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Judicial Rulings

Employer's contribution limited
to workers' comp amount

In a 1984 opinion the Illinois Supreme Court noted some apparent conflicts between the Worker's Compensation Act (see Illinois Revised Statutes 1987, ch. 48, sec. 138.5 et seq.) and the Contribution Act (see III. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 70, sec. 301 et seq.) but did not address them at that time. The court's April 18 decision solved one of them.

In this case a worker sued Cyclops Welding Corp., the manufacturer of equipment he used when he sustained injuries. Cyclops sued his employer. Cams Chemical Co., for an amount proportionate to its negligence in causing the injury.

At issue was the amount Carus had to pay since both statutes seem to bear on the matter. The court said, "The Contribution Act . . . requires that the employers contribute to tort judgments if they are partially responsible for an employee's injuries." On the other hand, "The language of the Workers Compensation Act clearly shows an intent that the employer only be required to pay an employee the statutory benefits. These limited benefits are paid in exchange for a no-fault system of recovery."

The court ruled that Cyclops could recover from Carus only up to the latter's liability under the Worker's Compensation Act. Justice Thomas J. Moran wrote the opinion in Kotecki v Cyclops Welding Corporation (Docket No. 68568); Justices Horace L. Calvo and James D. Heiple did not participate.

The day after the decision the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin reported concern on the part of attorneys that the decision might cause employers to back away from settlements in injury cases because of this limitation on their liability. Legislation to clarify the statutory contradicitions was either tabled or pending at the end of the last session of the General Assembly. Moran's opinion said that the courts may have to decide the current application of law when the legislature is in the process of acting.

Guilty pleas and deportation

Federal statutes provide that aliens legally resident in this country who are convicted of a felony are to be deported. There are some exceptions, but none apply to those convicted of narcotics offenses. In an April 18 decision the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that deportation proceedings would be a secondary or "collateral" result of a plea of guilty to narcotics charges and, therefore, not one of the items about which a defendant must be warned before a guilty plea is accepted.

In this case the defendant pleaded guilty as the result of plea bargaining. After serving his sentence he discovered that deportation proceedings were under way. He sought to have the plea set aside, claiming that his attorney's failure to warn him of this consequence constituted ineffective assistance of counsel that deprived him of a fair trial. His attorney was not aware of his status as a resident alien and did not question him about it.

The court applied standards for determining ineffective assistance set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Strickland v Washington ((1984), 466 U.S. 668). The attorney's performance must be shown to have been deficient, resulting in prejudice to the defendant. Under Illinois rules (107 Dl. 2d R. 402) the guilty plea must be knowing and voluntary, for which reason "the judge must advise the defendant of the nature of the charges and the minimum and maximum sentences prescribed by law. The judge must also inform the defendant of the waiver of trial rights." Other consequences are collateral, and "the validity of a guilty plea is not affected by the failure of the court or counsel to inform a defendant of the myriad consequences that are collateral to a felony conviction."

Chief Justice Ben Miller wrote the opinion in People v Huante (Docket No. 69918); Justice Michael A. Bilandic did not participate.

How to do it: appealing sentence after guilty plea

What if you plead guilty but don't like the sentence? The Illinois Supreme Court's decision of March 28 laid out the procedure, apparently to clear up considerable confusion at the appellate level.

A person wishing to appeal a sentence (not the conviction) must first file a motion to reconsider the sentence prior to making an appeal. This gives the trial court an opportunity to correct any errors. It is not necessary to withdraw the plea.

Justice James D. Heiple's opinion in People v Wallace (143 111. 2d 59), Justice Horace L. Calvo not participating, only took one page to explain the procedure. See Supreme Court Rule 604(d) (see 134 111. 2d R, 604(d)) which was broadened by People v Wilk (1988 124 111. 2d 93).

Professional goodwill and divorce

The goodwill of a professional like a lawyer or doctor is not a tangible asset to be counted as marital property at the time of divorce. The April 18 decision of the Illinois Supreme Court cleared up disagreement at the appellate level.

The court said, "Goodwill represents merely the ability to acquire future income. Consideration of goodwill as a divisible marital asset results in gross inequity." The reason for this lies in the fact that "goodwill value . . . is reflected in the maintenance and support awards. Any additional consideration of goodwill value is duplicative and improper."

The court's decision that a lawyer's contigent fee contract with a client is not marital property is less broadly applicable than the conclusion about goodwill since other professionals do not have such arrangements.

Justice James D. Heiple wrote the opinion in In re Marriage of Zeils (Docket No. 70419); Justice Horace L. Calvo took no part.

For the record: education funding suit

The suit to have Illinois' system of school finance declared unconstitutional has undergone its first action in the courts. TEACH America, an organization of low-income parents in Chicago, sought to join the suit as intervenors. They asked the court to grant payment to parents, to be used to procure schooling of their choice, until the schools provide high quality education, evidenced by parental involvement, local control and accountability.

Cook County Circuit Judge Thomas J, O'Brien denied the request, saying that the petitioners had only a general interest in the question of educational funding. He said, "The claims of the intervening petitioners go not to the issue of school finances, but to the alleged inadequacies of school management. . . ."The suit, in the Cook County Chancery Division, is The Committee for Educational Rights v James Edgar (No. 90 CH 11097).

F. Mark Siebert

34/June 1991/Illinois Issues

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