© 2022 WSIU Public Radio
WSIU Public Broadcasting
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
State of Illinois

CAPITOL RECAP: Madigan pleads not guilty to 22 corruption counts

Capitol News Illinois Logo
Capitol News Illinois

Capitol News Illinois reports on the week's news in politics and more

* * *

MADIGAN: Former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and former lobbyist Michael McClain on Wednesday entered a not guilty plea in federal court to charges of racketeering, bribery, fraud and extortion.

Both were arraigned on those charges during a teleconference hearing before U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Cole. The two men were charged March 2 in a 22-count indictment.

Madigan, 79, served for half a century in the Illinois House, from 1971 until February 2021 when he resigned his seat after failing to secure his 19th term as speaker.

In a July 2020 court agreement, utility giant Commonwealth Edison admitted to a yearslong practice of awarding jobs and contracts to Madigan’s close associates in exchange for his support for bills that benefitted the company financially.

McClain, 74, is a former lawmaker who served in the House with Madigan for 10 years beginning in 1972 until he began work as a lobbyist for ComEd.

The indictment alleges that for a period of nearly 10 years, Madigan used his positions in the House and within the Democratic Party of Illinois to operate a network of operations that used patronage politics and other illegal activities to preserve his political power and financial well-being.

Many of the charges are related to the ComEd bribery scheme. In addition, though, Madigan is accused of using his positions illegally to steer work to his property tax law firm, Madigan & Getzendanner, from entities that did business with the state and the city of Chicago.

Among other charges, Madigan is charged with one count of conspiracy to engage in racketeering, a charge that carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, or twice the amount of gain for the activity, whichever is greater.

McClain is charged with conspiracy to engage in racketeering, one count of federal program bribery, one count of using interstate facilities to aid in bribery and extortion, and two counts of engaging in schemes to commit fraud.

In response to the indictment, Madigan issued a statement denying any criminal activity.

“The government is trying to criminalize a routine constituent service: job recommendations,” he said. “That is not illegal and these other charges are equally unfounded.”

* * *

CULLERTON GUILTY: Former state Sen. Tom Cullerton pleaded guilty Tuesday, March 8, to one count of embezzlement and could face more than a year in federal prison.

During a plea hearing in federal court in Chicago, Cullerton admitted that he received pay and benefits from the Teamsters Joint Council 25 during 2015 while doing little or no work for the union. In addition to his salary, prosecutors alleged, Cullerton also received bonuses and health care benefits.

Cullerton, a Villa Park Democrat, was indicted in 2019 on 40 counts of embezzlement – one for each paycheck he received from January 2015 through January 2016, a period of time when he also served in the Illinois Senate.

According to court documents, Cullerton, a one-time chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, had been a member of the Teamsters Union Local 734 when he drove a truck for Hostess Brands until November 2012 when the company filed for bankruptcy. That was the same year he was elected to the state Senate.

In March 2013, according to the indictment, John Coli, president of the Teamsters Joint Council 25, the local union’s parent organization, hired Cullerton as a union organizer. He received a salary, a car and telephone allowances and bonuses from the council, which also continued contributing to his health care and retirement benefits.

On July 30, 2019, two days before Cullerton was indicted, Coli pleaded guilty to other, unrelated federal charges and agreed to cooperate with other investigations.

In October 2021, Cullerton’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the charges, but a judge denied that motion in December. Then last month, Cullerton resigned his Senate seat and his lawyer announced that he would change his plea.

The charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. But according to a plea agreement, prosecutors said that based on his lack of any previous criminal history, sentencing guidelines would call for 12-18 months imprisonment.

As part of the plea agreement, Cullerton agreed to pay restitution of $248,828 for benefits paid and one paycheck. Cullerton must pay $25,000 of that amount within 30 days in order for prosecutors not to seek forfeiture of his Villa Park residence.

Formal sentencing has been set for June 21.

* * *

DIRECTOR ACCUSED: Documents filed in a southern Illinois court this week allege a Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center senior staff member obstructed an Illinois State Police investigation into the abuse of a developmentally disabled patient by accessing confidential investigative files and directing staff to speak to the victim before police did.

The state-run Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center, located in Anna, was opened in 1869 and currently houses 225 people with developmental disabilities or mental illness, according to the Department of Human Services website. The Department of Human Services operates the Union County facility in southern Illinois.

Gary Goins – who remained on the state payroll as of Wednesday – was the quality assurance manager at Choate in 2020 when Choate staff member Kevin Jackson was accused of repeatedly striking a developmentally disabled patient with a belt.

According to court documents filed on Monday in Union County, Goins accessed investigative files for the DHS Office of the Inspector General. He then sent emails directing staff to speak with the victim before the Illinois State Police Division of Internal Investigation interviewed the victim, the documents stated.

Prosecutors alleged Goins “intended to gain advantage in defense of his and other administrators’ actions” regarding Jackson’s alleged criminal conduct. The action was taken “in advance preparation for the investigation of those acts by Illinois State Police,” according to court documents.

The victim allegedly changed her account of the incident after speaking with staff, and it no longer matched that of the eyewitnesses. This was documented in a medical chart note that was later amended at the direction of Choate administrative staff, the court document stated.

Neither Goins nor his attorney Wesley Wilkins could be reached for comment.

The court filing also mentions other unidentified senior staff members at Choate who allegedly participated in the cover-up.

Smith, Bryant and Goins remained on the state’s payroll as of Wednesday, according to the Illinois Comptroller’s database of state employee pay. Smith’s most recent monthly salary was $8,974, Davis’ was $9,555, and Goins’ was $8,140. Their status with the Department of Human Services is not clear.

The aggravated battery charge against Jackson is still pending. A case management conference is scheduled for March 14 in Union County. He is not listed on the comptroller’s payroll database.

* * *

MORE FROM CHOATE: A man charged last month with molesting a child had been receiving a paycheck from the state for more than a year while on administrative leave during a multi-agency investigation into allegations that he also sexually abused a developmentally disabled woman while working as a mental health tech at the state-run Choate Mental Health and Development Center in Anna.

Charles W. Mills, 58, of Jonesboro was arrested Feb. 22 on multiple sexual felony charges involving a child.

The allegations against Mills at the Anna facility were made in 2020. But it wasn’t until his February arrest that Mills resigned and stopped getting paid, the Illinois Department of Human Services told Capitol News Illinois.

“He submitted a letter of resignation, effective March 15th,” IDHS spokeswoman Marisa Kollias said. “He will be in unpaid status, effective the date of his incarceration.”

Mills was paid his $41,000 salary for 2020 although he was on administrative leave.

Mills’ sexual misconduct allegations were being investigated by no fewer than four state agencies, including the Illinois Attorney General, DHS Office of the Inspector General, the Department of Children and Family Services, and two divisions of the Illinois State Police.

Mills’ attorney, Christian Baril, could not be reached for comment.

No charges have been filed in the Choate allegations and the investigation continues, an ISP spokesman said.

* * *

VETERANS' HOME DEATHS: Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, said she wants to ensure quicker and better responses in future cases of virus outbreaks at state homes for veterans after what she called a “failure” to adequately protect residents at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home during a COVID-19 outbreak in 2020.

She’s reintroduced legislation to address shortcomings in the state’s response to the outbreak, but on Thursday, March 10, called for more help from lawmakers to advance the bills which remain in the Assignments Committee.

“The residents of the Veterans’ Home served and protected our nation when we needed it,” Rezin said during a news conference Thursday at the Capitol in Springfield. “But when they needed us to serve and protect them, our state and our governor failed.”

The LaSalle home notified the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs on Nov. 1, 2020, of two veterans and two employees at the facility testing positive for COVID-19. Within a week, 60 veterans and 43 staff members had the coronavirus.

A state watchdog report found multiple failures that contributed to 36 veterans' deaths during the outbreak.

The Illinois Department of Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General’s investigation determined that a lack of comprehensive, documented COVID-19 plans and policies which included the absence of any standard operating procedures in the event of an outbreak played a significant factor in the LaSalle facility’s inability to contain the virus.

Two weeks after the outbreak began, the Illinois Department of Public Health and the United States Department of Veterans Affairs visited the site to observe infection control practices.

Rezin also called it a “failure” of his administration that Gov. JB Pritzker wasn’t fully briefed on the outbreak until nine days after it began.

So Rezin is sponsoring Senate Bill 3170, which would require that a veterans home administrator provide written notification to IDPH and IDVA within 24 hours of learning of a second case of an infectious disease.

Another bill, SB1471, would require facilities licensed and operated by the state to conduct outbreak-related preparedness drills.

* * *

RAINY DAY FUND: Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza is pushing legislation that would require the state to make automatic deposits into its so-called “rainy day fund” whenever certain financial conditions are met.

Officially known as the Budget Stabilization Fund, it was created in 2001 as a reserve so the state could pay its bills in a timely manner, especially during regular months of the year when revenues are lower than other months. The goal was to maintain a reserve fund equal to 5 percent of the state’s annual revenues.

Current law, however, requires deposits into the fund only when the state’s general revenue estimates increase by 4 percent or more over the prior year, something Mendoza said has not happened since the fund was created.

Instead, transfers into the fund have been made only when the General Assembly makes a one-time appropriation in the budget.

In 2002, lawmakers committed $225 million to the fund with money from the state’s share of a national tobacco lawsuit settlement. Another one-time deposit of $50 million was made in 2004, Mendoza said.

The fund balance then remained unchanged until it was depleted in 2017 during the two-year budget impasse under former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

“Ironically, the prior administration was emptying Illinois’ rainy day fund at the very time that the greatest bull market in our lifetimes was allowing other states to replenish their rainy day funds,” Mendoza told the House Revenue and Finance Committee on Thursday, March 10.

“Now fast forward to when the world was hit by the catastrophic COVID-19 pandemic. Our state's rainy day fund stood at just $60,000 and our backlog of bills stood at around $6 billion,” she said. “Now, $60,000 is not enough to cover even 30 seconds worth of state government operations.”

House Bill 4118, filed by Rep. Michael Halpin, D-Rock Island, would change the funding formula, starting in June 2023, to require automatic payments of $200 million at the end of a fiscal year or however much is needed to reach a 5 percent balance, whenever the state’s backlog of bills payable at the end of the year falls below $3 billion.

It would also require transferring another $200 million into the Pension Stabilization Fund, but those payments would be spread out in equal monthly installments.

* * *

APP STORE BILL: Two bills pending in the Illinois General Assembly would rein in the ability of tech giants like Apple and Google to dictate how transactions are conducted, and how much of a cut they receive from those transactions, when consumers make certain kinds of purchases using smartphone apps.

The bills are Senate Bill 3417 and House Bill 4599, creating the “Freedom to Subscribe Directly Act.”

If enacted, the bill would make Illinois the first state to regulate that segment of the e-commerce industry, but a broader bill is also pending in Congress where it appears to have bipartisan support.

Currently, app developers pay Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store an annual fee to distribute their apps on those platforms. In addition, however, Apple and Google take a commission percentage on what are known as “digital-only” transactions like dating services, journalism or digital music – those that do not involve the purchase of physical goods or services.

Those commissions amount to 15 percent of the transaction on the first $1 million of sales, and 30 percent of all transactions above that.

It would prohibit large app distribution platforms like the App Store and Play Store from requiring Illinois-based app developers to use a particular in-app payment system as the exclusive mode of accepting payments.

It would also prohibit those stores from requiring Illinois customers to use those in-app payment systems to download or purchase an app, and it would prohibit them from retaliating against Illinois-based app developers or users for using a different in-app payment system.

The bill would not apply to certain “special purpose” app distribution platforms, including those designed for gaming consoles, music players and public safety agencies.

Mark Buse, head of government relations for Match Group, the makers of Tinder and other online dating apps, said his company paid Apple and Google $550 million in fees last year.

Industry officials, however, argued that consumers actually do have choices in payment methods and app developers have options for distributing their software.

Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel for NetChoice, a trade association that promotes free speech and free enterprise on the internet, noted in a House committee hearing Wednesday that companies such as Netflix and Spotify require their users to go directly to their company websites to sign up for services and therefore pay Apple and Google no commission fees for distributing their apps.

Montana Williams, director of state and local public policy for the Chamber of Progress, a trade group that represents technology companies, also said the bill would violate the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress the sole power to regulate interstate commerce.

Neither committee has taken action on the bills, and supporters said Wednesday that technical amendments are needed before they are ready to be sent to the full House and Senate.

* * *

MASK MANDATE LIFTED: The Illinois House amended COVID-19 protocols Tuesday, March 8, lifting face covering requirements following weeks of pushback from Republican members who sometimes refused to wear masks and delayed the start of session on several occasions.

In a 104-1 vote, the House passed House Resolution 717 that lifted the face mask requirement. Temperature checks when members walk into the chamber will no longer be implemented and social distancing will not be required.

The sole dissenter on the change was Rep. Lakesia Collins, D-Chicago, who was the Democrat that motioned to remove GOP members from the floor on several occasions in recent weeks when they refused to comply with the face covering requirements.

House Leader Greg Harris, D-Chicago, said the change in the House rules can be reversed if the COVID-19 situation changes in the future.

Rep. Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City, a vocal face covering opponent who was one of the GOP members removed from the chamber on multiple occasions recently, said the chamber has gotten “real good at taking meaningless votes on masks” the past few weeks instead of “doing the work of the people.”

GOP members accused Democrats of hypocrisy for enforcing mask requirements on the House floor in February but not at fundraising events, and they faulted the majority party for not voting on the governor’s authority to issue statewide mask mandates.

House committee hearings will continue to be remote and hybrid, while the public gallery overlooking the House floor will remain open at 50 percent capacity.

The Senate will no longer mandate masks either, although masks are “strongly encouraged” in the chamber.

The Senate gallery was open at 50 percent capacity as of Tuesday, but wristbands showing that the person had a negative COVID-19 test were needed to gain entry into the gallery and other Senate areas.

Illinois’ mask mandate was lifted for indoor public spaces at the end of February. Masks are still required in health care settings and on public transportation such as buses, trains, and airplanes.

On Friday, the most recent COVID-19 executive order filed by Pritzker ended mask requirements in schools, “shifting schools back to the ordinary processes for handling infectious diseases,” according to a news release.

* * *

PRISONER REVIEW BOARD: Gov. JB Pritzker yanked the appointment of two appointees to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board Tuesday, March 8, the same morning a Senate committee was scheduled to consider them.

It was the second time Pritzker pulled the appointments of Aurthur Mae Perkins, 83, of Peoria, and Joseph Ruggiero, 62, of Wheaton, for the Illinois Prisoner Review Board. The two, both appointees originally made by Republican former Gov. Bruce Rauner, have served on the Prisoner Review Board without Senate confirmation for nearly three years each.

“Do you know why they are withdrawn?” Sen. Jason Plummer, R-Edwardsville asked Chair Laura Murphy, D-Des Plaines.

“Senator, we are in compliance with the Senate Rules,” she replied.

The PRB is a 15-person body appointed by the governor. It has the authority to grant, deny or determine conditions of parole, and it must notify victims and families when an inmate is going to be released from custody. The board also imposes release conditions and makes recommendations on pardon and clemency petitions to the governor.

Perkins is a former teacher, principal and adjunct faculty member at Bradley University. She currently serves on the Peoria Housing Authority Board and the Peoria Citizen’s Committee for Economic Opportunity as a board member. Perkins was originally appointed to the Prisoner Review Board by Rauner in March 2015.

Ruggiero was appointed by Rauner in September 2018 to fill the vacancy left by Tom Johnson, who left the position before his term was up. Ruggiero was appointed to finish out Johnson’s term, then reappointed by Pritzker on March 21, 2019, for a new term once it ended.

Ruggiero served as a prosecutor for 30 years in the DuPage County State’s Attorney’s Office, handling high-profile murder cases.

Senate rules allow the governor to withdraw an appointment and reappoint an individual if the Senate fails to vote on a nominee within 60 session days of the governor’s filing of the appointment.

This practice has been used by previous governors.

Perkins and Ruggiero are two of nine members of the Prisoner Review Board that have not been confirmed by the Senate.

Plummer questioned Sen. Murphy about the repeated delays regarding the approval of PRB members specifically.

“There is no cavalier attitude. We intentionally follow the Senate rules,” Murphy said. “We could not have anticipated the wrath of a pandemic that hit not only this state, but the entire country. So therefore, the Senate clocks have been delayed somewhat.”

At a news conference Wednesday morning, Pritzker blamed the Senate for the failure to approve appointments.

* * *

EXPRESSWAY SHOOTINGS: Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly on Monday, March 7, told a House task force that expressway shootings are one of the biggest challenges officers face, and he noted that a good portion of expressway shootings are driven by fights that begin on social media.

He noted that people choose expressways since the speed allows suspects to escape more easily and increases the excitement, there are fewer cameras to capture what suspects are wearing and other identifying features, and it’s difficult to track down witnesses.

According to the ISP expressway shooting dashboard, from 2019 until now, there have been 543 expressway shootings. In 2021, there were 273 shootings on Chicago expressways.

Kelly suggested that when it comes to violent and forcible felonies, lawmakers should change the statutes to allow tech companies 36 hours from the moment investigators deliver a search warrant to turn over information.

Kelly said he would like to see aggravated discharge and reckless use of firearms further defined in the aggravated offenses section of the Illinois Criminal Code to reflect the inherent danger of the discharge of a firearm on the expressway.

Kelly said lawmakers should consider expanding an automated license plate reader program to help identify those involved in expressway shootings.

Under the proposed Expressway Camera Act, ISP, the Illinois Department of Transportation and Illinois State Toll Highway Authority would be required to work together to increase the number of cameras along expressways in Cook County.

In 2021, IDOT allocated $12.5 million to ISP for the purchase and installation of automated license plate readers to aid in expressway shooting investigations in Cook County. ISP has installed 99 automated license plate cameras across the Dan Ryan Expressway.

Kelly also said the passing of Gov. JB Pritzker’s proposed budget for ISP would help in terms of staffing to address expressway shooting.

In the proposed Fiscal Year 2023 budget, Pritzker proposed $18.6 million in general funds to support three ISP cadet classes to hire and train 300 officers with a portion of those officers patrolling expressways in the ISP Chicago district.

* * *

OTHER ISP CHALLENGES: Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly told a state violence prevention task force this week that gun trafficking, trooper staffing levels and officer wellness are some of the biggest challenges facing the agency.

Kelly also said easy access to firearms plays a role in expressway shootings, and many of the weapons used in criminal activity have previously been stolen.

Over the past two years, Kelly said the agency has gone through criminal records to identify people who should not have firearms and revoked about 17,000 Firearm Owners Identification cards and prevented about 25,000 attempts of people illegally obtaining a firearm in 2021.

Kelly suggested lawmakers update the state’s stolen firearm statute to reflect a recently-passed “Fix the FOID Act” that requires ISP to create a public database to provide information on guns that have been reported stolen.

Kelly said that with anyone being able to access the stolen gun database, there should be no ability for an individual to claim that they did not know a firearm was stolen.

Kelly said the agency is working with local groups to aid crime victims and help reduce violence. He said that in East St. Louis, they have been implementing the Public Safety Enforcement Group that is an investigative unit that takes a community-based, trauma-informed approach aimed at reducing violent crimes.

The group works with organizations throughout the community that help victims in dealing with trauma.

Kelly also addressed issues regarding staffing and the mental wellness and safety of officers.

The agency has 1,836 sworn officers but Kelly said they have a “retirement bubble” causing challenges with staffing due with a large number of troopers hired in the late ‘90’s getting closer to retirement. He said the agency is trying to get back over 2,000 officers.

The governor's proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year includes $18.6 million in general funds to support three ISP cadet classes to hire and train 300 officers. Kelly said it would be the largest cadet class in ISP history and will help the agency address staffing needs.

He also said he wanted to see improvements regarding the mental well-being and health insurance of officers. He said that the health insurance troopers have is good but it creates cost barriers to receiving proper mental health help.

* * *

CAMPAIGN FILING: The 2022 campaign season got underway in earnest Monday as candidates lined up in front of election offices to turn in petitions to get their names on the June 28 primary election ballot.

Hundreds of candidates and their aides braved cold wind and snow early Monday to line up outside the Illinois State Board of Elections office in Springfield to ensure their placement on the ballot.

Monday was the first day established party candidates could file their petitions. The deadline for turning in petitions is next Monday, March 14.

Illinois voters will cast ballots this year for governor and lieutenant governor as well as statewide constitutional officers, all 118 seats in the Illinois House and 59 seats in the state Senate, circuit, appellate court and state Supreme Court judges, congressional seats, and a U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Tammy Duckworth.

Voters in parts of Illinois will also cast ballots for county board members and various other local government offices.

This year’s primary was pushed back from its normal time in early March due to delays in the redistricting process brought about by delays in the release of 2020 census data due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That revised schedule could have an impact on who turns out to vote in the primary. The late June date means many college students who would normally vote on campus will be home for summer break while many other voters who would normally turn out in March may be away on vacation.

According to this year’s election calendar, voters can request mail-in ballots starting March 30 by contacting their local election authority. Those applications must be received by the election authority by June 23.

Mail-in ballots must be postmarked or returned in-person to the election authority by Election Day, June 28.

* * *

STATEWIDE CANDIDATES: Gov. JB Pritzker and Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton are waging their first reelection bid this year. They won the 2018 election with 54.5 percent of the vote over former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti.

It is not believed they will face any primary opposition this year but Republican challengers include Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin; state Sen. Darren Bailey, of Xenia; former state Sen. Paul Schimpf, of Waterloo; Chicago-area businessman Gary Rabine; and venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan, of Petersburg.

Speaking at a campaign kickoff rally at a local union meeting hall in Springfield shortly after submitting his petitions, Pritzker touted his efforts to improve job and economic opportunities for middle class workers and marginalized populations in the state.

“In a world that increasingly feels like us versus them, this campaign is about what we can do together. And our vision for a better Illinois doesn't happen without a fight,” Pritzker said.

Republicans, meanwhile, have so far been attacking Pritzker and the Democrats for the state’s rising rate of violent crime and the impact that his response to the COVID-19 pandemic had on the state’s economy, as well as the corruption allegations against former House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Irvin echoed those themes at a kickoff event for a GOP slate of statewide candidates.

“Under JB Pritzker crime is out of control, and Republicans are saying that all throughout the state,” Irvin said. “In the state of Illinois, Republicans are saying that taxes and wasteful spending is out of control. They're saying corruption is out of control. That's what's important to Republicans. That's what's important to Democrats, independents, and that's what we're going to be addressing through our campaign.”

Outside of the governor’s race, the most high-profile race in state government this year may be the contest for secretary of state, where incumbent Jesse White is retiring after six terms in office.

On the Democratic side, former State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias has the support of some of the state’s largest labor unions and the Cook County Democratic Party, while other high-profile Democrats, including Pritzker and White, have thrown their support behind Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia. Also in the race is Chicago Ald. David Moore.

On the Republican side, the race appears to be between John Milhiser, a former U.S. Attorney for the central district of Illinois, and state Rep. Dan Brady, of Bloomington.

The Irvin slate includes attorney general candidate Steve Kim, of Deerfield; treasurer candidate Rep. Tom Demmer, of Dixon; and comptroller candidate Shannon Teresi, of Crystal Lake. Milhiser is the secretary of state candidate on the slate.

They will vie to unseat Attorney General Kwame Raoul, Treasurer Michael Frerichs and Comptroller Susana Mendoza, all incumbent Democrats.

* * *

DCFS UNDER FIRE: A Cook County judge this week found the director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services in contempt for the fifth and sixth time this year for housing two girls in locked psychiatric facilities unnecessarily.

Director Marc Smith faced four previous contempt citations for failing to place children in proper homes in violation of court orders. Each of the six contempt citations included a $1,000-per-day fine for Smith.

After being found in contempt, DCFS found placement for three of the children and the initial contempt citations were purged and the fines waived. In one case, the girl was re-admitted to the hospital.

In the latest cases, Cook County Judge Patrick T. Murphy held Smith in contempt on Thursday for failing to comply with court orders to move two girls out of locked psychiatric facilities.

The judge ordered another $1,000-per-day fine in these cases but stayed them until March 9.

Smith appeared before a House Human Services Appropriations Committee on Thursday and answered pointed questions about the contempt citations. Rep. Kathleen Willis, D-Addison, challenged Smith’s assertion that kids were being moved out of improper placements quickly.

“You're not placing them very quickly. Okay. You will not be held in contempt of court if you were placing them very quickly,” she said. These are cases that are languishing for months that are waiting, so why are we not being proactive, knowing that these children are going to be released from psychiatric care. And what's holding it up? Why does it wait until an order of contempt of court gets placed on you to suddenly go quickly on this?”

Smith countered that 20 kids held in psychiatric hospitals beyond medical necessity are being placed in proper placements every month. He also said parents place their children with DCFS because they are unable to access mental health resources for their children.

“I appreciate that we have a judge who is trying to use what authority and power he has to impact change,” Smith said. “But it is really a partnership that we are offering. I'm willing and able to do the work that we're doing for this and to address this issue aggressively. The truth of the matter is, this is a universal issue that we all have to work on taking the lead, but this is an ongoing community-based issue. And that's falling into our system.”

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

Related Stories