented (joined by Justices Scalia and Thomas), conceding that there "is a colorable basis for the Court’s decision due to the proximity of the upcoming general election," but insisting that the application should be denied because there was no indication that the 7th Circuit "clearly and 'demonstrably' erred in its application of 'accepted standards.'"

In the Think Progress post, Ian Millhiser posits that the colorable basis conceded by Justice Alito is found in Purcell v. Gonzalez, 549 U.S. 1, 127 S.Ct. 5, 166 L.Ed.2d 1 (2006). In Purcell, Millhiser writes, "the Supreme Court explained that judges should be reluctant to issue orders affecting a state’s election law as an election approaches. 'Court orders affecting elections,' according to Purcell, 'can themselves result in voter confusion and consequent incentive to remain away from the polls. As an election draws closer, that risk will increase.'"

I confess that there is a part of me that does not understand the controversy: Elections are about getting more votes for your candidate than their candidate. This can be done in two ways, either by getting more of your voters to the polls (GOTV campaigns) or by keeping more of their voters away (voter suppression tactics). Serious political campaigns do some of both. Partisans of the Red Meat Right and the True Blue Left and anybody else who wants to see their candidate elected (and who can afford to do so) routinely engage in voter suppression tactics. What else would you call negative ads? Whether they are attack ads aired on TV or mailers sent on behalf of more local candidates, Candidate A does not run negative ads to excite his or her base. Rather, Candidate A (or his or her surrogates) run the ads to dampen the potential enthusiasm of undecided voters for Candidate B. If we can't get these votes, goes the thinking, we must make sure the other side can't get them either. (Studies show that, although staunchly opposed to Candidate A, some voters will, after a sufficient barrage of negative commercials targeting Candidate B, stay home on Election Day. How -- the disillusioned voter reasons -- can I vote for Candidate B, a candidate who is the catspaw of the [choose one] public employees unions - Welfare Lobby - Koch Brothers - Gun Lobby - Wall Street oligarchs and who kicks puppies besides?)

As a life-long resident of the Chicago area, and a registered voter in Chicago for over 30 years, I believe, for the most part, that voter fraud is -- in Illinois at least -- much less of a problem than it was in the Bad Old Days when Chicago's "river wards" vied with certain DuPage County precincts to see who could hold out longer and then 'deliver' for their candidate in a close statewide contest. Still, I have so far spurned early voting -- I want to make sure my vote is actually cast in my precinct and I don't want to rely on someone else to deliver it there -- and I always vote early in the morning on Election Day. I seem to recall one mayoral election where CTA service was mysteriously disrupted on the evening of election day, in what sure looked like an attempt to hold down a particular candidate's vote....

The True Blue Believers have a host of statistics that show that voter fraud prosecutions are virtually nonexistent and this is offered in support of an assertion that voter fraud does not exist.

Well... maybe. But, let's put it this way so as not to cast aspersions on anyone: For an elected prosecutor, or even an appointed prosecutor serving at the pleasure of the party controlling the White House, it would understandably be a higher priority to deal with voting irregularities if they threaten to drive your party from power than if such irregularities, to the extent they exist, help keep your party in power -- or don't make any difference in likely outcomes. Human nature being what it is, a reasonable person would investigate, and prosecute, more urgently in the former situation than in either of the latter ones. The absence of vote fraud prosecutions may mean there is no vote fraud, but it it may also mean that identifying and extirpating vote fraud is not a high priority because any vote fraud that does exist benefits the party in power or is not outcome-determinative.

This brings me to a recent, real-life experience. I begin by reiterating that I firmly believe our election process today to be cleaner than it was in my youth.

But we recently received a jury summons at home for my oldest child. She lives in Indianapolis these days, and has for five years now, where she is married and has a daughter. She is registered to vote in Indianapolis. She is licensed to drive in Indiana.

I was enlisted to 'take care of' the jury summons. After a couple of false starts, I found myself in the Jury Administration's Office in the Daley Center, asking for instructions. I was told to have my daughter send a letter, providing her current address and proof of her non-Illinois residence. She happened to be in town that very weekend, so it was easy to put the letter together and provide the requested copy of the driver's license. For good measure, in addition to sending the letter to Jury Administration, my daughter sent a copy of the letter (including a scanned copy of her Indiana driver's license) to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.

This was in late June of this year.

We subsequently received our new voter registration cards in the mail. My oldest child has always received a new card, despite her move out of town. But this time -- surely this time -- she would be removed from the voter rolls. Right?

If you've stayed with me this far, you know where this is going: We received a new voter registration card for my oldest child pursuant to the July canvass.

So far as I know, no one has presumed to vote on my daughter's behalf in the past several years. But, apparently, the opportunity exists, and has existed for some time. I assume this is entirely innocent. But, given that these types of errors can occur, even when specific requests are made to remove a person from the voter rolls, why is it per se unreasonable to consider requiring some additional identification at the polls over and above voter registration?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Malala Yousafzai

Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, is a co-recipient of this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

You may recall that Malala Yousafzai captured the world's attention when, in 2012, two brave, young Taliban fighters stopped the bus in which the girl was riding. One of them muscled his way into the school bus crowded with school children, courageously announced his intention to shoot them all if Malala did not identify herself -- and when she did, he heroically shot the defenseless, unarmed schoolgirl in the face at point-blank range. (A couple of other children were also wounded.) Somehow, Malala survived.

And the heinous crime committed by Malala that justified the Taliban's attempt to murder her? She had the temerity to blog about her desire to stay in school and receive an education on a BBC-sponsored, Urdu-language website.

The New York Times reported on October 13, 2012, just days after the botched murder attempt, that both Malala and her father remained on the Taliban's hit list. The Times article, by Declan Walsh, with Sana ul Haq and Ismail Khan contributing from Pakistan, stated,
Sirajuddin Ahmad, the spokesman for the Taliban in the Swat Valley, said that Ms. Yousafzai became a target because she had been "brainwashed" into making anti-Taliban statements by her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai.

"We warned him several times to stop his daughter from using dirty language against us, but he didn't listen and forced us to take this extreme step," he said.

Both father and daughter remain on the Taliban's list of intended victims, he said.
But Malala has not been silenced by the Taliban's actions or it's threats.

Instead, on her 16th birthday, just last year, Malala was able to address the United Nations General Assembly:
"The extremists were, and they are, afraid of books and pens," [said] Malala, who was wearing a pink shawl that belonged to assassinated Pakistan leader Benazir Bhutto. "They are afraid of women."

She called on politicians to take urgent action to ensure every child has the right to go to school.

"Let us pick up our books and pens," Malala summed up. "They are our most powerful weapons.

"One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first."
And today, Malala Yousafzai is announced as a winner of the Nobel Peace Price. Sometimes there is justice in the world.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

October 8: Anniversary of the day the Midwest caught fire

Currier & Ives lithograph obtained from the Chicago Historical Society

You probably remember that October 8 is the anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire.

State and Madison after the Fire
School children are probably not required to memorize the gruesome statistics of the fire anymore, but they are readily accessible on Wikipedia: The fire destroyed an area about four miles long, averaging averaging 3/4 of a mile in width. Roughly 17,500 buildings were destroyed; property damage was estimated at $222 million. One in every three Chicago residents -- roughly 100,000 of the City's total 300,000 population -- was made homeless by the fire. There were 120 bodies recovered after the fire, but authorities estimated the actual death toll at up to 300.

Most folks don't remember this, but the Chicago fire destroyed the records of two Illinois counties -- Cook, of course, but also DuPage. In 1871 Naperville and Wheaton were literally up in arms over which town should be the seat of DuPage County and the county records were removed to Chicago for safekeeping.

Ooops.

And yet -- believe it or not -- the Great Chicago Fire was, in many ways, the smallest of three major fires in the Midwest on October 8, 1871. Over on the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, a number of cities, including such widely scattered burgs as Holland, Manistee, and Port Huron, were damaged or lost entirely in a series of fires collectively referred to as the Great Michigan Fire. There were not as many lives lost in the Michigan fires, but more land and timber was damaged in these fires.

Mass grave at Peshtigo. © Deana C. Hipke.
There may have been 300 people killed in the Great Chicago Fire, but the mass grave shown in this picture, in a picturesque cemetery next to the converted church that serves as the Peshtigo Fire Museum, is the final resting place of roughly 350 unidentified victims of the Peshtigo Fire.

At least 1,200 people died in the Peshtigo Fire, roughly 800 in the town of Peshtigo alone (roughly half the population of the town); the total death toll may have been as high as 2,500. Whole families were wiped out; in many cases there was no one left, after the fire, to remember who'd been lost.

The firestorm was so intense that the flames jumped right across Green Bay, damaging large portions of the Door Peninsula. It also spread into the nearby Upper Peninsula of Michigan, ultimately damaging an area twice the size of Rhode Island.

One area that was not involved in the Peshtigo Fire, though it was in the path of the flames, was the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, in New Franken, Wisconsin.

Many believe that the Virgin Mary appeared at this site on October 9, 1859 to Adele Brise, a young Belgian woman. A church and school were built there because the Virgin told Brise to teach religion to children. According to the website of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay:
When the Peshtigo Fire spread across Green Bay on Oct. 8, 1871, area residents walked around the chapel grounds all night praying the rosary and carrying a statue of Mary. Everything outside that five-acre area was burned.

Every year on Oct. 8 people reenact the procession at the Shrine.
A church was also saved from disaster in Chicago, too, but the story is less impressive.

Fr. Arnold Damen, S.J. founded Holy Family Church in 1860 and St. Ignatius College in 1870 in what was then the middle of nowhere. But that isolated location was uncomfortably close to the infamous O'Leary barn when the Great Chicago Fire broke out, only about 3/4 mile away. Cecil Admams picks up the story in a Chicago Reader Straight Dope column from 2009 (emphasis in original):
When the Great Fire began, the wind was blowing out of the southeast. Holy Family and Saint Ignatius were directly west, and arguably would have escaped the flames had conditions remained unchanged, but Father Damen was taking no chances. In the version of the story I initially heard, he stood on the front porch of Saint Ignatius and prayed to the Almighty to spare his life's work. This was embroidery. In reality his prayer was offered up in Brooklyn, where he was preaching at the time. No matter; the Lord could hear him there just as well. Father Damen vowed that if his prayers were answered, he would keep seven vigil lights burning before an image of the Virgin.

The wind shifted. Formerly it had been driving the fire toward the outskirts of town; now it began to blow out of the southwest, pushing the fire northeast. You see the implications of this. The church and school were saved. Instead, the conflagration burned down the rest of Chicago.
But, Adams adds, the City Council did not hold a grduge: Damen Avenue was eventually renamed in Fr. Damen's honor.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Anita Baker's legal woes provide lessons for would-be litigants in small claims cases



I heard this on the radio in the last couple of days: Singer Anita Baker is being sued by an attorney who says he stiffed her by not paying $69,000 in legal bills he incurred in fighting a suit brought by contractors who claimed Ms. Baker had failed to pay them $15,000 for painting they'd done at her home in the Detroit area.

This, I thought, was ideal fodder for a blog post. I have conversations with prospective clients almost every week about relatively small disputes. I always try to explain that smaller cases often take significant time to prepare and that fees could quickly become disproportionate to the amounts really at stake. But I've noticed that trying to explain this concept in general terms isn't always particularly effective. On the other hand, people pay attention to celebrities and stories about celebrities. This story, I thought, might provide a teaching moment.

Of course, the story wasn't quite as simple as the Chicago radio account made it out to be. I've tried to republish a Detroit TV story about the suit. Even if the video won't play on your device, however, I have this link to the TV story.

It appears that Ms. Baker has been involved in a number of suits with disgruntled -- and unpaid -- contractors of one sort or another, including lawyers.

Please understand: I'm not taking sides. Sometimes people try and take advantage of celebrities. Sometimes celebrities think their fame gives them license to engage in all sorts of anti-social behavior. I don't know, and don't pretend to know, whether Ms. Baker is justified in her refusals to pay.

And, in looking into the matter, I discovered that the story is not quite as simple as the Chicago radio account made it out to be. Looking at the archives of the Detroit News on Lexis, I discovered that the present dispute arises from a 2010 suit filed by Ray A. Smith Painting and Decorating. According to Robert Snell's October 24, 2010 story, the painter alleged that Ms. Baker owed "$15,239.60 for work at her Grosse Pointe home last year, including painting the walls and ceiling of her son's bedroom, replacing a rotten doorsill, removing water-damaged plaster in her living room and other painting."

Ms. Baker did not respond to the suit. She was defaulted. Elisha Anderson's March 21, 2014 story in the Detroit News reported that a bench warrant had been issued for Baker's arrest on account of her failure to appear "at a creditor's examination" in September 2013. The painter's attorneys had pursued post-judgment proceedings trying to collect on the default judgment. In Illinois, we'd call this a Citation to Discover Assets hearing. The bottom line, though, was that -- three and a half years after filing suit -- the painters had not been paid. And this was long after they'd won their suit.

There are a number of lessons here for would-be litigants in small claim cases:
  1. For Defendants -- If you are sued, the worst thing you can do is ignore the suit. If you had a basis on which to oppose the claim -- maybe the painters really did do a bad job -- when you allow the suit to go into default, you almost certainly give up your rights to assert that defense, or those defenses. In Illinois, at least, once 30 days have passed after the entry of a default judgment, your 'best' chance to open up the judgment is under §2-1401 of the Code of Civil Procedure. That will be difficult, if not impossible. And, either way, it will be expensive. You'd be far better off to meet the suit head on in a timely manner -- and, if you owe the money, you may be able to work out a payment plan or even a discount.
  2. For Defendants -- If you haven't followed my good advice above, and have instead allowed the suit to go into default, and if the case was filed against you in Illinois, interest will accumulate on the judgment at 9% per year. By statute. Non-negotiable. And all the costs of post-judgment proceedings -- such as Citation proceedings -- will be tacked on.
  3. For Plaintiffs -- It doesn't matter how 'good' your case is. It doesn't matter how quickly you 'win.' (A default judgment is a win.) It still can take years to get paid. You may never get paid: Ms. Baker presumably has the money to satisfy this judgment -- but the party you sue may not. You can't get blood from a stone -- and you have court costs to pay and perhaps your attorney. Sure, many attorneys take cases on a contingent fee basis -- meaning they don't get paid until you do -- but that typically happens in personal injury cases, where there is a presumably solvent insurer making business decisions on the other side. You might get an attorney to take your collection case on a contingent fee -- but, one way or the other, the attorney's fee is coming from your bottom line. Unless there's a statute or contract provision that allows for it, the other side is not going to have to pay your attorney's fees.
The attorney who is now suing Ms. Baker was engaged after the bench warrant was issued. The first thing he had to do was keep Ms. Baker out of jail. Robert Allen's story in the April 19 Detroit News reported that Ms. Baker's new attorney was also going to sue the painting contractor and attempt to set aside the default on the grounds that Ms. Baker didn't know the suit existed until long after the default was entered. (Failure to obtain service could be a valid basis on which to open up a judgment in Illinois even if §2-1401 grounds are not present. No court can act without acquiring jurisdiction over the defendant; a court obtains jurisdiction over a defendant in a civil case when the defendant is properly served.)

I don't know how Baker's suit fared, but the fees run up by her new attorney were not just for the defense of the painter's suit. (In fact, unless that judgment were opened up, there was nothing to defend in that case at all.) And the TV story suggests that the attorney had negotiated a broader representation agreement with Ms. Baker, signing on to represent her as necessary as a "vice president of operations." So the allegedly unpaid $69,000 fee may well have been reasonable.

But there's still a lesson here for would-be litigants: Beware of mission creep. You think you've hired a lawyer to represent you in a $15,000 collection case -- but, if you ask her to advise you on other matters, you will be (and should be) charged for these additional services. Don't hire an attorney without a clear view of what you want him to do. Do you want the lawyer to negotiate the best possible settlement on your behalf -- or do you want her to fight to the last ditch? One option is far more expensive than the other if you're paying an hourly rate.

People watch Judge Judy and Judge Mathis and other courtroom shows and get grand ideas about how quick, cheap and efficient the justice system is. When a lawyer tries to tell you that things don't work in real life like they do on television, please listen.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Recovering lawyer who makes art from Lego back in the news

I was stuck at the car dealer, in the Service Department waiting room, waiting for the verdict on the family van. The waiting room at this dealer is bigger than most, and less dingy. But the big room was still dominated by an equally big TV, turned on at full volume, presumably in an attempt to drown out the incessant intercom announcements. If that was the intent, it did not succeed. The sonic barrage made it difficult to focus on the reading I'd brought with me to while away the time.

The TV was tuned to a newscast. These days, in Chicago, there's almost always news on some channel. In a waiting room, one might get Ellen or Maury or Jeopardy or Judge Mathis. But the news will follow immediately.

Anyway, at the end of this newscast, there was a little piece on an ex-lawyer who is opening a show in London this weekend, showcasing the art he creates from Lego. I couldn't find the TV station piece on the station website, but the Chicago Tribune had an AP video up about the artist.

Involuntarily listening to the TV broadcast, I realized that I'd written about this lawyer-turned-artist, Nathan Sawaya, back in 2008. Quoting from an article by Christine Y. Chen on portfolio.com, I had written,
Sawaya graduated from NYU Law School in 1989. He became "a Wall Street attorney, earning a comfortable six-figure salary—and working in a high-stress environment." Seeking a way to unwind, Sawaya began working on art projects in his spare time, working in clay at first, "then moving into more whimsical media, like candy."

And then he moved into Lego.

Sawaya won a 2004 Lego-sponsored competition to find the best builder in the U.S. He quit his day job -- and started working for $13 an hour creating sculptures for a Lego theme park in San Diego.
Things progressed swimmingly from there. Chen's 2008 article said that, though Sawaya was working longer hours than he had on Wall Street, he had more than replaced his income as a lawyer. And now Sawaya's staging big shows in prestigious museums.

In short, Sawaya has become a real-life Lego Master Builder. As opposed to these Master Builders from The Lego Movie.

Still, with all the success he's enjoyed, I wonder, if one were to ask Sawaya how things are going, whether he might answer, "Everything is awesome."