Recognizing “Pro Bono Month,” we note Jerry Solovy’s pro bono work in People v. Kohrig. Appointed as a special assistant attorney general, he argued that the state’s then-15-month-old mandatory seat-belt law should be upheld. On this day in 1986, the Illinois Supreme Court agreed, marking the first time that any state supreme court had so ruled. Ruling that the law does not violate the rights of motorists, under either the state or federal Constitutions, the court said that “the state can enact laws aimed at reducing traffic accidents, since such laws are clearly related to the health, welfare and safety of the public. We also believe that the legislature could rationally conclude that unbelted drivers and passengers endanger the safety of others.”
The undercover Operation Greylord investigation became public on this week in 1983. Tom Sullivan launched the joint investigation with the FBI after he became U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois in 1977; Chuck Sklarsky was among its architects during his time as an assistant U.S. attorney. Ultimately, the operation led to the conviction of about 90 individuals, including judges, lawyers, deputy sheriffs, police officers and court clerks, on a range of charges including conspiracy and bribery. In an interview with the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, Tom recalled facing the difficult decision of whether to use real or fake cases to snare corrupt members of the Cook County judiciary. Although it would have been easier to have undercover FBI agents defend real cases, ethical and liability concerns caused the team to use fake cases. “If we use real cases and [the prosecutor or judge] takes a bribe and a guy is released from a minor crime and then goes out and commits a really horrible crime, I’m going to get blamed for it. So you can’t use real cases; you have to use fake cases. We had these wonderful FBI agents, just marvelous people who came up with this whole scenario of faking the reasons for being arrested,” Tom recalled. The probe continued under Tom’s successors, Dan Webb and then Tony Valukas. The investigation was made public and prosecutions begun during Dan’s tenure; Tony pursued and concluded the operation. When Tony left office in 1989, the Chicago Tribune observed that “corrupt judges, bankers, drug dealers, police officers, lawyers, business executives, aldermen, defense contractors, state legislators, sports agents -- all have been brought to justice by Valukas and his staff during his four years as U.S. attorney in the Chicago region.” In the aftermath of Operation Greylord, Jerry Solovy was appointed to lead a special commission to recommend ways to reform the system. Known as the “Solovy Commission,” the panel proposed the merit selection of judges, among other reforms, and issued several reports addressing disclosure rules regarding the judicial selection process.
Click here to download a copy of The Special Commission on the Administration of Justice in Cook County Report.
On this day in 1984, the court gave final approval to a settlement between firm client UV Industries and Reliance Electric, a subsidiary of Exxon Corporation, ending nearly four years of litigation and relying on an “army” of firm talent. In 1979, Reliance purchased Federal Pacific Electric Company from UV. But around the same time, the Consumer Product Safety Commission investigated the circuit breakers that Federal Pacific manufactured, and Reliance complained that the circuit breakers were faulty and prone to cause fires. In 1980, Reliance sued the liquidating trustees of UV Industries for $345 million in damages or for rescission relating to its purchase of Federal Pacific. The UV Trust retained Jerry Solovy, who soon deployed what he referred to as his “UV Army,” consisting of more than 20 lawyers and numerous paralegals, most of whom spent the majority of their time working on the case for the next two to three years. The lawsuit came after the UV Trust had distributed more than $600 million to unit holders and held up UV’s distribution of another $400 million. Under the settlement, UV refunded Reliance $41,850,000 of the purchase price of Federal Pacific, enabling the UV Trust to distribute its remaining funds.
April has been dubbed “First Amendment Awareness Month” by some universities; in recognition, we recall Jerry Solovy’s successful argument before the Supreme Court in Bolger v. Youngs Drug Products Corp. Jerry defended Youngs Drug Products Corp, which in the early 1980s wanted to send unsolicited advertisements for contraceptive devices through the U.S. mail. Unfortunately for Youngs, its plan ran afoul of the 1865 Comstock Act, a federal law that made it a crime to sell or distribute materials that could be used for contraception or abortion or to send materials or information about such materials through the mail. Calling the Act “antediluvian,” Jerry argued that it was an unconstitutional restriction of commercial speech. In June 1983, the Court ruled that the government’s interest in purging mailboxes of contraceptive advertisements was outweighed by the harm that results from denying mailbox owners the right to receive truthful information on birth control.