Illinois to Determine Who Gets Frozen Embryos After Couple Splits

Illinois is currently deciding its most complicated embryo dispute to date: What happens to frozen embryos when an unmarried couple calls it quits?

In 2010, Dr. Karla Dunston received a diagnosis of Lymphoma, which would be treated with chemotherapy. Knowing that chemotherapy would leave her infertile, she asked her then boyfriend, Jacob Szafranski, if he would be willing to donate his sperm to create pre-embryos in order to save her fertility. Although they had been dating only a few months, Szafranski voluntarily agreed.

The couple broke up a few months after the embryos were created and, in attempt to stop them from being used, Szafranski filed a lawsuit to prevent Dunston from using them. Szafranski is asking the court to order that they cannot be used until he consents.

Frozen embryos

To date, Illinois has not dealt with an unmarried couple’s disagreement regarding the use of frozen embryos and the rulings have not come easy. Dunston initially countersued and was granted custody of the embryos, to which Szafranski appealed. The appellate court handed the case back to the lower court with instructions to base the decision on contract principals rather than who has a greater interest in the case. The court again ruled in favor of Dunston and a second appeal has begun. Whoever doesn’t win will likely appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court and could possibly make it to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The couple signed an informed consent document at the clinic that stated “no use can be made of these embryos without the consent of both partners (if applicable).” While Dunston’s lawyer argues the contract was made orally when Szafranski agreed to assist with helping Dunston have a child, Szafranski’s lawyer claims there was no agreement until the informed consent was signed and therefore it should be enforced.

With the rulings so far, Illinois has set precedence for how to approach legal disputes involving the creation and use of frozen embryos. As a result of this case, Illinois courts will examine both the weight of each party’s interest as well as the contracts involved.

The parties have agreed not to make use of the embryos until the case is resolved. The results of this case, while changing both parties lives forever, will also set groundwork for many couples, including same sex couples who use alternative means of reproduction.

Chicago Police Using New Criminal Lineup Tactics

A new state law aimed at eliminating potential bias during criminal lineup proceedings is changing how witnesses identify suspects.

Under the old methods, just like in Law and Order or CSI, a group of potential suspects were lined up behind a one-way viewing station. The witness or victim would look at the lineup and tell a detective if anyone in the lineup is the suspect in question. It makes for great TV, but it has some real world drawbacks. Detectives can intentionally or inadvertently clue a witness to a potential suspect, and seeing the actual perpetrator in person can have emotional side effects. The new law hopes to eliminate all bias and potential witness pitfalls.

The new law requires that:

  • All lineups are videotaped.
  • Witnesses must be videotaped when viewing videotape or photo arrays of the lineup.
  • A detective with no ties to the investigation must carry out the videotaping or lineup display.

“Having an independent administrator pretty much, unless done terribly incompetently, just resolves a whole bunch of questions,” said Roy Malpass, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Texas-El Paso and expert on witness identifications. “I think it’s worthwhile to have those questions off the table.” Without those safeguards, “you can’t answer the question of whether the officer did any pointing or made any gestures. They are questions that a good defense attorney is bound to ask.”

Police lineups

Like many other changes, the law went into effect on January 1. The hope is that any bias would be caught on camera, but the law does stipulate that the witness can refuse to be recorded while viewing the photo lineup.

“There’s no substitute for knowing what’s going on than seeing it,” said Karen Daniel, director of Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions. “We have the technology to do it. Everybody videotapes everything. Why would we not videotape these important procedures?”

While suspect identification can be a useful tool, it’s not a preferred method. Ideally authorities would be able to link the suspect to a scene using physical or DNA evidence, but witnesses can help get the ball rolling. That said, of the 325 convictions overturned by the Innocence Project, nearly three quarters involved a false identification.

Related source: Chicago Tribune

Cool Christmas Video or Criminal Act?

Many people like driving around and looking at Christmas lights during the holiday season, and that popular pastime gave John Pauly an idea. Equipped with his drone, Pauly went outside and recorded a 3:22 second clip of the holiday lights from a unique perspective. He landed his drone and uploaded the video, setting the footage to the popular Christmas tune, “White Christmas.” Many people have praised the footage in the comments section, but one viewer wasn’t too happy with what he saw. That viewer was Naperville Police Chief Robert Marshall, who attempted to have Pauly charged with a crime.

Thankfully for Pauly, and common sense, the police chief was unable to charge Pauly with a crime, since there are no laws against appropriate drone use (There is one law that says it’s a violation to disturb wildlife, hunters or fishers with a drone, but that wasn’t the case here).

Although there’s no criminal aspect to Pauly’s actions – yet – the Federal Aviation Administration has slapped numerous drone flyers like Pauly with fines, since drones are technically classified as an aircraft.

Pauly takes precautions to prevent any problems. He said he always calls the local police department to inform them when and where he’ll be flying the drone, as he did prior to making the video.

“We always let the police know,” Pauly said. “You can’t be reckless with it, that’s when you can get in trouble.”


Michael Toscano, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, said he knows regulations will be put in place for the new technology, but lawmakers should consider the interest of recreational flyers.

“This is new technology that has outpaced regulation, and we’re at the early stages of a bell curve,” said Toscano. “Look at the automobile. It took a while after its invention for us to realize we needed speed limits to keep them safe.”

Although Marshall originally wanted to press charges against Pauly, the police chief did concede that drones could be very useful in the hands of law enforcement.

“Drones can be used very productively for law enforcement if there’s a lost child or senior citizen,” Marshall said. “If we can get a camera up in the air, it can help locate missing people.”

Related source: Chicago Tribune, Photography Is Not A Crime

Chicago Woman Ticketed For Going Topless

Public indecency illinoisAmericans are endowed with the freedom to bear arms, but a Chicago woman has filed a federal lawsuit after being ticketed for baring her breasts.

Sonoko Tagami, 41, a stauch supporter of the bare-chested advocacy group GoTopless, filed the federal lawsuit after she was ticketed for appearing topless in public back in August. Police issued Tagami a $140 ticket for violating Chicago’s decency law, which states:

Any person who shall appear, bathe, sunbathe, walk or be in any public park, playground, beach or the waters adjacent thereto, or any school facility and the area adjacent thereto, or any municipal building and the areas adjacent thereto, or any public way within the City of Chicago in such a manner that the genitals, vulva, pubis, pubic hair, buttocks, perineum, anus, anal region, or pubic hair region of any person, or any portion of the breast at or below the upper edge of the areola thereof of any female person, is exposed to public view or is not covered by an opaque covering, shall be fined not less than $100.00 nor more than $500.00 for each offense.

In her lawsuit, Tagami claims the city statute is purposely vague and is a violation of free speech. She also claims the law is sexually discriminant.

“It’s a poorly written, very very old ordinance that would, I think, make illegal many of the fashions that women wear today,” said Tagami’s attorney Kenneth Flaxman. “She believed she had appropriate body paint covering the naughty parts of her breasts.”

Flaxman also noted that Tagami has been participating in topless demonstrations in years past and has never had any issues with city officers.

“She was out there for several years making a statement about the absurdity of the law, and each time she had opaque body paint and the cops thought it was cute,” Flaxman said. “l guess this time the cops didn’t think it was OK.”

Tagami is hoping the federal case will call attention to the law and her cause.

Related source: Chicago Tribune

Illinois Eye Doctor In Trouble For Secretly Recording Women

7364738_sAn Illinois eye surgeon is in hot water after allegations surfaced that he had been secretly videotaping female employees in the restroom.

Richard Weiss, 58, was caught after a female employee noticed a hole in the porcelain of the toilet tank in the women’s restroom. The employee removed the top of the tank and discovered that a small camera had been affixed to the inside of the tank, with its lens pointed out the hole.

Recordings on the memory card uncovered that four female employees had been unknowingly videotaped while using the restroom. Authorities were able to link Weiss to the crime when surveillance tapes recorded the doctor with the camera in hand.

Weiss faces four charges of unauthorized videotaping and is being held in lieu of $75,000 bail. A spokesperson for Illinois Masonic said Weiss is “no longer providing patient care at the hospital while the investigation continues.”

Weiss has been a licensed physician in Illinois since 1990, but that could change with a conviction. He is scheduled to make his next appearance on April 15.

Sean Sullivan comments

If the allegations are true, not only is this doctor facing criminal charges, he could also be facing disciplinary actions towards his medical license.

A lot of medical professionals are not aware, but conviction of a crime violates the protections guaranteed in the Illinois Professional Licensing Acts. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) has the authority under the licensing acts to discipline practicing professionals for criminal conduct.

I used to work for IDFPR along with enforcement prosecutors. Now I try to use my expertise to help defend people with their licensing issues. If someone is a licensed professional in the state of Illinois, they need to be aware that anything that leads to criminal charges will likely lead to disciplinary action being taken against their license as well.

Related source: Chicago Tribune

Former Illinois Board Member Found Guilty of Animal Abuse

ChihuahuasA former Will County Board member was recently found guilty of animal neglect after it was uncovered she locked two dogs in her trunk so she could go roller skating. 

Kathleen Konicki was sentenced to six months of court supervision and fined $395 after a jury convicted her on the misdemeanor animal abuse charge.

The whole incident first began when a passerby heard barking noises coming from a vehicle parked in a lot near the Will County Forest Preserve. The concerned citizen phoned police, but when the officer arrived, the vehicle in question was gone. A similar report was phoned in the following night, and police quickly arrived on scene. A short while later, Konicki returned to her car and unlocked her trunk, revealing two small Chihuahuas.

“She indicated she did not want to leave [the dogs] at home because she was worried they could be stolen,” the officer detailed in his report. “She said the dogs knew how to push down on the back seat to get out of the trunk if they had to.”

It sounds as if Konicki, who is a self-proclaimed animal rights advocate, simply made a poor judgment call. After all, it seems much more likely that the dogs would run in to an ill fate locked in a dark trunk than in a locked house.

Miriam Szatrowski comments

The laws protecting animals can mostly be found in the Humane Care for Animals Act. This statute lays out the duties of owners of companion animals as well as outlawing cruel and inhumane treatment of animals. Companion animal (pet) owners are required to provide their pets with appropriate food, water, shelter, and veterinary care. Section 7.1 specifically prohibits confining any animal in a motor vehicle if that confinement places the animal in danger.

In this case, the defendant was found guilty of a misdemeanor. However, Illinois does define certain acts of cruelty, such as more serious abuse charges, animal torture, and some dog fighting offenses, as felonies. Repeated violations of the law can also result in felony charges.

Related source: The Herald-News

Lawsuit Claims GM Knew of Faulty Ignition Switches

Chevy CobaltA civil lawsuit against General Motors claims the car company knew of an ignition switch issue in the Chevy Cobalt back in 2004 but failed to act on the information for 10 years.

The claim argues that GM acted negligently in refusing to issue a recall until Thursday, 10 years after the problem was first discovered. According to a statement released in conjunction with the recall announcement, General Motors said they are aware of at least six deaths in five Cobalt crashes in which the airbags failed to deploy. The lawsuit claims that the ignition switch issue caused power steering and brake failure, and it cut power to essential safety systems like anti-lock brakes and airbags.

Troubling Facts

The suit alleges that at least one GM engineer experienced the ignition switch issue during the initial testing stage back in 2004, but the company did little to address the problem. Instead of ordering a recall, GM sent out a technical service bulletin to dealerships in 2005 that informed them how to install a snap-on key cover that was designed to help with the ignition problem, but dealers were only supposed to install the cover if a customer complained. The bulletin also failed to tell dealers that they should inform buyers about the potential switch issue.

One of the Cobalt owners who lost her life while driving the unsafe vehicle was pediatric nurse Brooke Melton, who was involved in a fatal crash on her 29th birthday. Melton’s family stated that she had taken her Cobalt into the dealer because she was experiencing ignition switch problems, but the snap-on cover was not installed. The fatal accident occurred just one day after she returned to pick up her car from the dealer.

GM later settled with Melton’s family out of court.

General Motors estimates that it will fix nearly 800,000 of its 2005-2007 Chevy Cobalts and the mechanically similar 2007 Pontiac G5 compact.

Sean Sullivan comments

This story seems eerily reminiscent of the old Ford Pinto case that made Ralph Nader a household name. This type of case revolves around what most people know as “punitive damages.” Punitive damages are payments awarded to Plaintiffs in an effort to punish a Defendant for extreme and outrageous conduct.

Usually it results in a very large award of money (hundreds of thousands or millions). It is never good when someone is able to prove that a company had knowledge there was a problem, could have fixed it, and did not. This will be an interesting case to watch as it unfolds. It seems highly likely that there will be a very large amount of money awarded at some point in this case.

Related source: USA Today

Harassment Laws in Illinois

Happy Valentine’s Day! We certainly hope that all of our readers are enjoying the holiday, whether you are celebrating with loved ones, ignoring it altogether and having a normal Friday night, having an anti-Valentine’s event, or just curling up with a movie, a blanket, and that special bowl of ice cream.

Creepy Caller

But what happens when you have that person who just won’t leave you alone? The one who calls and calls 10 times a day, or, even worse, leaves threatening messages, texts or emails? That can make your Valentine’s Day unpleasant or even scary, and if you live in Illinois, it is illegal.

Under Illinois law, Harassment by Telephone and Harassment Through Electronic Communications are both crimes. ( For the exact wording of the law, take a look at 720 ILCS 135/1-1 and 720 ILCS 135/1-2.) This article will explain what constitutes such harassment.

Types of Harassment

Illinois law defines “Harassment by Telephone” as using the telephone to make obscene phone calls with the intent to offend; make a call with the intent to abuse, threaten or harass any person at the called number; make the telephone of another repeatedly ring with the intent to harass any person at the called number; make repeated telephone calls solely to harass any person at the called number; or make a call, or induce someone to make the call for you, in order to harass someone under 13, even if that person consents to the harassment. You can also be convicted of Harassment by Telephone if you allow someone else to use your phone in order to commit one of the above described acts.

“Harassment Through Electronic Communications” is defined a little differently. This statute prevents using electronic communications to make obscene comments or suggestions with the intent to offend; interrupt the telephone or electronic communications service or another person with the intent to harass; transmit any file that prevents a person from using their telephone service or electronic communications device; harass anyone under the age of 13, even if that person consents to the harassment; or threaten injury to the person to whom the communication is directed or to one of that persons family or household members. You can also be convicted of Harassment Through Electronic Communications if you allow someone to use your electronic communications device to commit one of the above described acts.

What is Harassment?

This leaves the question, “What is harassment?” After all, doesn’t the First Amendment give us the right to free speech? Where is the line between protected speech and harassment that can be prosecuted as a crime? This is a question that the courts have encountered many times and tried to answer. Illinois courts have generally defined harassment as “intentional acts which can cause someone to be worried, anxious, or uncomfortable”. However, in order to comply with the First Amendment, we have to be careful how we interpret these words. The courts have said that the First Amendment requires a level of emotional disturbance “significantly more serious than the mildest states those words suggest”. More concretely, they have held that while it is not necessarily restricted only to threats, there must be an intent to produce “emotional distress akin to that of a threat.”

If you are still not sure exactly what that means, you are not alone. Many lawyers and judges aren’t sure either, and people are still sometimes charged based on speech that should be constitutionally protected. Certainly, any threats to person or property would fall under this statute, and the courts have held that we can’t infer intent to harass based on a few vulgarities alone, or based on a call made for the purpose of settling or expressing a dispute or disagreement. However, the cases in the gray area in between tend to be decided on a case by case basis, and unless you really want to be the subject of a First Amendment test case, getting arrested and charged with a crime, even if the appeals court eventually takes your side, is a huge inconvenience.

So what should you do if you aren’t quite sure where the line is between protected speech and harassment? My advice: if you are feeling the love, today is a great day to call that special someone and tell them, but please, one call only, and keep it polite! And if you are feeling the hate, just don’t pick up the phone/keyboard at all.

Illinois Families Awarded $16 Million In Wrongful Death Case

Grain binThe families of two Illinois teens who died in a grain bin accident were awarded $8 million each after a jury ruled that the incident could have been prevented if their employer had followed proper safety protocols.

The accident in question occurred back in July 2010 when Wyatt Whitebread, 14, and Alejandro Pacas, 19, were helping transport corn onto a grain elevator at a Mount Carroll facility owned by Haasbach LLC. At some point during the process, Whitebread began sinking into the corn. Pacas tried to help his friend, but both men got caught in the sinkhole. Will Piper, 20, jumped in to try to save both teens, and he too became caught in the sinkhole. Whitebread and Pacas suffocated, and Piper was engulfed up to his neck for six hours, but he survived after co-workers came to his aid.

The jury deliberated for eight hours before awarding $16 million to the families of the deceased. Piper was awarded $875,000 for his injuries.

The families said they were glad that the jury held Haasbach LLC responsible for creating a hazardous work environment.

“The family is pleased not about the money, but that the company was held accountable, said attorney Kevin Durkin. “The 19-year-old could’ve been there if he was properly trained, but the 14-year-old should have never been there, obviously.”

Unsafe Conditions

A subsequent inspection in January 2011 cited Haasbach with 25 employee and maintenance violations, including:

  • Failure to properly train young workers
  • Failure to provide safety harnesses
  • Failure to ensure machinery was turned off when not in use
  • Lack of an emergency action plan

Another investigation found that Haasbach was in violation of child labor laws, which forbids companies from hiring workers under the age of 18 to preform hazardous jobs.

The company said it plans to appeal the court’s ruling.

Sean Sullivan comments

What ultimately led to the jury awarding such a large amount to the families of the victims in this case stems from what is referred to as punitive damages. In personal injury cases, these are the types of damages that result in large awards by juries.

Punitive damages are extra damages the jury can award in favor of the Plaintiff when the Defendant is shown to be extremely careless or exhibits no remorse over what happened. Judging by the claims that the company had multiple safety violations, the jury no doubt felt this tragedy could have been avoided if the proper safety measures were taken.

Related source: Chicago Tribune

Virginia Changing Stance On Gay Marriage Ban

Gay MarriageA federal judge in Virginia who heard arguments on Tuesday in favor of repealing the state’s ban on gay marriage received no counter argument from the state’s newly elected Democratic attorney general, who is in favor of revoking the law.

Attorney General Mark Herring previously notified the federal court that he would not defend a 2006 voter-approved constitutional amendment that put a ban on same-sex marriage. Not surprisingly, this decision was met with uproar from Republicans who accused Herring of being disloyal to upholding the state’s current laws. Despite the Republican sentiment, Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe said outside counsel would not be appointed to defend the ban.

Now that the Attorney General has absolved himself from the case, defense of the bill will fall to the legal team of the Norfolk Circuit Court as well as the religious group Alliance Defending Freedom, which will represent Prince William County.

A same-sex couple that was denied a marriage license in Norfolk Circuit Court originally filed the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the ban. The attorneys for the plaintiffs are the same counsel that successfully challenged California’s ban on gay marriage back in 2008.

Attorney Sean Sullivan comments

This is a fascinating twist in the fight towards legal equality for all types of couples. It sets an interesting legal and political precedent that could have major ramifications in states that are still fighting over civil rights issues and towards marriage equality.

It is not often that an attorney general openly states that he is in favor of repealing a law that his office is supposed to defend. His decision not to defend the case surely signifies a huge shift in how those in power view gay marriage. I would not be surprised if Virginia soon overturns its ban on gay marriage.

Related source: