Posts Tagged ‘Illinois’

Case workers and perverse incentives

A reader writes regarding our post on the perverse incentives given social workers:

Frankly, I’m surprised this story is news. The belief of every case worker I know (I’ve only been at this since July) is that if a kid on your caseload dies, the odds are that you’ll be fired no matter what you did right or wrong. Besides the perverse incentives you mentioned, that cause over-removal of children at lower levels, there are perverse incentives for the people at the top of the chain–if they make the requirements so unattainable they can never be done perfectly, and keep caseloads high enough that no one can complete all his tasks, there will always be something they can find that caseworkers didn’t do, and the caseworkers (and sometimes their immediate supervisors) can be fired.

One of the greatest needs I’ve seen for a loser-pays system has been this year in my work with county dependency courts. The Child Protective Investigators, who remove children and work with the state AG’s office to get them adjudicated dependent on the state, prosecute the most absurd cases because it hardly costs them anything if they lose.

Right now I’m working with a CPI who is trying to take custody of a 17-year-old girl from her mother–even though by the time the trial comes around and the girl is adjudicated (probably won’t be, because the CPI has a crappy case against her) she’ll be one month away from aging out of the system. Since the CPIs don’t pay if they lose, and don’t even usually show up at trial to get chewed out by the judge, they have no reason not to waste my time, the judges’ time, the attorneys’ time, and (worst of all, since these poor folks aren’t paid to be there) a phenomenal amount of innocent parents’ time and money.

The single biggest problem with the dependency system, at least here in Florida, is that we don’t have loser-pays.

Sorry for the rant. That post hit close to home!

On a similar point: see Illinois Alliance for Parents & Children, whose website isn’t quite finished.

19th-century legal doctrine meets 21st-century hedonism and 20th-century litigation tactics

Arthur Friedman announced to his wife, Natalie, after ten years of marriage, that he wanted the couple to engage in group sex and swinging, so he could gratify himself watching his wife have sex with other men. Natalie, however, fell for one of her partners, German Blinov. The two left their spouses and ran off with one another. Arthur sued Blinov under the Illinois alienation of affection laws, and, amazingly enough, won $4802 from a jury that thought the case was stupid. (Steve Patterson, “Putting a price on love”, Chicago Sun-Times, Jul. 1). The former Mrs. Friedman expresses dismay about the award, but it’s not clear whether it’s the fact of the award or the trivial amount that offends her. Chicagoist and Alex Tabarrok are appropriately appalled.

Most states have passed the tort reform of abolishing the alienation of affection cause of action. Earlier on Overlawyered: Nov. 2006 and May 2005 (North Carolina); Nov. 2004 (Illinois); May 2000 (Utah).

Update: Of course, one doesn’t necessarily need that 19th-century cause of action when entrepreneurial lawyers are in play. Recently fired WellPoint CFO David Colby allegedly rotated among several girlfriends he met on a dating website, several of whom he allegedly promised to marry, even as he was married to someone else (albeit separated). One of the ex-girlfriends is suing WellPoint for “facilitat[ing] Colby’s lifestyle”; it seems Colby pointed to his webpage on the WellPoint site to seduce some of his targets. (Lisa Girion, “WellPoint named a defendant in sexual-battery suit”, LA Times, Jun. 29; see also “Women claim lives with WellPoint exec”, LA Times, Jun. 13 (no longer on web)).

Tarheel heartbalm, cont’d

Newsweek looks at North Carolina’s cottage industry of tort actions by wronged spouses against the cads, hussies and assorted homebreakers who put an end to their domestic felicity (see May 22, 2005, Nov. 16, 2004, and May 18-21, 2000). “Although alienation of affection is rarely invoked in most states, a series of high-profile judgments in North Carolina, including one in 2001 for $2 million, have inspired more than 200 suits annually in recent years. Lawyers say people typically file these claims as leverage in divorce and custody disputes. ‘A wife says I’m going to sue your girlfriend if you don’t give me $50,000 more in property settlement. That’s an improper use of the [law], and it shouldn’t take place,’ says A. Doyle Early Jr., former chair of the North Carolina Bar Association’s family law section. … Conservative [i.e., Religious Right] groups like the North Carolina Family Policy Council say the law should stay on the books”. (Julie Scelfo, “Heartbreak’s revenge”, Dec. 4).

Hey mom, got a surprise for you

A federal judge has declined to dismiss a lawsuit by an Illinois woman who “is suing her Wisconsin parents for maintaining an icy driveway that she blames for a fall that broke her ankle two winters ago…. Carriel Louah, 25, visited Darlington, Wis., to surprise her mother on her birthday in January 2005. But the next morning, she was injured when she slipped and fell on her parents’ driveway. …The daughter said that a letter from her mom apologizing months after the fall proves that her parents knew they had a defective gutter for years and did nothing about it.” (“Judge OKs Trial After Daughter’s Surprise Visit Home Ends In Lawsuit”,, Jul. 13).

Illinois alienation of affection

While just about everything else has become more actionable in today’s compensation culture, there has been a countertrend in family law. Most states have barred suits for the ancient tort of “alienation of affection” by jilted spouses. Utah (May 18, 2000) and North Carolina are exceptions, as is Illinois; there, Steven Cyl is suing a neighbor he says stole his wife. “Is this thing for real?” asks the defendant. Previous Illinois alienation-of-affection plaintiffs include the always-entertaining ex-Rep. Mel “Did I win the Lotto?” Reynolds, whose case was thrown out for unspecified reasons. (Steve Patterson, “‘This guy, he ruined my life’ — so man sues”, Chicago Sun-Times, Nov. 15 (via Bashman); “Former Congressman Mel Reynolds takes estranged wife’s lover to court”, Jet, Aug. 12, 2002; “Davidson Wrestling Coach Awarded $1.4 Million For ‘Theft of Wife?s Heart'”, North Carolina Lawyers Weekly, May 23, 2001). The ever-obnoxious Pat Buchanan approves. (“What is a Family Worth?”, Aug. 11, 1997; Hutelmyer v. Cox (N.C. App. 1999)).