Fifth Student Alleges Hazing at Maine West High School

CC image Wikipedia.orgAnother student has come forward in the wake of the Maine West High School boys soccer team hazing scandal. The juvenile is the fifth member of the team to claim that he was the victim of a hazing ritual during a team-building event in 2012.

The lawsuit was filed Monday in Cook County Circuit Court, and it claims that a fifth member of the soccer team was assaulted during a “campus run” by older teammates. The juvenile, whose name was not released, alleges that older players held him on the ground and physically and sexually assaulted him.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time Maine West High School has been in the news for a hazing incident. Late last year we learned that the Department of Children and Family Services was investigating MWHS for hazing allegations dating back to 2008.

The school district voted to fire Maine West coaches Michael Divincenzo and Emilio Rodriquez for their roles in the incidents. Divincenzo was charged in May with multiple misdemeanors, including hazing, battery, and failure to report abuse as dictated by law as a teacher and a coach.

Attorney Sean Sullivan comments

This is a story we’ve been following closely, and we’ve commented on it before. Sadly, it seems another accuser has come out, which seems to support the conclusion that there was a pattern of abuse and hazing at this school. Acts of severe hazing (such as the actions described here) are the most egregious and should result in criminal charges being filed, but it is not just these individual acts that should be punished.

What is most troubling to me is that it seems the school district and the school itself should be facing a civil lawsuit for a complete lack of oversight and failure to address this situation such that it fostered an atmosphere where these hazers felt that this behavior was acceptable. Hazing is never an acceptable behavior and this school and the school district are just as complacent as the individual perpetrators.

Related source: Chicago Tribune

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Illinois to Increase Speed Limit on Highways

CC image Wikipedia.orgDrivers who live in the fast lane may soon be able to go a little faster on the highway after Gov. Pat Quinn approved a bill to up the speed limit to 70 mph on rural interstates.

Quinn passed the measure despite opposition from the Illinois Department of Transportation, state police departments, and leading traffic safety organizations. Many of the organizations believe the increased speeds will lead to more accidents on the roadways.

“Raising speed limits is politically popular, and higher speed limits get people to their destinations faster,” said Russ Rader, a spokesman with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “But we have to recognize there’s always a safety trade-off. There’s no free lunch. And more people will die on the roads as a result.”

Illinois will become the 37th state to report a legal limit of 70 miles per hour or greater. Quinn said he undertook the measure because it was important for Illinois to remain consistent with other Midwest states.

“This limited 5 miles-per-hour increase will bring Illinois’ rural interstate speed limits in line with our neighbors’ and the majority of states across America, while preventing an increase in excessive speeding,” Quinn said.

Mark Bohlin, a resident of Tinley Park, said he was glad Illinois finally decided to up the speed limit to 70 mph.

“It’s a no-brainer,” said Bohlin. “Increase the speed limit. Everyone already drives about 80 miles per hour on the highway. A lot of other states already have higher speed limits and it seems to work for them.”

It’s not exactly clear which roads will be bumped up to the 70 mph limit, as some counties will have the final say in the matter. The new law will go into effect on January 1, 2014.

New Penalties

Despite outside criticism, Quinn decided to pass the measure because he believed the legislation was written in such a way to keep drivers and pedestrians safe. Under the bill, heavily populated counties can choose to opt out of the increased speed limit, and the threshold for charging a driver with “excessive speeding” was reduced from driving at least 31 mph over the speed limit to driving at least 26 mph over the limit.

In other words, 96 miles per hour is still the threshold for an excessive speeding ticket on rural interstates, even though the legal limit has increased.

Attorney Miriam Szatrowski comments

Although this is a welcome change for many people in Illinois, it should not be interpreted as a signal that Illinois is easing up on speeding in general. In fact, Illinois has been cracking down on speeding with several new laws over the past three years, though many people don’t know the details of these new laws.

In addition to the regular speeding laws, which allow police to ticket drivers for going above the speed limit, Illinois has laws making speeding a misdemeanor when the driver is going too much over the speed limit. Driving 31-39 miles per hour over the limit is a Class B misdemeanor, which means the maximum penalty is six months in jail and a $1,500 fine. Driving 40 or more miles per hour over the limit is a Class A misdemeanor, which means the maximum penalty is one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. Although drivers rarely have to spend time in jail for these offenses, particularly if it is the first time, they are not eligible for supervision. This means that driving 30 miles per hour or more above the speed limit is likely to result in a misdemeanor conviction.

Currently, driving 25-29 miles per hour over the speed limit is a petty offense, meaning drivers who are found guilty cannot be sentenced to jail time, but they are also not eligible for supervision. However, the new law will change this, making it a non-supervisionable Class B misdemeanor to drive 25-29 miles per hour over the limit.

So, even if you are looking forward to the new speed limit, remember that Illinois does not go easy on speeders, and slow down so you don’t risk getting a criminal record!

Related source: Chicago Tribune

New Law Allows Illinois Adoptees to Obtain Original Birth Certificates

CC image Elinor Schneider Birth Record by AnnieCatBlue on FlickrA monumental change to Illinois legislation now allows adult adoptees to obtain a copy of their original birth certificate.

Similar laws are going into effect in other states, and proponents of the bill say it will make it easier for adoptees to reconnect with blood relatives. Those opposed to the bill say it will now be harder for parents who don’t want to be found to stay hidden.

Looking at the Law

Before the change in legislation, it was next to impossible for adoptees to dig up information on their birth parents. In most adoption cases, the hospital seals the birth certificate when the child is placed up for adoption. Once a family adopts the child, a new certificate is issued with the adoptive parents’ names listed on it. The hospital maintains the original birth certificate for their records, but they cite privacy and HIPPA regulations when adoptees request an original copy. Under the new law, an adult over the age of 21 can now acquire their birth information.

The bill was written by Illinois Democratic State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, who said she created the legislation after hearing personal stories from many adoptees.

“I passed this law because I felt the pain and was approached by many other adoptees in Illinois who had no idea how to get any information,” said Feigenholtz. “(There were) a lot of adoptive parents who had children who were adopted who wanted to get medical information about the children they adopted, people who wanted to reconnect to get life-saving medical information were unable to do anything, and why?”

Not All Agree

Although the new law can be used to reference past family medical history, and in some cases, save a life, not everyone believes the measure should have been passed. Those who oppose the bill believe it is an invasion of privacy for the birth parents. Others, like Adam Pertman, executive director of the Adoption Institute, said some birth parents are opposed to the bill because they could soon be confronted with the past.

“What people are concerned about, I think, is the knock at the door. That somebody who doesn’t want intrusion on their lives is suddenly going to have to have a relationship with a child they relinquish,” said Pertman.

Family Law Attorney Sean Sullivan comments

This change in the birth certificate legislation won’t really affect the adoption process as it’s currently constituted. Where I see a greater effect is in the emotional processing of someone’s decision to place a child up for an adoption.

The reasoning behind the laws forbidding the reissuance of the original birth certificate was to a make a difficult decision on the part of the biological parents somewhat easier by providing them some anonymity. By reissuing a new birth certificate bearing the names of the adoptive parents, the original parents could remain out of the equation.

Clearly there is a rational argument to be made that the adopted children may need to know their biological parent’s medical histories in case of emergency or serious illness. But, by removing the protection of anonymity from the birth certificate, there may be a shift in the number of children placed up for adoption. Some parents may not place their children up for adoption if they know their child could eventually track them down, even if placing the child in adoption services is what’s best for the kid. We never want to discourage someone from an option that would best benefit the child. Perhaps a compromise could be made in the process.

I would propose that we add a section of medical history to be filled out by the biological parent as part of them terminating their rights to the child. We could make this past medical history questionnaire discoverable to the adopted child without revealing the names of the biological parents. The birth certificate could then be changed to reflect the new parents. I think this is a good solution to preserve the privacy and anonymity of the biological parents, but still allow the adopted child access to the important medical information they may need.

Related source: CBS News

Man Who Paralyzed Victim With Punches Avoids Jail Time

CC image Wikipedia.orgA New Lenox man who paralyzed a 28-year-old by punching him outside an Illinois bar will receive 30 months probation and a monetary forfeiture in lieu of prison time.

Joseph Messina, 25, could have received up to 10 years in prison for his aggravated battery charge. Messina threw a punch that left Eric Bartels in a months-long coma, but Judge Sarah Jones said prosecutors were unable to overcome the presumption of probation.

“I’m very disappointed with the sentence, and we believe there was sufficient evident in the record to justify a prison sentence,” said Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow.  “The injuries to Eric Bartels are a hair’s breadth from murder.”

Major Injuries

The incident in question occurred in Mokena outside a restaurant and bar. According to prosecutors, Messina threw an unprovoked punch that knocked Bartels to the ground. Witnesses testified that Messina threw a second punch after Bartels hit the ground, and later threw his hands in the air and made a victory sign while on top of Bartels.

Bartels fell into a months-long coma as a result of his injuries. He was also left paralyzed, blind and unable to speak. He now requires constant care at his home in Tinley Park.

During testimony, witnesses suggested that the punches might have been thrown after a comment was made about a bloodstain on Messina’s shirt.

Punishment

Along with the 30 months of probation, Messina was ordered to turn over the $20,000 his family put up for bond to the victim’s mother, who now helps care for her son. Messina was also ordered to pay $630 a month for the duration of his probation to help cover Bartel’s monthly medical expenses.

In addition, Messina was ordered to complete 250 hours of community service, and he must not drink any alcohol during the duration of his 10-year probation. If he fails to comply with the probation guidelines, Messina will receive a 180-day jail sentence.

Attorney Sean Sullivan comments

Despite avoiding prison time on his criminal case, Messina is still very likely to be subject to a civil lawsuit.

The law sets out that there are seven intentional “torts”, two of which are assault and battery. A tort is a legal term that refers to what is called a “cause of action”. A cause of action is the legal theory that allows someone the grounds to pursue a lawsuit.

In a case involving an assault and battery, it is often better to allow the criminal justice system pursue the criminal case before a person sues someone civilly. I am sure this man’s family is distraught that his punishment was not more severe on the criminal side, but they can take solace in the fact that they will be highly successful in pursuing any type of civil action against this man as the burden in a civil case is much lower than the burden in a criminal case. Once a person has been found criminally responsible for an act, it is almost a certainty they will also be found civilly liable. This family should seek a lawsuit against Messina and sue him for damages to help offset the high cost of medical care Bartels is now facing for the rest of his life.

Related source: Chicago Tribune

FCC Votes For Decreased Prison Phone Call Rates

CC image Wikipedia.orgThe Federal Communications Commission voted in a 2-1 decision to cap how much a prison phone service provider can charge for a 15-minute long-distance call.

The FCC decided that prison phone service providers can only charge a maximum of 25 cents per minute on long-distance calls, meaning a standard 15-minute long-distance call won’t exceed $3.75.

Two-Fold Decision Making

The decision was made for two main reasons. First, the FCC decided to place limits on the rather unregulated sector because they felt certain price setting techniques were getting out of hand. Prior to the federal order, many companies were charging as much as $20 for a 15-minute phone call. This meant that families who spoke to their loved one in prison once a week for 15 minutes were sometimes hit with a $100 bill at the end of the month.

The expensive charges also factored into the FCC’s decision for another reason. Chairman Mignon Clyburn said if families can afford to stay connected with their loved ones, the likelihood that the prisoner will commit another crime is lessened. Clyburn added that 2.7 million children have a parent in prison.

“It’s been a long, long time coming,” said Clyburn.

Phone Companies Object

Telecommunications giants Global Tel*Link, Securus, and Century Link objected to the ruling, saying prison communications are more expensive to operate than regular service plans.

They also added that a portion of the fees go to the prisons to pay staff salaries and benefits, and fund in-house educational programs. In 2012, prisons in 42 states received just over $100 million in commissions from the telecommunications providers.

Attorney Miriam Szatrowski comments

In situations where a parent is incarcerated, the rest of family is often left struggling to pay the rent and put food on the table. Accepting collect calls at current rates, even short ones once a week, is just not an option for these families.

People in the Illinois Department of Corrections are frequently incarcerated far from their homes, so without phone calls, they have no contact with family members at all. This causes children to be cut off from their parents, and makes it much harder for incarcerated people to maintain family connections that make it easier to reintegrate into their families and communities upon release. This new rule will make a huge difference for Illinois inmates and their families, allowing them to stay in touch and stay connected.

Related source: Washington Post

Attorney Explains Medical Marijuana Laws in Illinois

CC image Medical Marijuana by Chuck Coker on Flickr

This post was written by Miriam Szatrowski, a criminal defense attorney at Appelman & Associates.  Miriam has a wealth of experience in the criminal and civil courts, and she specializes in DUI, drug, and traffic offenses.  She has also served as an Assistant Public Defender in Kane County.  For more information about Miriam, check out her bio or give her a call at (630) 717-7801.

Last April, I wrote an article explaining the marijuana laws in Illinois. However, last week, Illinois became the 20th state to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. On Thursday, August 1, Governor Pat Quinn signed the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act into law. The law will go into effect on January 1, 2014, but many people still have questions about what the law really does and how it will work. I will try to answer some of those questions here.

Who will be able to get a prescription to use medical marijuana in Illinois?

A person who wants to get a prescription in Illinois must be at least 18 years old and a resident of Illinois, and must show proof of age and residency. (Note: There is no reciprocity with other states where medical use of marijuana is legal.) In addition, they must pass a criminal background check. They must also present certification from their doctor stating that they are likely to benefit medically from the use of marijuana. Finally, they will need medical records showing that they have been diagnosed with a qualifying medical condition.

What are diseases and conditions that qualify under the new law?

There are a number of conditions that will qualify a person in Illinois to use marijuana medically. If a person does not have one of the qualifying conditions, they cannot use marijuana legally in Illinois, even if it is recommended by their doctor. The qualifying conditions include: Cancer, HIV, Multiple Sclerosis, Hepatitis C, ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease), Glaucoma, Muscular Distrophy, Crohn’s disease, spinal cord injuries and traumatic brain injuries. (This is not an exhaustive list.) Terminally ill people with certain symptoms can also qualify.

If you think that you might be a candidate, it is best to speak with a doctor and an attorney to make sure.

When will medical marijuana become available, and where can people buy it?

The State of Illinois will be issuing 60 licenses statewide for marijuana dispensaries where qualified patients can purchase medical marijuana. They will be able to purchase up to 2.5 ounces every 2 weeks. Patients will not be permitted to grow their own cannabis plants. Instead, the state will license 22 places to grow cannabis, one in each district of the Illinois State Police Department.

It is not clear when it will become available. The law does not take effect until January 1, 2014, but even then, dispensaries might not begin distribution (or even be open) right away.

In addition, most insurance probably will not cover it, so it will have to be paid for out-of-pocket.

Can I be arrested or fired for having or using medical marijuana?

Possession of marijuana is still illegal under federal law. While it is unlikely that patients will be prosecuted under federal law for possessing small amounts of cannabis for personal use, it is certainly possible under the law. The federal government could also choose to prosecute people running the dispensaries and growing facilities.

The new law will protect qualifying patients and their caregivers from arrest and prosecution under Illinois law, provided they are abiding by the terms of the law, but it does not protect them from being fired if their employer has drug-free workplace rules.

Why is it called a “Pilot Program”?

The law is a pilot program because it is set to expire after 4 years. If it is successful, the legislature can renew the law at that time, or make changes and pass a new law with those changes. If they do nothing, the law will expire and cannabis possession will become illegal in all circumstances again.

Suing Your Landlord For Your Security Deposit

CC image For Rent by Michael Mandiberg on FlickrAs an attorney, I often have clients ask me the following question about landlord-tenant disputes:

“My friend told me I can sue my landlord for withholding my security deposit and I can recover twice the amount, right?”

My answer to this is maybe; it depends upon whether your landlord meets certain requirements.

The Illinois Security Deposit Return Act (765 ILCS 710) is the law that governs when and how your landlord can withhold your security deposit. However, what most tenants do not realize is that this act only applies to landlords who own 5 or more units.

In other words, this only applies to commercial landlords and property management companies. If your landlord rents you a single unit or even rents out another unit to some other tenant, this act will not apply to him. What governs in these cases is the terms of the written lease. If you are unsure how to determine the legal holdings in your lease, you should contact a lawyer who has experience in landlord-tenant issues. We routinely handle these type of cases.

The above post was written by Civil Litigation Associate Sean Sullivan.