From the Chair

As the new Chair of the ISBA Standing Committee on Government Lawyers, I was very pleased to see so many members at our annual meeting in June. I will provide a short recap of our Committee’s plans for this coming year plus a follow-up on the discussion started at our meeting about the State budget crisis and how it affects our agencies.

First an outline of our Subcommittees and their Chairs:

• Website Liaison – Evan Bruno and Justin Leinenweber. Thanks to both Evan and Justin for agreeing to continue to serve as our website liaisons.

• Legislation – Pat Driscoll. Pat continues to bring important pending legislation to our attention and gives our Committee an opportunity to voice our support or opposition to each bill.

• Roz Kaplan Award – Our outgoing chair, Mary Lou Kent, has agreed to lead this subcommittee in its annual quest to find a deserving government lawyer to receive this award, named in memory of former committee member, Roz Kaplan.

• CLE Athena Taite. Athena and her subcommittee already have two important programs planned for the coming bar year:

• Open Meetings Act: Conducting the Public’s Business Properly, Thursday, November 17, 2016 from 12:30 to 4:15 pm in Springfield

• Ethics Extravaganza, Spring 2017 in Chicago

Both not-to-be missed programs are expected to be entertaining events, which draw upon the considerable acting talent of our members.

Newsletter - This will be an interesting year for our Newsletter committee in that our long serving co-editors, Kate Kelly and Lynn Patton, will be training two new co-editors, Rob Miller and Emily Vivian, so that they can take over the reins next year. We wish them all success in a smooth transition as the Newsletter is an important benefit of committee membership.

And now a few words about the Illinois state budget crisis and its effect on our members:

As we know, Illinois has recently adopted some stopgap messages to lessen the effects of the crisis, but those measures are admittedly not an actual budget, and they do not begin to address the State’s financial problems. However, I am concerned that many citizens have begun to believe that a budget-less Illinois is the new normal and that a budget is not really necessary for the State to continue to provide all the services it has in the past. But we as government lawyers are only too aware that is not the case.

Government attorneys continue to report that positions are not being filled in their offices, that office supplies are not being purchased or delivered, that cleaning crews have quit because they have not been paid, that travel reimbursements are not being paid, that postage meters are no longer refilled, and that specialized office equipment needed to comply with the ADA is simply not being purchased. At the same time, our pensions continue to be threatened by various attempts to cut or modify them.

We, as government lawyers, cannot claim to be the hardest hit among Illinois citizens. We know that State universities are laying off staff and contemplating closures and that agencies such as Lutheran Social Services and Catholic Charities have had to eliminate programs that serve veterans, the mentally ill, cancer patients, and the elderly.

Yet, I feel that we, as government attorneys, are more aware of the impact of the budget crisis than the general public and more aware of its practical effect than even other attorneys. So, I think that we should be more vocal about the damage being done to our State as a whole (such as the repeated downgrading of the State’s credit rating) and to vulnerable individual citizens who rely on state funded services. I also think we need to be vocal about responding to those who attempt to vilify government pensions as the main cause of the State’s problems. Thankfully, in its decisions over the past few years, the Illinois Supreme Court has helped to refute that notion. Still, I believe we still need to speak up when government employees and pensioners are targeted as being the cause of the financial crisis.

So, I welcome your thoughts on these matters. Please e-mail me with your ideas regarding how our committee can address these issues. I look forward to working with you all during the upcoming year.

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October 2016Volume 18Number 1PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)