The newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Government Lawyers
Five quick questions with Jason R. Boltz, General Counsel of the Illinois Department of Public Health
1. What exactly does the Department of Public Health (IDPH) regulate?
A lot of people don’t realize that IDPH is involved in everything from nursing homes to plumbers and a multitude of areas in between. For example, we have extensive subject-matter expertise on quite a broad range of litigation, administrative hearings and State/Federal regulation involving:
Asbestos licenses, Lead Abatement contractors, Assisted Living licensure, Mobile Home Parks, Migrant Labor Camps, Ambulatory Surgical Treatment Centers, Nursing Homes, Clinical Laboratories, Plumber Licenses, Certified Nursing Assistants, Private Sewage installations, Child Support for all licenses, Pregnancy Termination Centers, Recreational Areas, Commercial Structural Pest Control licenses, Smoke Free Illinois enforcement, Emergency Medical Systems licenses, Swimming Pool & Bathing Beach facility licensures, Food, Drug and Dairy related licensures, Hearing Aids, Tanning Facility Permits, Home Health Agency licenses, Vital Records, Water Well Contractors and of course several others.
2. You mentioned your agency’s involvement in administrative hearings and regulation. How deep does your IDPH legal team get involved?
As indicated in the response to the first question, IDPH participates in a multitude of administrative hearings and legal actions regarding any entity or person that the agency licenses, regulates or certifies. The role of government regulation is significant and often times, in my view, underappreciated. It is through that notion of state regulation that a state agency like IDPH utilizes the law to enforce and require the applicable regulated entity to comply with certain minimum standards. As stated in our agency title, I view IDPH’s mandated standards to be essential and significant for the citizens of this State in the protection of its public health. As a matter of law, IDPH’s Division of Legal Services might be involved in any number of significant legal actions, including setting forth licensure violations, fines, penalties, revocations, suspensions, denials, on site-monitors, or stop work orders.
3. What is the dynamic of your client relationships at IDPH, given that people don’t often think of government attorneys as having “clients”?
To understand the client relationships at IDPH, it’s also important to understand the nature of role of an attorney at IDPH. The Division of Legal Services at the agency serves like an internal in-house legal department at any large corporation. IDPH Legal also has a role in prosecuting administrative cases, similar to that of a civil prosecutions unit in a county state’s attorney office. Our “clients” might be anyone who participates in the State’s business (in meeting its statutory and legal mandates) of the Department, in any particular circumstance. These different sorts of relationships require the attorneys at IDPH, like myself, to constantly appreciate and cultivate those dynamics. At times, the relationships are cooperative and collaborative, working towards a common goal as set forth by statute. Other times, these relationships can be tested and stressed, since conceptual and professional disagreements may occur regarding the methods and approaches to achieve important agency goals. Serving as a government attorney requires me to always appreciate, continually assess and work through those dynamics, while also understanding the purpose and role of my Office, in serving to protect the integrity of the legal process and meeting the interests of the State.
4. Speaking of client development, has your extensive work in government practice provided you with any other important practice tips?
Yes, my public service has taught me several things. I have learned over time, it makes sense to remain circumspect over matters and if possible, always try and get the other side to the story. I have also learned in serving as a government attorney that constantly evaluating your actions and recommendations, under a “light of day” test, is an important smell test. If your action or recommended approach can meet this transparency test, for example as published in a court opinion, periodical-review or newspaper—then it’s likely a fair approach worth considering. Finally, I think in entering this field, you must make important choices about integrity, credibility, and professionalism. I would recommend to any new attorney setting out a career path in government practice to carefully consider their goals in this field, and to determine as soon as possible, how much they value these qualities. These professional attributes may be tested quite often.
5. Finally (and thank you for agreeing to this structured interview), where has your government practice taken you during your career?
I very much enjoy and believe in government service. My first job was in government legal practice and I hope my last job will be as well. For me, contributing to upholding concepts of fairness and justice in our democratic society brings quite a bit of personal satisfaction and fulfillment. In my view, I very much appreciate the bigger picture as to what it means to be an individual civil servant (within that system), and through that understand, why it means so much. Besides IDPH, I have also worked over the course of my career at the Illinois Attorney General’s Office and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. ■