Quinn signs law to improve safety of Illinois judges

Bethany Krajelis Jul. 30, 2012, 7:34am



Illinois judges will soon be able to request the removal of their personal information from websites and other documents available to the public.

Gov. Pat Quinn last week put his stamp of approval on the Michael Lefkow and Donna Humphrey Judicial Privacy Improvement Act of 2012, which is named after U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow's husband and mother, both of whom were shot and killed in 2005.

Authorities believe that Lefkow's family members were the victims of retaliation against the judge following her dismissal of a plaintiff's medical malpractice lawsuit. The double-murder that took place at Lefkow's home put a national spotlight on judicial safety, spurring legislation at both the federal and local level.

According to the language of the new state law, its purpose is "to improve the safety and security of Illinois judicial officers to ensure they are able to administer justice fairly without fear of personal reprisal from individuals affected by the decisions they make in the course of carrying out their public function."

Starting on Sept. 22, judges throughout the state will be able to submit written requests to associations, businesses, government agencies or individuals to remove their personal information, as well as information related to members of their immediate families, from websites and other public documents.

Under the new law, "personal information" is defined as judges' home addresses, telephone numbers, personal email addresses, social security numbers, federal tax identification numbers, checking and saving account numbers, credit card numbers, marital status and the identification of children under the age of 18.

One of the government agencies that will be affected by the new law is the Illinois State Board of Elections, which requires candidates to list their home addresses in election paperwork.

Once a judge submits a written request, the law will require the person or group to take down the judge's personal information within three days. Government agencies will have five business days to comply.

The new law will also let judges ask that personal information released in public records requests be redacted and starting on Jan. 1, they will be able to request that their office addresses be used in place of their home addresses on their state identification cards and driver's licenses.

The language of the recently-approved law, however, states that it "is not intended to restrain a judicial officer from independently making public his or her own personal information."

It also notes that associations, businesses, government agencies and individuals are not obligated to comply with the act until a judge makes a written request to keep their personal information private.

Such requests will expire upon a judge's death or if a judge provides written permission to release their personal information.

Under the law, any person who unlawfully publishes a judge's personal information and the violation proves to be the proximate cause of bodily injury or the death of a judge, as well as members of his or her immediate family members, could be charged with a Class 3 felony.

The idea behind the law is not new. Following the murders of Lefkow's husband and mother, several measures to improve the security and safety of federal judges were proposed in Congress.

Lefkow testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee a few months after the murders, when she urged lawmakers to make judicial protection a priority. In 2007, the president signed into law the Judicial Disclosure Responsibility Act, which gave the Judicial Conference authority to redact certain personal information of judges from financial disclosure reports.

Lawmakers in Illinois have also previously discussed the issue. A measure that would have required the Illinois State Board of Elections to remove judges' home addresses from election paperwork after the candidacy objection period ended was proposed last year.

Through amendments, however, that bill ended up becoming a law that added more judgeships in the Chicago suburbs.

This past spring, the legislature's top Democrats-House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton- took the lead on the issue and served as the sponsors of the bill that Quinn signed into law last week.

The measure passed out of both chambers without opposition and received support from the Illinois Judges' Association.

Madison County Chief Judge Ann Callis was out of the office today and could not be reached for comment on whether she or any other judges in the circuit plan to take advantage of the new law.

A message left this morning for St. Clair Chief Judge John Baricevic was not immediately returned.

The language of the new law can be found by searching for HB 5877 or Public Act 97-847 on the Illinois General Assembly's website at ilga.gov.

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