The State Supreme Court set a troubling precedent last week when it ruled the state's master roster of lawyers deserves extra-special protection.
The Supremes denied a request by Avvo.com, a web site dedicated to helping folks learn more about lawyers before hiring them, to purchase a copy of the master list. In the process it extended to Illinois lawyers an unprecedented right to privacy, a right denied to other Illinois professionals.
As the Ilinois Civil Justice League has pointed out, Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced with great fanfare last April a new web site dedicated to helping consumers scrutinize the "professional and disciplinary background" of our state's 44,000 doctors.
"It is not enough to make sure every Illinois family has access to health care. We need to make sure that people have enough information to make informed decisions about the doctors who treat them. This new online tool will provide valuable assistance for patients as they choose their healthcare providers," said Gov. Blagojevich, according to a press release.
Why doesn't a similar "online tool" exist for lawyers? Are their backgrounds not of similar import to Illinois consumers? Shouldn't every Illinois family have "enough information to make informed decisions" about the lawyers who represent them?
The lawyers say "no." That master list includes a host of very powerful ones-- Gov. Blagojevich, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Attorney General Lisa Madigan, for example. All love lapping up the headlines, but none spoke out against the court's decision to keep valuable public information from the public.
Moreover, unlike 219 other professions, lawyers are regulated by fellow lawyers and judges, not outsider bureaucrats in the state's Department of Professional Regulation (DPR). When it comes to scrutinizing lawyers behavior, only lawyers need apply. That shouldn't be.
It's called the Illinois Supreme Court, but that doesn't mean its every dictate should go unchallenged. It's not a separate government.
Public access to public information is a principle of American democracy. It's time for the two other branches of Illinois government to take a stand.