IL Law | Year In Review | Chicago Reader

IL Law 

Six Great Moments in Jurisprudence

Marriage is not a disease. Is it?

In 1988 Illinois became only the second state in the country (the first was Louisiana) to require prenuptial AIDS testing, a law so ill conceived that it wound up discouraging some people from getting married, and sent others out of state to avoid paying the cost of the test, which averages about $100 per person.

The law went into effect January 1, signed by Governor Jim Thompson despite protests from the state Department of Public Health. What public health officials feared soon became obvious: within the first three weeks of January, 75 couples were tested for AIDS at Cook County Hospital and none tested positive. By the end of January, the hospital was so inundated with requests for free AIDS tests that it stopped offering them to engaged couples. Cook County Board President George Dunne defended that decision, saying: "The purpose of the hospital is to care for the medically indigent, and marriage is not a disease."

At year's end, statistics weren't much more convincing. Of almost 243,000 persons undergoing prenuptial AIDS testing, only 23 tested positive for the AIDS virus. That's less than one in 10,000.

State senator Beverly Fawell, the Glen Ellyn Republican who sponsored the bill, brushes aside any criticism, saying anything that prevents the spread of AIDS is worth it.

But critics of the law wonder whether testing lovebirds is getting us anywhere. Shouldn't the state's limited resources be spent on testing and counseling people who are at high risk--gay men and drug addicts? According to Public Health Director Dr. Bernard Turnock, just over $300,000 has already been spent by the state on the prenuptial AIDS screening program.

Louisiana rescinded its law last summer, and Turnock says it's time Illinois did the same. Meanwhile, the marriage industry in the Chicago area has to be suffering. Applications for marriage licenses in Cook County are down by 25 percent, from 44,755 in 1987 to just over 33,000 at the end of 1988.

The grass tax

A new Illinois tax known as the "grass tax" requires drug dealers to purchase tax stamps ($5 a gram for marijuana, $250 a gram for other drugs, and $2,000 for each dose of drugs not sold by weight) before doing business. The stamps are supposed to be stuck onto any packet of drugs sold.

Nobody really expects a dealer to approach the state's Department of Revenue: "Excuse me, Ma'am, I'd like $500 of those marijuana stamps." The idea is to add some muscle when it comes to indicting a dealer. In addition to charges of trafficking in illegal drugs, the state can now add a charge of tax evasion, according to state senator David Barkhausen, who sponsored the bill.

The stamps first went on sale last January, and about $4,500 worth have been sold. So far, the only people who have bought them are stamp collectors, according to Verenda Smith of the Illinois Department of Revenue.

Barkhausen, a Republican from Lake Forest, says he modeled the grass tax on a similar law in Minnesota, which has been a huge success. Minnesota collected $13 million in fines during the first 18 months its grass tax was on the books.

During the first year our tax has been on the books, seven tax assessments totaling about $68,200 have been levied against drug dealers. So far, nothing has been collected.

How many toilets should there be in a womens restroom?

You probably ask yourself that question each time you spot the long line of ladies waiting patiently to use the restrooms at just about any public place you go. Meanwhile men just seem to saunter into their hideaways. Standing in line is humiliating and frustrating, women will tell you. The only satisfaction is knowing that men are always wondering what goes on in there.

It won't destroy the feminine mystique to admit that women mostly bitch because there are never enough toilets. What you usually hear is, "There ought to be a law . . . ," but who ever would have imagined that someone would really take up the cause?

Enter state representative John J. McNamara, a Democrat from Oak Lawn. He introduced an "Equitable Rest Rooms Act" requiring public facilities to provide three toilets in the women's john for every two urinals in the men's.

Women began asking: was relief finally in sight?

Not this year. By a vote of seven to three, the Illinois House Executive Committee defeated the idea, even after McNamara argued that women needed the extra toilets because they're "more susceptible to infections and pregnancy" and often have their kids with them.

The committee's only female member was not on hand to vote. Maybe she was stuck in the john.

Who do you trust?

Lawyers, doctors, and journalists share this common trait: people don't know whether to believe them or not. All three professions got into the act this year over a tightly written, emotionless account called "It's Over, Debbie," published last January by the Journol of the American Medical Association (JAMA). It was either a well-told piece of fiction or the confession of a coldblooded killer, a doctor who administered a lethal dose of morphine to a young woman already dying of ovarian cancer.

Lots of people questioned whether the unsigned account was for real. JAMA editor George Lundberg stood by the story, saying he believed it and hoped it would spark a debate over the merits of euthanasia. Instead, it sparked debate among journalists who questioned the ethics of printing an anonymous story and then hiding behind the First Amendment in order to protect a criminal.

By the time the Cook County state's attorney's office stepped into the fray, with a subpoena to investigate whether a crime had been committed, most people figured the story wasn't really true. Nobody stepped forward to say he or she knew the woman, knew about the killing, or knew any doctor who would have done such a thing.

JAMA said it wouldn't turn over any information; a judge agreed that Richard Daley's office needed to do more of its own investigation before demanding JAMA's files; and after a couple of months, the matter just slipped out of the public's sight.

A lot of questions were raised. Was there a murder? No answers have ever been given.

Legal hero of the year

Robert Bulmash wanted some relief from the dozens of unwanted, unsolicited phone calls he was getting from telemarketers every night just as he was getting ready to eat dinner.

A paralegal for a Chicago lawyer, Bulmash started a new company this year called Private Citizen, Inc., out of Naperville. For a $15 fee, he'll put your name on a list that's sent to more than 400 telemarketers telling them you don't want to hear from them ever again.

If they continue to call, Bulmash will show you how to collect a judgment from them in Small Claims Court. He knows what he's talking about; he's already collected several hundreds of dollars from companies that continued to harass him.

"I'm concerned about protecting my privacy," he explained. "It's bad enough that we have junk mail, and radio and TV advertising, and advertising every time we look around us, on the bus, on the street corner. It's enough. Once we shut the front door of our homes, we should be able to control our environment, and that means we should be free from unwanted advertising, unwanted solicitations."

He's not alone in his thinking. During his first month in operation this summer, Bulmash received bags of mail from people begging for information on how to sign up.

Greylord? No problem!

The Special Commission on the Administration of Justice in Cook County, headed by Jerold Solovy of Jenner & Block, released its final report last September; after four years of investigating the impact of Operation Greylord, in which almost 80 people have either pleaded guilty or been found guilty of kickbacks, bribes, payoffs, and case fixing, the commission concluded that our court system is in pretty good shape.

What a relief--we thought we were surrounded by crooks!

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