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State criminal probe into Quincy veterans deaths “remains active”

Thursday, May 16, 2019

* WBEZ

Tim Miller appeared in what arguably was Democrat JB Pritzker’s single, most-devastating commercial last year from his campaign to unseat Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Just a month before the November election, Miller got emotional in the political ad as he chided Rauner for his mishandling of a deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at a state-run veterans’ home. The outbreak killed Miller’s Army veteran father.

But now, Miller is calling out the Democratic governor he helped get elected.

The topic: the state’s lack of movement toward resolving lawsuits from Miller and 11 other families of Legionnaires’ victims who died in repeated outbreaks at Illinois’ largest state-run veterans’ home between 2015 and 2017.

“He’s been governor for five months now,” Miller said. “Certainly, as time goes on, that is going to become more and more of a question. It kind of becomes a question for us. Was this really about the stories, and the loss and the heroes? Or was this about an election campaign?” […]

But almost half way into Pritzker’s first year in office, the families’ lawsuits appear no closer to being settled than they were under Rauner. And now Miller and some of the other victims’ families are beginning to wonder whether they were no more than political props in a bareknuckle campaign.

“Was his promise to settle these lawsuits — his admittance that there were mistakes made — was that out of genuine concern for the families to get justice and closure?” Miller said of Pritzker during an interview with WBEZ. […]

If the state ultimately settles all 12 of the pending Quincy Legionnaires’ cases for the maximum allowable award, taxpayers will be on the hook for as much as $24 million. Because there have not been specific settlements, the governor did not include any funds to resolve the lawsuits in his proposed 2020 state budget, and there are no signs it’s part of ongoing budget talks between the governor and state lawmakers.

* From the governor’s office…

Governor Pritzker has been very clear that he believes that these cases should be settled, and that the state’s mishandling of the Legionnaire’s outbreak at the Quincy Veterans Home failed these families. The governor is confident that Attorney General Raoul and the families who suffered as a result of the Legionnaire’s outbreak at Quincy will reach a fair resolution in these cases.

1) The governor has no formal role in negotiating Court of Claims settlements. That’s up to the attorney general as the state’s chief legal officer. I suspected last year that the plaintiffs didn’t want to negotiate a settlement with the state until after a bill was passed and enacted in November (over Gov. Rauner’s eventual veto) to increase the payout limit from $100,000 to $2 million.

2) Once all parties agree to a settlement, the payout then has to be appropriated by the General Assembly and signed into law. I suppose they could put a ballpark placeholder figure into an approp bill, but I don’t think that’s ever been done before and I also don’t think they should ever attempt it. Bad precedent.

I know emotions are probably still raw, but there’s a process here and it should be followed. The governor shouldn’t try to interfere with a duly elected AG and if the plaintiffs have a beef, it’s with Raoul.

* As this post’s headline notes, there was some other news in that piece

Meanwhile, a criminal investigation into the state’s handling of multiple Legionnaires’ outbreaks — announced during the height of the gubernatorial campaign — remains active, according to the attorney general’s office.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

8 Comments »
  1. - wordslinger - Thursday, May 16, 19 @ 1:49 pm:

    This story begs a question, one that WBEZ should have attempted to answer:

    In cases such as these, can a governor direct the AG, an independent Constitutional officer, to settle?

    Maybe some experienced legal eagles out there know.


  2. - Annonin' - Thursday, May 16, 19 @ 1:53 pm:

    Been waitin’ for this one
    So GovJunk could still get a little hard time for his role in the deaths and cover ups.


  3. - Rich Miller - Thursday, May 16, 19 @ 1:57 pm:

    ===can a governor direct the AG, an independent Constitutional officer===

    Unless provided in statute, the governor has no authority to direct another constitutional to do anything.


  4. - wordslinger - Thursday, May 16, 19 @ 2:11 pm:

    –Unless provided in statute, the governor has no authority to direct another constitutional to do anything.–

    Thanks, I suspected as much.

    Certainly undermines the premise of the story.


  5. - Annonin' - Thursday, May 16, 19 @ 3:43 pm:

    Who are the families of the folks who were killed suing….GovJunk? Agency? Unlikely AG is defendent


  6. - FormerParatrooper - Thursday, May 16, 19 @ 6:16 pm:

    Has anything beyond the bare minimum Rauner implemented been done since JB took the command chair?

    I see very little mentioned about this since the election, almost like it is still being swept under the rug.


  7. - Anon - Thursday, May 16, 19 @ 7:03 pm:

    One nuance point, the AG has independent authority and can decline to settle. However, if the settlement is coming out of an agency budget or requires legislative appropriation, the AG needs agency sign-off to settle.


  8. - Sarah Morley - Friday, May 17, 19 @ 8:08 am:

    Unfortunately cases like this continue to highlight and stress the importance of managing water systems correctly. Here’s a recent interesting article I’ve found regarding Legionella - https://hubs.ly/H0cVXFr0


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