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“There’s simply no evidence at this time that the ICC is in bed with ComEd”

Tuesday, Jul 30, 2019

* Crain’s a couple of weeks ago

On Nov. 8, 2016, Robert Zulauf and his nephew, Jordan Zulauf, were working in Sterling, about 115 miles west of Chicago, on cable television lines. The two were contractors to Comcast, which shares a utility pole there with Commonwealth Edison. The Zulaufs were preparing to work when a metal wire meant to attach the pole to the ground suddenly became electrified after coming loose. Jordan Zulauf was shocked and knocked unconscious. His uncle, running to help, was electrocuted and burned to death.

When 23-year-old Jordan Zulauf came out of a coma weeks later, he discovered he had lost both his arms, according to his attorney, Philip “Flip” Corboy Jr. His 32-year-old uncle was survived by a wife and three children.

The deadly accident was the result of a loose “guy wire”—the name for the metal lines supporting utility poles and angling down from the pole to the ground—and an improperly installed insulator meant to keep such wires from becoming electrified if they come into contact with high-voltage lines when they do come loose, according to attorneys for the estate of Robert Zulauf and Jordan Zulauf. They have sued ComEd and Comcast in Cook County Circuit Court and are asking for punitive damages for wrongful death and injury. If granted, the damages could run in the tens of millions of dollars, or even over $100 million.

ComEd is contesting the lawsuit. What’s unusual is that the Chicago electric utility is being aided in its defense by its regulator, the Illinois Commerce Commission. The ICC is fighting to bar plaintiffs’ access to records on the accident and even to keep them from interviewing current and former workers.

The ICC also didn’t bother to do an investigation of the accident, apparently in violation of statutes. They simply asked ComEd to explain what happened.

* More

The commission used to act as a more proactive watchdog on such public safety issues. In reports dating back more than a decade, ICC inspectors found numerous violations of the sort that caused the accident in Sterling. In Ameren Illinois’ downstate service territory, inspectors found 51 “guying” violations in 2007, according to an ICC report on Ameren’s reliability.

The ICC no longer files such reports.

* Crain’s today…

A Cook County Circuit Court judge has rejected the claims of privilege that Commonwealth Edison and the Illinois Commerce Commission asserted over communications between the two following the November 2016 electrocution of two cable-TV contractors that resulted in one’s death and the loss of both arms for the other.

The ruling July 18 by Judge Moira Johnson requires the ICC and ComEd to provide the results of a state inquiry into the Nov. 8, 2016, accident in Sterling, Ill., to attorneys seeking wrongful-death and -injury damages on behalf of the families. She dismissed the commission’s arguments that doing so would chill future interactions between the regulator and ComEd in similar situations.

Corboy & Demetrio, one of the most prominent personal injury firms around, is involved in this case. And they have been recently pushing a line of argument that the new ICC Chair Carrie Zalewski needs to stop defending ComEd. For instance…

Attorneys for the state persisted in making their arguments of privilege even after Crain’s wrote about the ICC’s eyebrow-raising moves to protect ComEd in the case. That means that Chairman Carrie Zalewski, whose family is caught up in the Justice Department’s probe of the relationship between ComEd, House Speaker Michael Madigan and various people close to the speaker, apparently signed off on the unorthodox legal maneuver.

“There is an unholy alliance that’s taken place here between the Illinois Commerce Commission and Commonwealth Edison, and they have stretched all credulity in trying to claim that these statutes protect them from disclosing documents that exist in this case,” attorney Stephan Blandin argued July 18 in court. Blandin represents the estate of Robert Zulauf.

“The information submitted by Mr. Blandin concerning the chairman, her father-in-law, all this information is well beyond the scope of what the ICC is doing here today,” responded Conor Desmond, who’s with the Illinois attorney general’s office and is handling the case on behalf of the ICC. “There’s simply no evidence at this time that the ICC is in bed with ComEd or whatever Mr. Blandin’s attempting to assert in this particular proceeding. There’s a pending investigation going on and at this time there’s nothing to suggest the ICC is improperly doing its duty here.”

This case began long before Zalewski took over as chair a few months ago, but whatever works, I suppose.

And that defense from the AG’s office is a bit comical. I mean, “at this time”? Doesn’t that suggest the ICC could’ve been or still could be in bed with ComEd?

- Posted by Rich Miller        

21 Comments
  1. - Hamilton - Tuesday, Jul 30, 19 @ 2:51 pm:

    “at this time” is freudian for: we haven’t been caught yet.


  2. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Jul 30, 19 @ 2:55 pm:

    ===“There’s simply no evidence at this time that the ICC is in bed with ComEd”===

    “Sure, they may be dating, but both really wanna take it slow… “


  3. - What's in a name? - Tuesday, Jul 30, 19 @ 3:25 pm:

    We are looking very hard and trying harder not to find anything


  4. - OneMan - Tuesday, Jul 30, 19 @ 3:34 pm:

    Heck we don’t even bother looking into the incidents anymore, why should we have to share any information…


  5. - TNT - Tuesday, Jul 30, 19 @ 3:53 pm:

    Steve Daniels’ reporting in Crain’s has long implied a very cozy relationship between Rauner’s ICC chair, Brian Sheehan, and ComEd. Corboy and Demetrio have a vested interest in ensuring the perception is that relationship remains cozy with Carrie Zalewski at the helm. The recent federal subpoenas and search warrants certainly help them make that case. But in fairness to Zalewski, there’s no evidence that’s true…at least not yet. She’s only been there a couple of months and she was not considered a rubber stamp for corporate interest during her time at the Pollution Control Board.


  6. - Senator Clay Davis - Tuesday, Jul 30, 19 @ 3:57 pm:

    The reason the Commission didn’t do their own investigation could be regulatory capture, but it also may have to do with the decimation of ICC staff during the Rauner/Brien Sheahan era. Lots of good people with decades of institutional experience were laid off in 2015-16, and I believe the budget was cut as well (somebody could fact check that I’m sure). It’s hard to do complicated studies when you’re operating on a skeleton crew.

    If we want fair regulation of safety and electric rates, we gotta fund the people policing the utilities.


  7. - Attorney - Tuesday, Jul 30, 19 @ 4:20 pm:

    An attorney can’t conclusively say to the court evidence doesn’t exist, because AGs don’t have direct personal knowledge of what is in the ICC files. This seems like unnecessarily picking on a junior AAG for doing his job.


  8. - Nobody Sent - Tuesday, Jul 30, 19 @ 4:29 pm:

    Amen Senator Davis! The agency has been decimated and is in sore need of cleaning out certain hires from the past admin and rebuilding. I wish we could talk.


  9. - Anyone Remember - Tuesday, Jul 30, 19 @ 4:49 pm:

    ICC has been in bed with ComEd at least since JRT (& Phil O’Connor). Was bi-partisan - in 1986 when Hartigan changed and ran for re-election as AG, Martin Oberman in the primary had Diogenes, instead of looking for an honest man, looking for Hartigan to represent the rate-payers against ComEd (”Neil?”) - better than Hartigan’s 1990 Bumble Bee in the Rose Garden ad … /s


  10. - Da Big Bad Wolf - Tuesday, Jul 30, 19 @ 5:06 pm:

    A good reason to check the guy wire before climbing the pole. The accident was just brutal.


  11. - Chicago Cynic - Tuesday, Jul 30, 19 @ 5:16 pm:

    “ICC has been in bed with ComEd at least since JRT (& Phil O’Connor).”

    To be fair, the ICC/ComEd relationship was never quite as tight as it was under Brien Sheahan. He was the absolute worst as this lawsuit made clear. There was one big exception to the relationship and that was during Doug Scott’s tenure. Nobody and I mean nobody would accuse the ICC of having been in ComEd’s pocket during those years.


  12. - Chicago Cynic - Tuesday, Jul 30, 19 @ 5:30 pm:

    One other thing. That statement from Conor Desmond? Wow. Dude, you violated about twelve rules of being a spokesman and about ten of being a lawyer with that boneheaded statement. “There’s simply no evidence at this time that the ICC is in bed with ComEd…” Youch.


  13. - Tommy - Tuesday, Jul 30, 19 @ 5:41 pm:

    Madigan name keepscoming up a lot. Hmmm


  14. - Amalia - Tuesday, Jul 30, 19 @ 5:44 pm:

    it certainly does not involve the danger of this incident, but cable television regulation has gone underground in Chicago. There was a Cable Commission some time back. how utilities are regulated is important. needs much more sunshine. this incident is awful.


  15. - JS Mill - Tuesday, Jul 30, 19 @ 5:54 pm:

    =If we want fair regulation of safety and electric rates, we gotta fund the people policing the utilities.=

    Absolutely true, and it goes for really any regulatory agency.


  16. - Excitable Boy - Tuesday, Jul 30, 19 @ 7:02 pm:

    In bed with? Why are state resources being used to assist a wildly profitable corporation in a private civil suit? Is Kwame insane?


  17. - Captain Obvious - Tuesday, Jul 30, 19 @ 8:59 pm:

    Insane? Bought and paid for more likely.


  18. - Nobody Sent - Tuesday, Jul 30, 19 @ 9:31 pm:

    And Amen Chicago Cynic - Doug Scott was a very good chairman.


  19. - Gallactic Cupcake - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 8:52 am:

    There were some pretty great commissioners during the Doug Scott years.


  20. - Honesty works - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 8:59 am:

    “I wish we could talk”

    You can. You may not think so but the laws are on the side of protecting whistle-blowers at this time. And if you do it honestly and respectfully to assure better governing, you will be praised more than admonished. And I can assure you this, even if that does not happen, you shall not receive retribution from your employer. If so, people will be lining up to make you a very rich person.

    Just my opinion as someone who cannot and will not keep their mouth shut to make things better for the State of Illinois.


  21. - Notorious RBG - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 4:18 pm:

    Excitable Boy - don’t get too excited. The AG is required by statute to defend executive agencies. If the ICC requested legal representation in this matter, then the AG is obligated to provide it.

    Chicago Cynic - you nailed it. The worst possible way the AAG could have phrased that. And on the record… ouch. Notice that Steve Daniels didn’t have a quote of either Flip Corboy nor Blandin actually making that accusation - because without any evidence, that would be improper. But as someone else correctly pointed out, it’s likely that a junior AAG got thrown into court on what was assumed to be a simple motion hearing and walked in with no idea they’d be face to face with two of the most formidable and well-known PI attorneys in the state… oh and a reporter from Crain’s in the gallery.


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


* Reader comments closed for the weekend
* Report: "One source close to the matter says federal officials are believed to be looking into" annual ComEd fundraisers for Madigan
* ISP arrests state trooper accused of sexual assault and abuse during prior job at high school
* Question of the day: Golden Horseshoe Awards
* Three prison guards indicted on charges related to inmate death
* Doherty out at City Club, may have been conduit for 100 ComEd jobs
* Roundup and open thread
* *** LIVE COVERAGE ***
* Yesterday's stories

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