Judges are doing everyone a disservice by sticking up for the bad eggs

I was originally going to write this post as an update about Will County Judge Joseph Polito, who appeared before the Illinois Courts Commission to defend himself against charges that he had not conducted himself in a manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary and that he brought his office into disrepute by allegedly attempting to access porn sites on his court computer. (By the way, the judge blamed a 60 year porn addiction for his problem).

But I was stopped in my tracks when I read the Sun-Times story, which concluded with the following paragraphs:

Ten colleagues on the Will County bench wrote to the commission urging leniency and praising Polito’s performance as a judge, and Polito also was backed at Thursday’s hearing by Judge Carla Alessio Policandriotes, who said Polito’s work never suffered, urging the commissioners to base their punishment on justice, not what “the media is . . . writing in their little notebooks.”

Will County’s Chief Judge Gerald Kinney tried for months to keep Polito’s identity secret from the Sun-Times, claiming that computer logs showing Polito’s porn use were “judicial records” exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. He was eventually overruled earlier this year by the Illinois Attorney General, leading to Polito’s unmasking.

The media, “writing in their little notebooks” is what brought the judge’s outrageous and undignified behavior to light. There is no reason that he should be allowed to wear a robe and dispense justice again.

I understand that Judge Polito’s colleagues want to support him in dealing with his addiction. I understand that he is embarrassed and humiliated by this being a public news story. But that is not the media’s fault; it is his own fault because of his own actions. He knew that when he was sworn in as a judge, he was obliged to uphold the highest levels of conduct. For a judge to blame the media for reporting this story is no different than for a guilty drunk driver to blame the cop that arrested him.

And this brought to mind another recent embarrassment for our judiciary: the bi-annual “retain all judges” campaign put forth by Cook County judges. In spite of the fact that several of their colleagues were not recommended by the various bar associations for lack of diligence, lack of judicial temperament, and lack of legal knowledge and ability; in spite of the fact that at least two of them had been arrested for criminal conduct while serving as judges; and in spite of the fact that one of those judges, who fit both categories tried to excuse her actions by claiming that she was “legally insane” — they all banded together to support one another.

What do these two situations have in common? Judges banding together to support fellow judges, bad eggs who tarnish their institution, instead of supporting the judicial system itself.

This is about avoiding accountability. Which is ironic, since judges are usually the final arbiter of accountability.

For our judicial system to maintain its status as the most ethical and high-minded branch of government, it is necessary that it have judges who are beyond reproach, who are thoughtful, sage, and composed. Judges should be exemplars in our society.

Unfortunately, this is how things are done in our State of Illinois. Cops look out for bad cops. Politicians support bad politicians. Fans cheer steroid-pumped baseball players who use cork-filled bats. And Judges look out for bad judges.

I am disheartened by the coarse actions of these judges. I think Judge Polito should go, Judge Policandriotes should go and Judge Kinney should go. They clearly hold the public in contempt — the public who pays their salaries (and ridiculously generous benefits).

And I think that the next time that a retention campaign begins, each judge running should state on the record whether he or she supports retention for all or for only the candidates who have been recommended by the majority of the major bar associations.

Tinky-Winky? Tipsy-Wipsy? Drinky-Drinky? NHL 1rst Round Pick gets DUI dressed as Teletubby!

This might be the DUI of the year.  Detroit Red Wings first round pick Riley Sheahan got pinched for “super-DUI” in Michigan after he blew 0.30.  Oh, and he was wearing a Tinky-Winky outfit at the time.

From the Huffington Post:

Riley Sheahan Arrested Drunk Teletubby

Riley Sheahan was arrested in Grand Rapids, Mich. on Oct. 29 dressed in a purple Teletubby costume (Photo: Getty Images/Teletubbies.uk)

Riley Sheahan isn’t just a super prospect for the Detroit Red Wings’ organization — he also faces a “super-drunk” charge after his arrest for drunken driving in Grand Rapids, Mich.

The 20-year-old Grand Rapids Griffins player was pulled over by police on Oct. 29 after driving down the wrong side of the road clad in a purple Teletubbies costume, a character also known to TV fans and small children of the ’90s as “Tinky Winky.”

According to a police report obtained by MLive.com, Sheahan also blew a .30 at the police station after his arrest, almost four times the legal limit, and almost twice the limit needed to add a “super-drunk” charge to his current charge of driving under the influence.

Michigan’s “super-drunk” laws punish drivers charged for the first time with operating a vehicle under the influence who blow a .17 or higher — that’s more than twice the .08 limit deemed illegal for driving on Michigan roads.

“Super-drunk” convictions carry a heavy price tag. Stiff fines and other costs can approach $8,000. Plus, drivers convicted under the “super-drunk” law lose their licenses for 45 days, face longer stays in jail and have to undergo mandatory alcohol treatment.

Sheahan has also been charged with providing false information to authorities. The hockey player was carrying the Michigan driver’s license of 23-year-old Brendan Smith, his Griffins teammate and fellow Detroit Red Wings prospect, when he was arrested in downtown Grand Rapids. Sheahan was born in St. Catherines, Ontario. As a Canadian citizen, Sheahan could possibly face deportation.

According to Fox Sports, Detroit Red Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill said Sheahan is ”getting help right now and will continue to get help.”

Sheahan was drafted #21 overall by the team in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and played three years of collegiate hockey at the University of Notre Dame.

His next court date is scheduled for Dec. 13.

Here is the arrest video:

Why the Federal Appellate Court entered an injunction in the Eavesdropping case

I am going to link over to Eric Zorn’s blog, where he provides representative quotes from both the majority and dissenting opinions from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeal’s ruling upholding a temporary injunction prohibiting the Cook County State’s Attorney from prosecuting anyone for video recording a police officer who is acting in his or her official capacity in public.

The highlights are easy to read (not in incomprehensible “legalese”) and are worth reading.

Here is the full link:  http://blogs.chicagotribune.com/news_columnists_ezorn/2012/11/highlights-.html

Update:  Zorn is at it again!  In a new post, he uses the example of a threatened “eavesdropping” prosecution by a Lindenhurst officer to shows how ridiculous enforcement of this statute can be as the police uses his “dash cam” video to surreptitiously record a citizen who is surreptitiously recording his traffic stop. Read it here:  http://blogs.chicagotribune.com/news_columnists_ezorn/2012/11/eaves.html

U.S. Supreme Court upholds temporary injunction against IL Eavesdropping Statute

Today, the United States Supreme Court rejected Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s request to overturn a Federal appeal court’s temporary injunction blocking her office from prosecuting individuals for video-recording police who are acting in their official duties.

The case will return to the Federal Court where the ACLU will ask that the temporary injunction be made permanent.  In the meantime, two Cook County judges and one Crawford County judge have also ruled that the law is unconstitutional.

Read more in the Chicago Tribune at:  http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-supreme-court-rejects-plea-to-prohibit-taping-of-police-20121126,0,686331.story


Cook County launches DUI memorial marker program

From the blog of Cook County government:

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle today announced the launch a program that will let families purchase a memorial marker near the site of a DUI fatality to commemorate the loss of a loved one.

Under the new DUI Memorial Program, families can acquire the marker online for fatal DUI crashes on or after January 1, 1990 on highways under the jurisdiction of the Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways. The marker consists of a “Please Don’t Drink and Drive” sign and an optional commemorative plaque with the loved one’s name and accident date. Families can purchase the marker for $150. The department will install and maintain the marker for two years. The program is modeled after a similar one offered by the State of Illinois.

“Families will be able to honor their loved ones in the most meaningful way— by reminding travelers of the dangers of drinking and driving,” President Preckwinkle said. “It also gives families the chance to promote public safety and potentially save lives.”

The initial request for a memorial marker program was made by the family of Oleg Oleinik, who was the victim of a fatal DUI-related crash in Glenview in 2008. The County installed the first memorial sign on the anniversary of Mr. Oleinik’s death in mid-October

Appropriate or Excessive?: Life sentence for 8th DWI, no accident

I saw a headline the other day that said that a Texas man received a life sentence for his third DWI. However, if you listen to the above clip, it is reported that it was the man’s eighth DWI, not his third. Four of the previous DWIs were also felonies.

In any event, it is a stunning sentence for a drunk driving case, especially since in this case it was a victimless crime — the driver was pulled over for minor traffic violations. The only extenuating circumstances were his arrest history and that he had a very high blood alcohol level (0.44). On the other hand, he did nothing else that would be considered an aggravating circumstance such causing an accident, being combative to the officers or attempting to flee.

What would happen to a person who commits a similar act in Illinois? A sixth or greater DUI is a Class X felony — the highest level of felony except for first degree murder. Class X felonies are punishable from six to thirty years — but that time can be extended if a person has committed a previous Class X, and a person can get a life sentence if they have had two prior Class X offenses — so in other words, DUI number 8 can result in a life sentence in Illinois too — even if the person did not cause an accident, or actually drive a motor vehicle.

I did not hear the defendant’s age in the clip, but he looks no older than his mid 40s. I fail to see what is gained by keeping him under lock and key when he is in his 80s.

In my opinion, a sentence in the range of 8 to 12 years is a much fairer and appropriate sentence: it will keep the defendant away from alcohol for a long period of time, cost him his job, deprive of his family and take away a significant chunk of his life. During that time, the person will hopefully get alcohol treatment and exit prison a rehabilitated person. I see no reason to treat this person the same as a cold-blooded murderer.

Various studies find that the cost to incarcerate a prisoner range from $27,000 to over $47,000 per year. And cost to incarcerate elderly prisoners are in the range of $60,000 to $70,000. Does it make sense for taxpayers to pay to keep a drunk driver in prison forty, fifty or sixty years after his last offense?

What do you think?

Update: Mark Ditka bond hearing

This is an update to my previous post about Mark Ditka, who was facing a bond hearing after testing positive for opiates while on bond for an aggravated DUI.

Ditka reappeared before Judge Brian Hughes Tuesday, but instead of presenting the judge with prescriptions for medications containing opiates as he had promised, he instead provided the court with a letter from a dentist stating that he had been prescribed Vicodin in 2010 and 2011.  Judge Hughes then doubled Ditka’s bond from $25,000 “D” to $50,000, but after Ditka’s attorney obtained a change of judge, the new judge, John Phillips, reduced it down to $30,000, meaning that Ditka only had to post only an additional $500 to make bail.  Additional curfew times were also imposed.  He was also warned about improperly using prescription medication.

DuPage Prosecutors have new plan to get your blood sample

According to a story today, DuPage County will have phlebotomists on hand to draw blood of those suspected of DUI.

The story states that the phlebotomists are for those cases where a person refuses a breath test and demands a blood test.  I have a hard time believing this, since this rarely ever happens.

in my experience, which is vast, blood tests occur in DUI s because (1) the motorist was injured and was taken to a hospital, not a police station, (2) the officer suspects drug use, which can’t be detected by a breath test, or (3) it is a “no-refusal” in which the motorist refused a breath test, and the police seek to obtain a blood sample without consent. In situation (1), the motorist is already at a hospital, where a blood sample can be easily obtained, so there is no need to hire phlebotomists for that scenario.

I suspect that the only reason to maintain phlebotomists on-call for blood draws is for reason (3) the “no-refusal” situation.  I have discussed no-refusals here and here, including the following:

Illinois courts have stated that while defendants do not have a right to refuse a test, the police cannot use excessive force to draw blood from the individual.  People v. Jones, 214 Ill.2d 187 and People v. Farris, 2012 IL App (3d) 100199.

Police and prosecutors seek to justify these blood draws under the grounds that blood alcohol evidence is the strongest evidence of intoxication, and that because alcohol eliminates from the blood rapidly, it must be drawn soon after the arrest.

…the United States Supreme Court announced that it would be hearing a case from Missouri where a police officer took a recalcitrant motorist to a hospital and had his blood drawn.  The Missouri courts suppressed the blood test, because it was taken without a warrant or a showing of “exigent circumstances.”

If the Supreme Court overturns the Missouri decision, then police will be authorized to drag anyone they suspect of driving while intoxicated to a facility where their blood can be drawn.  This strikes me as a very serious infringement on our liberty.

It seems to me that DuPage is getting ready in advance of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Missouri case, expecting that the Court will allow warrantless, involuntary forced blood draws in DUI cases.

What do you think?


Drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants may be coming to Illinois

In the past week, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, over two dozen Chicago aldermen, and Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran all came out in favor of allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

Update:  after I put up this blog post, the Sun-Times now reports that “In a nearly unprecedented show of support, Gov. Pat Quinn, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), former GOP Gov. Jim Edgar, GOP state comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and state Rep. Edward Acevedo (D-Chicago) plan to sign on to the immigrant-rights driving initiative and attend Tuesday’s news conference in support of it.”

Then today I heard from a downstate attorney that the Secretary of State is working on a rule change that would allow undocumented immigrants just that.

This would be a major change to the current situation.  As a traffic attorney, I regularly see crowded courtrooms full of people who have been charged with driving without a license or driving while suspended (suspended because of previous instances of driving without a license), all because they live and work here without proper legal documents and cannot obtain a license.  Even worse, if a person gets a DUI while “undocumented” and thus doesn’t possess a valid driver’s license, he or she is facing a felony instead of a misdemeanor.

In addition, a person who does not have a valid driver’s license cannot obtain liability insurance.  This means that anyone who is injured by an undocumented driver will have difficulty obtaining compensation.

According to one news report:  “Illinois is home to an estimated 250,000 immigrant motorists who can’t get licensed because they lack Social Security numbers, according to the coalition, which states that unlicensed and uninsured drivers are involved in 79,600 accidents in Illinois each year at a cost of $660 million in damage claims.”

According to the Sun-Times:

The state legislation they’re pushing would offer what Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) called “economic empowerment” to undocumented immigrants by requiring all Illinois drivers to be trained, tested, licensed and insured.

That includes undocumented immigrants. They would no longer have to fear being pulled over for driving without a license and getting dragged into the deportation dragnet that has deprived more than 56,000 Illinois children one or both parents.

“This is really, what we call a ‘triple bottom line issue.’ It’s a justice issue. It’s a safety issue. And it’s an economic issue,” Moreno said.

“We’ve got thousands of our fellow citizens driving on the streets, going to work, taking their kids to school that don’t have the proper licensing.”

If there was a time for this change, now seems to be the time, as all the pundits are busy pontificating about the growing importance of Hispanic voters.  This is making some legislators soften their previous anti-“illegal immigrant” stance.  If so, it will greatly reduce the costs and strain on the courts and police departments, although it will also reduce the revenue streams that arise from impoundments, forfeitures and fines.

It will also be interesting to see whether undocumented people will be able to overcome their inclination to avoid government officials and show up at a Secretary of State office to provide information including their name, date of birth and home address in order to get a driver’s license.