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Racial and Ethnic Minorities and the Law Newsletter
The newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Racial and Ethnic Minorities and the Law

December 2003, vol. 14, no. 2

The Chair’s opinion


Ideas for unionization in the public sector

House Bill 3064 is currently pending in the Illinois Legislature. This bill would allow public attorneys to unionize. A few years ago, the Kane County Public Defender's Office filed suit against its employees to prevent them from unionizing. The case went all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court. The Supreme Court deemed all the Assistant Public Defenders to be managerial employees. Thereby, all Assistants were deemed to be management and unable to unionize.

Public attorneys have limits on their licenses. In most cases, public attorneys are not allowed to practice outside of their field (civil or criminal). Unlike private attorneys, public attorneys are truly at the whim of their supervisors. As a Cook County Public Defender, I have seen, first-hand, the benefits of unionization.

Unionization has created a better work environment. Our union contract has protections for our employees, such as grievance procedures, whereby we can challenge management decisions, if necessary. This is a benefit. As employees, we are not at the whim of our bosses. Usually, public attorneys have limits placed on them by law. These laws limit public attorneys as to what types of law they may practice. Again, because of the limits placed on our licenses, we can't just easily pick up and leave our jobs, if something bad happens.

Unionization has improved salaries. Many new law school graduates have large amounts of student loans. Because of these loans, a number of attorneys who would love to do public interest work, or government service, do not. A person who decides to do public interest or government service has most often signed up for at lease five to ten years of serious financial struggle. Unionization has helped to improve salaries. While we are not at the same salary levels as our private counterparts, due to unionization, our salaries are at a more liveable level.

Unionization has improved job security. Unionization has allowed those attorneys who are committed to public interest work to remain in the field. Unionization has allowed public attorneys to remain public attorneys without being forced into private practice or practicing with a firm.

The bill passed the House and is now in the Senate. The sponsors for the bills are Rep. Larry McKeon (D- 13th Dist.) and Sen. Don Harmon (D-39th Dist.). I would encourage all ISBA members to contact your State legislator and let her know where you stand. Help public attorneys be able to unionize. Help attorneys who are committed to public interest and/or government service remain at their jobs.

Did you know it's illegal for kids to have sex?

Everyone knows that under our criminal laws, adults are forbidden from having sexual relations with minors. However, if two minors (persons under 18) have consensual sex, they are committing a crime. It's called Criminal Sexual Abuse. The statute is located at 720 ILCS 5/12-15. The section that is usually used against teens is section (c). The section reads as follows:

A person commits criminal sexual abuse if he or she commits an act of sexual penetration or sexual conduct with a victim who was at least 13 years of age, but under 17 years of age and the accused was less than five years older than the victim.

While teenage sex is not something I encourage, I do not believe kids should go to jail for having consensual sex.

Normally, cases are brought against boys more than girls. More cases are against people of color, than against whites.

What happens in most cases is as follows: Two kids will have sex. The parents of the kids find out about the sex. A parent gets so mad that they call the police, who then get involved and criminal charges are filed against the child of the non-reporting parent.

The ramifications for Criminal Sexual Abuse are severe. First, the offense is not supervisionable. If a defendant loses a case, he/she will automatically have a Sex Offense Conviction. Second, a person convicted of Criminal Sexual Abuse has to report as a sexual offender for ten (10) years. Being labeled a "sex offender" can destroy a young person's life. It can stop a person from going to college. At a minimum, being labeled a "sex offender" will make college admission more difficult. As a convicted "sex offender," it will be extremely difficult to get jobs in certain fields, like education or health care.

I believe this law should be abolished. The penalties for this law are excessively harsh. I'm sure all of us know people who had consensual sex (sex between two minors) while they were in high school. Wouldn't it be a shame if someone's life were ruined because of that? I don't want to see a high school student who had consensual sex treated the same way as a convicted rapist or child molester.

I understand that our legislators don't want our teens to be promiscuous. I do not want that either. However, we must live in the real world. Teens have sex. They did in my generation, and they do today, and they will do it in the future. This law criminalizes consensual sex. The punishment for this crime is excessively cruel. While I agree that teens cannot consent to sex with adults, I do believe that teens can consent to sex with other teens.

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Rick Porter works as a Cook County Assistant Public Defender. He is the current Chair of the Standing Committee on Minority & Women Participation.


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