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Isabel’s afternoon roundup (Updated x2)

Monday, Apr 15, 2024 - Posted by Isabel Miller

* Jason Meisner at the Tribune

A government attorney faced tough questioning Monday from U.S. Supreme Court justices over concerns that the federal bribery statute often used to prosecute public officials, including a former Indiana mayor, is vague and potentially criminalizes innocuous gift-giving by people from all walks of life.

The oral arguments came in a case involving James Snyder, the former mayor of Portage, Indiana, who was convicted of taking a $13,000 “consulting” fee from a garbage truck contractor that had recently won two lucrative contracts with the town.

The statute Snyder was convicted under, which is commonly referred to as “666” because of its number in the federal criminal code, makes it illegal to “corruptly” accept anything over $5,000 in value with the intention of being “influenced or rewarded” for an official act, regardless of whether there was a prior quid-pro-quo agreement.

How the high court comes down on the issue could have a resounding impact on political corruption prosecutions in Illinois — including the case against former House Speaker Michael Madigan, which is set for trial in October.

Another story from Jon Seidel and Dave McKinney

Skeptical Supreme Court justices grilled a government lawyer for more than an hour Monday about a law used in the prosecution of former Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan and others in Chicago, pressing her for a clearer definition of corruption.

“Is it a sin?” Justice Neil Gorsuch asked as he drilled down into the question. “Are we now talking about something that, you know, would be a venial sin? Or does it have to be a mortal one?”

Some of the justices, including Gorsuch, seemed intent on clarifying the law in question — a bribery statute that applies to state and local officials. […]

But on the whole, it seemed the high court was poised to further limit prosecutors in their pursuit of public corruption. […]

Multiple justices asked Sinzdak whether she could “live with” a ruling that would clarify the law to bar “unlawful” conduct — actions prohibited by state or local laws.

Sinzdak confirmed that she’d prefer the justices perform a narrower “surgery” of the law in that way, rather than cutting out gratuity prosecutions entirely.

More from Center Square

Justices repeatedly asked Colleen Sinzdak, assistant to the Solicitor General, how the government’s position could stand.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett at one point told Sinzdak: “I’m increasingly worried about the government’s position.”

Justice Brett Kavanaugh asked Sinzdak how officials know if a reward crosses the line into illegal conduct.

“What is innocuous and what is not?” he asked. “And just as important, how is the official supposed to know ahead of time?”

The justices brought forward a raft of hypothetical situations, including a dinner at the Cheesecake Factory, a meal at Chipotle, a gift of pornography and an apple left on a teacher’s desk as they tried to tease out answers to the question before the court. The justices also touched on the long history of corruption in Chicago and Illinois. Even the late Chicago mob boss Al Capone was mentioned.

Lisa Blatt, counsel for petitioner James Snyder, a former Indiana mayor convicted twice of corruption, said the broad federal bribery statute subjects 19 million state, local and tribal officials along with 14 million Medicare-funded health care workers to the federal bribery statute.

“Congress did not plausibly subject all of these people to 10 years in prison just for accepting gifts,” Blatt argued. “Especially when federal officials face only two years for accepting gifts” under another federal statute.

…Adding… Cleanup starts at PRB…

Today, Governor JB Pritzker announced the appointment of James Montgomery to serve as the Executive Director of the Illinois Prisoner Review Board (PRB), pending senate confirmation.

James Montgomery has over thirty years of civil stewardship experience, and most recently served as the Director of Administrative Services with the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department in Massachusetts. In this role, he provided supervision and senior level support for the Chief Financial Officer, Director of Human Resources, and Director of Information Technology. Prior to his role with Suffolk County, Montgomery served as the Commissioner for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation and was Director of Administration and Finance. Montgomery also served as the Northeast/Midwest Vice President of Client Services at Intermedix Corporation, the largest emergency services and healthcare revenue cycle management/technology services company in the nation. He also has experience in procurement, administration, and finance from his time with the Boston Public Health Commission.

Montgomery began his career in Illinois working for the offices of several elected officials. He was then elected as Mayor of Taylorville, IL in 1997, where he served until 2005. Montgomery received a Bachelor of Arts from Millikin University and a Master of Public Administration from Harvard University.

This new leadership position will be responsible for overseeing administrative board operations, including the facilitation of additional domestic violence prevention training and other important equity-based trainings for board members. The creation of the executive director position reduces the workload placed on the PRB chair and allows for the chair to focus more closely on leading casework.

…Adding… Leader Curran…

Illinois Senate Republican Leader John Curran (R-Downers Grove) released the following statement in response to Gov. JB Pritzker’s appointment of an executive director to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board:

“Gov. Pritzker has still failed to provide a transparent accounting of the breakdown in the PRB process that led to the deadly release of Crosetti Brand. We welcome any addition that will help make the Board more effective at improving public safety, but a new staff position is not going to make up for an activist Governor appointing unqualified board members who operate with little to no transparency. Structural reforms such as raising the experience standards for PRB Board Members, increasing transparency requirements for hearings, and timely release notifications for crime victims and their families, are still desperately needed to improve public safety.”

* Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton

Pregnancy and childbirth continue to claim more Black lives than any other ethnicity. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, from 2018 to 2020, Black women were three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related medical conditions than white women. Nationally, research has shown that Black families have the worst childbirth outcomes regardless of their income status or type of insurance coverage.

It’s one thing to understand the history of racial discrimination in the medical field; it is another thing entirely to see racism still plague public health in 2024. As a state leader and mother of Black women, this disturbs me to my very core.

I believe that leaders have a responsibility to create pathways for every community to meet their basic needs. To foster a fair Illinois and reach true health equity, we must advance racial justice. That starts with efforts like Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s recently proposed $23 million Birth Equity Initiative investment. If approved, the initiative would:

    Create a statewide blueprint to identify barriers and better coordinate work between state agencies across the full spectrum of maternal and child health supports.
    Help Medicaid providers understand how to bill for services so they can maintain a sustainable business.
    Expand the Illinois Reproductive Health Facilities Capital Grant program to support nonprofit and for-profit clinics providing or planning to provide innovative pregnancy-related services and abortion care to reduce birthing inequities — prioritizing underserved areas.
    Launch a pilot program to provide diapers to low-income families and expand existing investments in evidence-based home-visit programs.

* STLPR

The last 100 miles of Route 66 in southwest Illinois received $850,000 in state grant money in preparation for the 100th anniversary of the iconic American highway.

The Great Rivers & Routes Tourism Bureau in Alton secured the grants through the Illinois Office of Tourism and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity for six projects that will be complete by the end of this summer.

“The intent is really to spark redevelopment of historic sites and attractions, help small business owners create roadside attractions or unique stops to keep travelers staying in Illinois longer and spending more dollars before they move on west on the route,” said Cory Jobe, president and CEO of Great Rivers & Routes.

* Here’s the rest…

    * Block Club | CTA’s New ‘Dynamic’ Schedule Adds Little Train Service To Struggling System: The CTA began adding some pre-pandemic bus runs back to its schedule last month, but its new train schedule show no significant additions, transit advocates and a train operator said. “It’s pretty much the same,” a train operator said. “But more people are riding, and we need to see a service increase.”

    * Crain’s | Urban flooding is a rising threat. What can cities do to safeguard their futures?: And here’s the rub: The cities designed and built their underground infrastructure for the kind of rainstorms they saw 50 or a 100 years ago, not for today’s increasingly more severe storms. When the rain comes tumbling down, it often has no place to flow except where it hurts humans the most: streets and basements.

    * Crain’s | Johnson’s $1.25 billion bond plan hits speed bump: Mayor Brandon Johnson’s $1.25 billion bond proposal was dealt a temporary blow today as a scheduled committee vote on the plan was stalled after opponents of the measure sought to water it down. The plan represents a significant shift in how the city funds affordable housing and economic projects and had been amended in recent weeks to accommodate concerns over how and where the money would be spent.

    * Shaw Local | La Salle County to sue over body cameras? Officials say they were overcharged: On Thursday, the La Salle County Board agreed to retain outside counsel. Whichever firm or attorney is retained will be tasked with recovering some of the $296,000 spent on 40 units from Axon Body Cameras. In the resolution, the county said the manufacturers “may have violated federal laws and regulations that were enacted to allow an open market.”

    * Press release | Rep. Barbara Hernandez to Hold Clinic to Spread Information on Expungement Proceedings: State Rep. Barbara Hernandez, D-Aurora, is holding a clinic with Kane County Circuit Clerk Theresa Barriero and other officials to teach attendees about expungment proceedings. The clinic will be held on Saturday, April 20 at the Aurora Public Library at 101 S. River Street, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

    * Sun-Times | Cicero measles case marks 2nd infection reported in suburban Cook County: The first measles case in suburban Cook County was confirmed in late March and was linked to an outbreak that started at a migrant shelter in the Pilsen neighborhood. These are the first cases of measles reported in Chicago since 2019. The Cook County Department of Public Health said there is no known connection between the Cicero measles case and the Chicago migrant shelter. Statewide, there are 64 confirmed cases of measles, most of which are in Chicago.

    * Block Club | Native Plants Coming To Eisenhower Expressway Embankments, State Officials Say: The state’s transportation department is cleaning up the sides of the Eisenhower Expressway to bring in new greenery, officials said. Between Morgan Street and Harlem Avenue, crews with the Illinois Department of Transportation have been removing invasive and dead plants and trees, mowing and removing litter and debris to make room for new plants along the embankments of the interstate, said spokesperson Maria Castaneda.

    * Nieman News | The Chicago Tribune’s “Stalled Justice” wins the 2023 Taylor Family Award for Fairness in Journalism at Harvard: “Stalled Justice,” a Chicago Tribune investigation into the Cook County’s dysfunctional court system in Illinois, is the winner of the 2023 Taylor Family Award for Fairness in Journalism. Reported by Joe Mahr and Megan Crepeau, the four-part investigation exposed the massive delays and logjams that for years have plagued the Cook County courts. The reporters revealed the toll the problems have taken on both victims of crime seeking justice and defendants in jail who have waited years for trials.

    * Springfield Business Journal | Wm. Van Coffee Café to open April 19: The original Wm. Van’s Coffee House at the corner of Seventh and Jackson streets closed in April 2022 and 7th Street Cidery later opened in the space. At the time, owners Court and Karen Conn indicated the closure was temporary and that Wm. Van’s would reopen in the future at a new location. Conn’s Hospitality Group purchased Vinegar Hill Mall and several surrounding properties in 2021 and moved its headquarters into the Dewitt Wickliffe Smith Mansion, part of the three-acre site just south of the Capitol complex. Trish & Mary’s Public House, an English-style pub, opened in October as the first new business in the revitalized space.

    * Tribune | Oberweis Dairy files for bankruptcy: The family-owned dairy, which has dozens of ice cream stores and shelf space in grocery stores across the Midwest, owes more than $4 million to its 20 largest unsecured creditors, according to the bankruptcy filing Friday in Chicago. Bartlett-based Italian food service company Greco & Sons is listed as the largest unsecured creditor at more than $721,000 owed, according to the filing. Oberweis Dairy also owes the Cook County Treasurer more than $173,000.

    * WaPo | Tesla will shed more than 10 percent of its workforce: In a separate layoff notice obtained by The Washington Post, employees were told early Monday morning that Tesla was cutting a significant number of jobs globally after a “thorough review of the organization.” “Over the years, we have grown rapidly with multiple factories scaling around the globe,” according to the email, which was shared with The Post. “With this rapid growth, there has been duplication of roles and job functions in certain areas. As we prepare the company for our next phase of growth, it is extremely important to look at every aspect of the company for cost reductions and increasing productivity.”

    * Sun-Times | WNBA Draft 2024: Live updates and results for the Sky, Caitlin Clark and more: Caitlin Clark, the Iowa superstar who break countless records during her four years in Iowa City, will likely head to the Indiana Fever with the No. 1 overall pick. The Los Angeles Sparks have the No. 2 pick and could be targeted Cameron Brink, who played nearby at Stanford. The Chicago Sky have the No. 3 and No. 7 picks, setting the team up for a potentially high-impact draft night haul. LSU’s Angel Reese, South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso, Tennessee’s Rickea Jackson are among the players Sky GM Jeff Pagliocca could be targeting with those selections.

       

12 Comments
  1. - H-W - Monday, Apr 15, 24 @ 3:36 pm:

    Re: Supreme Court, gratuities bribes, and vagueness

    This is the same Supreme Court that has emphasized originalism as a limiting factor. Yet they do not seem to know what the original meaning that $5,000 or more can be interpreted as bribery.

    They seem unable to see that an apple on a teacher’s desk is not the same as $5,000, nor is a dinner at Cheesecake Factory. Indeed, Gorsuch seems to be openly discussing religious exceptionalism for corruption in demanding the state frame crimes in the variable context of sins.

    In turn, the justices suggest the meaning might not have included monetary gifts at all, and want to rewrite bribery laws (contrary to originalism).

    The Roberts Court shall long serve as an example of the Court serving the express interests of politicians and corporations, at the expense of the people and the law.


  2. - Former Downstater - Monday, Apr 15, 24 @ 3:39 pm:

    Possible interesting side note to today’s Supreme Court arguments, given the nature of the case and the accusations against him:
    “Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was absent from the court Monday with no explanation.”

    https://thehill.com/homenews/ap/ap-politics/ap-justice-thomas-misses-supreme-court-session-monday-with-no-explanation/


  3. - H-W - Monday, Apr 15, 24 @ 3:41 pm:

    Re: STLPR Story

    === The Great Rivers & Routes Tourism Bureau in Alton secured the grants through the Illinois Office of Tourism and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity ===

    I thought Alton wanted to secede from Illinois. And yet they are accepting funding from Illinois.


  4. - Amalia - Monday, Apr 15, 24 @ 3:42 pm:

    re Urban Flooding, time for governments to require permeable surfaces for parking lots, driveways and more. also need native plantings encouraged. got to divert ground water and have plants to drink up the water. these sound like small measures but the Chicago area was based on a marshy land. we can’t keep concreting it over.


  5. - Someone you shoudl know - Monday, Apr 15, 24 @ 3:53 pm:

    Jim Montgomery is by far one of the smartest and decent men I know. I trust he will do a Superb job at PRB.

    Great choice by JB


  6. - Donnie Elgin - Monday, Apr 15, 24 @ 3:54 pm:

    = Oberweis Dairy files for bankruptcy=

    Hope they stay in business - no better treat than their Chocolate Marshmallow Ice


  7. - Bigtwich - Monday, Apr 15, 24 @ 4:17 pm:

    H-W
    “Yet they do not seem to know what the original meaning that $5,000 or more can be interpreted as bribery.”

    In McDonnell v. United States where the Supreme Court fund for the Governor “the Virginia Republican and his wife accepted over $175,000-worth of loans and gifts, such as vacations, designer clothes and a Rolex watch, from a businessman seeking the state’s help in promoting a tobacco-based dietary supplement. McDonnell also borrowed a Ferrari from the businessman. . . “


  8. - Roman - Monday, Apr 15, 24 @ 4:21 pm:

    == Gorsuch seems to be openly discussing religious exceptionalism…==

    I’m not sure that’s right. Maybe I misinterpreted Gorsuch, but I thought he was being sarcastic — saying the government should be focused on what’s “lawful,” while the solicitor general was focused on what’s “wrongful.” That led to his crack about drawing a line between venial and mortal sins.

    Either way, based on the tone of the court, the ComEd Four are going to sleep easy tonight.


  9. - JoanP - Monday, Apr 15, 24 @ 4:38 pm:

    = an apple left on a teacher’s desk =

    Or an apple left on Madigan’s desk?


  10. - H-W - Monday, Apr 15, 24 @ 4:45 pm:

    @ Bigtwich

    Yike! I forgot about that.


  11. - Big Dipper - Monday, Apr 15, 24 @ 6:22 pm:

    I wonder if all the Oberweis creditors would fill Soldier Field.


  12. - AlfondoGonz - Monday, Apr 15, 24 @ 7:20 pm:

    It’s no surprise the justices who share an ideology with Clarence Thomas are the ones concerned about the ramifications of laws where officials receive outlandish gifts.


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