How The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office Collects Child Support

By Eamonn Keenan

The Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney is one of the largest prosecutorial offices in the country, boasting over 700 attorneys and 1,100 employees. While the bulk of their resources are invested into the Criminal Prosecutions Bureau, which handles the majority of both felony and misdemeanor cases in the county, the office also invests resources into handling non-criminal matters, as it is highly incentivized to do so.

Child support cases, one of the office’s primary non-criminal interests, are managed by the office’s Child Support Enforcement Division. The tasks of the attorneys in this unit include helping parents establish paternity, obtain child support payments, and enforce support orders. It is imperative to note, however, that while these services are directed to assist parents through the judicial process, the state’s attorneys do not provide direct representation for the parents in these cases. Instead, the attorneys represent the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS).

HFS is an administrative agency with two main functions: providing medical assistance to those who qualify for Medicaid, and making certain that children are being financially supported by both parents. The latter goal is accomplished through HFS’s IV-D program – the namesake being Title IV, Part D of the Social Security Act, which grants states federal dollars to enforce child support orders.

The range of HFS’s services is incredibly vast. They can establish support orders, which legally mandates the distribution of a certain amount of child support payments, even if the non-custodial parent (the one without custody of the child) lives out of state; and enforce orders through a variety of mechanisms. This means that if a parent doesn’t pay child support, HFS can legally impose sanctions – such as suspending one’s driver’s license, or placing a lien on one’s bank account – in an attempt to induce compliance with the support order. If these punishments still fail to generate cooperation with support payments, the parent could face incarceration. All of these services are provided without any cost to the parent enrolled in the IV-D program.

However, because HFS is an administrative entity, there is a fundamental difference between child support orders entered by a judge and those by HFS themselves – the former being referred to as “judicial orders,” and the latter being “administrative orders.” It is not as though one type of support order is better than the other – the only difference between the two orders is the agency that creates them – but since HFS’s services are both effective and free, administrative orders might prove easier for parents to obtain.

Because establishing and enforcing judicial orders occurs outside the administrative process, the scope of HFS’s services is more limited within the judicial system. This is where the State’s Attorney’s Office comes into play. If a parent with an ongoing judicial support case enrolls in the HFS IV-D program, or if HFS decides to refer an administrative support case to the judicial system, HFS can appoint a state’s attorney to work the case. These attorneys can effectively provide the same services as the IV-D program, and similarly do so for free.

With the abundance of resources provided to them by the state and federal government – and their financial accessibility – HFS can be of unprecedented value to custodial parents seeking child support enforcement services. Especially when considering their effectiveness, HFS’s highly accessible model is incredibly unique for a governmental agency, begging the question: Why would they provide all these services for free?

This question can be more easily entertained when considering an additional component. For every support order established where the custodial parent receives certain forms of public aid – like Temporary Assistance to Need Families (TANF) or Medicaid – HFS is entitled to collect a portion of the child support distributions.

For reference, the amount of child support that has been collected and still owed in Illinois is massive. $790 million was collected for child support in 2018; and on top of that, more than $4 billion is currently owed. Interest on past-due support, or arrearage, accrues at a rate of 9% annually, meaning it’s safe to assume HFS is sitting on a plethora of small fortunes.

Although their services are not exclusively made available to custodial parents, the interests of HFS are often aligned with those of the custodial parent in support cases, since both parties share an opportunity for financial gain. In the same vein, when state’s attorneys are selected to work judicial child support cases, they do not directly represent the custodial parent but rather HFS itself.

The resources of the State’s Attorney’s Office combined with the structure of the courtrooms within the Domestic Relations Division of the Cook County Circuit Court, where child support cases are heard, allow state’s attorneys to be incredibly effective in advancing HFS’s interests. Since child support is a civil-law matter, there are no public defenders provided to those who cannot afford an attorney. Because of this, non-custodial parents often represent themselves in these courts pro se (meaning to act as their own attorney in court), and must advocate for themselves in opposition to a much more knowledgeable and resourceful state’s attorney.

Whatever adjustment they seek in their support case, be it a modification of child support payments or contesting an acknowledgement of paternity, pro se litigants must file all motions themselves. Doing so requires a strong understanding of legal language and judicial processes – to be expected of a legal professional, but not of the average non-custodial parent.

In the absence of private attorneys, the presence of state’s attorneys in domestic relations courtrooms radically shifts the nature of the judicial proceedings. The incentives driving the HFS’s interests in these support cases facilitate a drastic imbalance in the capacity of both parties to effectively advocate for themselves. These contentious courtrooms operate on principles that are diametrically opposed to a fair and impartial judicial system; not for protecting children and families, but rather in the interest of protecting the state’s dollar.

*Please contact the law magazine for citations as footnotes could not be added to the blog format.

Why FDA Should Regulate Dsuvia Painkillers

By Maggie Lu

With a 29% rate of misuse and $78.5 billion dollars spent annually to combat it, the opioid crisis in the United States is only escalating in its devastation, currently claiming the lives of over 90 victims a day. What’s worse is that in November 2018, FDA approved a new synthetic opioid drug, Dsuvia, that is ten times stronger than previous fentanyl opioid drugs. Despite vocal opposition including Brown and Kentucky University professors, the FDA commissioner has held firm on his stance for approving the drug. With positions on both ends of the spectrum, Dsuvia remains a controversial issue in regards to its social impacts on present and future US health administration.
Last year, Congress passed legislation to combat the nation’s opioid epidemic. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) that became law in 2016 authorizes over $181 million each year for education and prevention programs. After declaring the opioid crisis a public health emergency, President Trump signed into law H.R. 6, the “Substance Use–Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act,” which tackles the opioid crisis by cutting the supply and access to opioids as well as augmenting prevention, treatment and recovery services.

However, passing legislation is not effective when FDA still continues to approve fentanyl painkillers that do more harm than good. Despite an addictive compound called Sufentanil, former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb affirmed that Dsuvia’s “unique features” have a “specific and important role.” One unique feature that he brings up is that the medicine is well suited for military members, who may be incapacitated and therefore need sublingual “under the tongue” administration of the medicine. While Gottlieb affirms that Dsuvia is is useful because of its unique sublingual administration, he also acknowledges that its usefulness is very specific to military members and therefore rather “limited”.

Anesthesiology Professor at the University of Kentucky, Raeford Brown, wrote an open letter denouncing the drug in light of the already dire opioid public health crisis. Apart from its limited applications he also notes serious health hazards to consider like “respiratory depression” and the fact that “abusers of this intravenous formulation often die when they inject the first dose.”

Brown University Professors Michael Bernstein and Francesca Beaudoin also agree that the risks of Dsuvia potentially outweigh the benefits. In their view, Dsuvia’s application in the military field is definitely warranted, but the drug’s approval may have been premature. Before it should be used in medical settings, there needs to be concrete evidence that Dsuvia is safer than existing alternatives. However, Gottlieb believed that Dsuvia will be “safer” because it will be tightly regulated by AcelRx’s REMS, Risk and Evaluation Mitigation Strategy, which includes measures like Dsuvia not being used for more than 72 hours, no take-home use, and only in a single-dose applicator. According to The New York Times, Dsuvia will carry a “boxed warning” to warn of the serious side effects like respiratory depression, unconsciousness, and death. The FDA also pledges to thoroughly monitor the implementation of the REMS by working quickly to make regulatory adjustments if problems arise.

While the FDA pledges to thoroughly monitor drugs, they have been lax in the past with similar potent drugs. Will vague actions like pasting a “boxed warning” and “tight regulation” achieve their desired effect? Skeptics can’t help but question this, because similar “tight restrictions” failed to do their job on other opioids that are currently being wrongly prescribed and uncurbed by the FDA, such as a class of fentanyl drugs approved for cancer patients only. According to The New York Times, after two car accidents, a woman needed pain medication; she was given a specific type of fentanyl drug, which is only intended for cancer patients due to its extreme potency, and died with extremely high blood levels of fentanyl. Instead of tightly regulating the distribution of the drug themselves, FDA entrusted the regulation of these drugs to a group of pharmaceutical companies that make and sell the drugs, causing a death that could have been avoided if the correct prescription had been given to her.

Apart from the lack of responsibility on the FDA’s part, there is the problem of the people themselves lacking responsibility by abusing harmful drugs knowingly and willingly to get high. Opana ER is a form of opioid that was approved in 2006 for painkiller usage. Abuse began when drug users used it for pleasure instead by crushing, snorting, and injecting it. The parent company did try to curb the abuse of the drug by replacing the original drug with a form that was meant to make the pills harder to crush or dissolve into liquid, but users found other ways to snort or inject it, and the problem remained unmitigated until the parent company took it off the market. Indeed, not only has the FDA failed to regulate opioid abuse, but users themselves also pose an extensive risk to their own health by abusing drugs willingly.

In addition, the FDA commissioner argues that “the medicine [will be] restricted” because it will only be administered by “healthcare professionals” in hospitals and clinics. Health care professionals are not necessarily the most reliable personnel to entrust drug regulation to. In fact, a doctor from Kansas was charged with selling prescription opioids in high quantities to people without a medical need in exchange for cash, resulting in the death of an addicted patient. Selling prescription drugs outside medical practice is illegal, yet this social issue regarding opioids still is widely prevalent due to the easy cash flow generated by selling to addicted users, who will unwaveringly come back for more of the drug to feed their addiction. The lingering questions on how to regulate illegal sale of prescription drugs, prevent abuse from addicted users, and even correct the FDA’s own lack of responsibility in curbing prescriptions all render the approval of yet another potent opioid, Dsuvia, deeply controversial.

Whether one looks at it from a biological or social standpoint, Dsuvia seems to have more capacity for harm rather than good. With its potential for addiction by the biological inducing of the midbrain reward system and negative impact on the respiratory and endocrine system, along with social issues of illegal sale of prescription drugs, FDA’s lack of regulation, and addicted users knowingly abusing opioids, the outlook for Dsuvia and the larger opioid epidemic looks bleaker than ever. According to The New York Times, opioid overdose deaths peaked to more than 40,000 last year, 30,000 resulting from fentanyl and other opioids. Dsuvia will definitely help people who actually need the drug for acute pain, but risks being abused in a country already overrun by opioid misuse. Apart from acknowledging the opioid crisis as a “public health emergency” in 2017, The US government has not been proactive in devoting more resources to combat it. Rather than letting FDA and drug companies determine how to regulate the drug, new governmental policies need to not only be enacted but enforced to start breaking down the entrenched cycle of opioid abuse.

A Conversation with John G. Levi of the Legal Services Corporation

A Conversation with John G. Levi of the Legal Services Corporation

By Lucy Ritzmann

When asked to visualize the justice system, I imagine many would conjure images of dramatic murder trials, handcuffs or scenes from Law and Order SVU. And they wouldn’t be wrong — criminal justice is a crucial part of the justice system. However, civil justice, an equally essential facet of the justice system, goes woefully forgotten in this country by many people who may be owed justice. Most people know if a criminal act has been committed against them and even if they choose not to take action, they know the ways in which they can. However, as John Levi, chairman of the Legal Services Corporation, pointed out during our conversation, knowing that your civil legal rights have been violated is a much more nuanced issue. This is something I can attest to: my roommates and I have been having trouble with landlords who were making a somewhat egregious demand of us. After my conversation with Mr. Levi, I started researching and realized that what they were asking actually violated Illinois State Code. After I mentioned that to the landlords, the demand was very quickly dropped. It was a wake-up call: I thought that because I am a student of law surrounded by friends and mentors who also study the law, I would never be in a situation in which I was completely unaware that my rights were being violated. And yet, that was the case, just as it is the case for so many Americans, many of whom experience far more significant violations of their legal rights and have no resources to handle them. This is why the work that John Levi and Legal Services Corporation do is so important.

I first asked Mr. Levi exactly what the Legal Services Corporation is and what they do for the public. He explained that the Legal Services Corporation, or LSC, provides “grants to programs across the country to help people with their civil legal needs so that low-income Americans can have assistance with their civil legal needs.” Descended from Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society vision, the Legal Services Corporation was created by the Legal Services Corporation Act of 1974 during the Ford administration. Today, they have a grant of $410 million which they disseminate to civil legal services across the country. LSC is the largest funder of civil legal services; grantees compete for funding and once granted, LSC assumes oversight to ensure that the funds are going towards legal resources for underserved people. For each grantee, LSC provides 35% to 80% of their total funding. Mr. Levi explained that there are limits to what LSC can be involved in: “no class actions, not immigration, no abortion, no drugs or things like that—we are strictly helping folks with family law issues like domestic violence or getting an order of protection, housing issues, [and] eviction.” He added that they also work with veterans and address elder abuse and financial issues. He noted that most recently, as a product of the opioid epidemic, LSC has seen a huge increase in family members attempting to gain guardianship over minors whose parents or guardians may be addicted. Despite all the work and funds that LSC dedicates towards these issues, Mr. Levi notes that LSC probably needs about $880 million to serve the needs of all the people who seek their help and that as a result, “people are getting left out.”

The Legal Service Corporation is quite unique in its operational structure. A year after joining the board through “presidential nomination and Senate confirmation,” Mr. Levi was elected as chairman. He was then re-nominated and confirmed by the Senate a few years later. While the LSC is a federally chartered 501(c)(3) organization and cannot receive private funding, any organizations sponsored by them are able to receive private funding. Although political climate does have an impact on the LSC—the “President’s party chooses six” of the eleven board positions and the party out of power chooses the remaining five— the LSC is an apolitical organization. A board member’s term is three years, although, given the complexity of the nomination process, many people’s terms last four to five years. Mr. Levi sees this as “a benefit as it is a complicated structure and a complex set of issues.” The current board has served for eight years and is actually only comprised of nine members, as two have left over the course of their terms. Mr. Levi stressed that “even though the board is a bipartisan selection process, the board acts like any other non-for-profit in a non-partisan way.” 

Still, I was curious to know if the Trump Administration had affected the Legal Services Corporation, especially since Mr. Levi and I spoke shortly after the partial government shutdown ended. Mr. Levi explained that although the shutdown had certainly been an issue for the budget office, the Legal Services Corporation submits its budget directly to Congress, where it has had “strong bipartisan support from both sides for many years.” However, the partial shutdown did cause some panic: “at that junction, we only had full funding for our grantees through the third week of February, so we were starting to get quite concerned.” As it stood when Mr. Levi and I spoke, LSC had funding through the third week of April. When asked what they would do if funding from the government stopped, Mr. Levi replied that LSC would try to take out a loan and said, “I hope that does not come to pass because some of our grantees get 85% of their funding from us – you can imagine what that would mean.” He added that because their grantees are not federal employees, it would be illegal to ask them to work without pay.

In addition to this issue, I asked Mr. Levi what the greatest challenge in the realm of civil justice was and how we could address it. He finds that the biggest issue is “leaving this many people out of our justice system – having them look from the outside and having them not even understand how to protect their own rights.” He furthered, “we commissioned a study that was done by the National Opinion Research Center that was published a year and a half ago – it suggests that 86% of the civil legal needs of low-income folks…got inadequate or no appropriate legal assistance during 2017.” He noted that grantees have to turn away up to two-thirds of people seeking help due to lack of staff and that this puts them in a terrible position in which they have to make difficult choices, like prioritizing people with children who need an order of protection over people without children. Mr. Levi noted that in addition to all the people who seek help, there are those who need it who do not even know it: “many people don’t even know their issue is a legal issue.”

In regard to a solution, Mr. Levi noted the need for “a combination of things to address this – one would certainly be more funding, and another is that we need reform;” specifically, he noted the need for housing reform. Mr. Levi also called for structural reform by creating more levels of staff and assistance for people: “in the medical profession, we have nurses and physician’s assistants – we need to have more paraprofessionals who are able to handle these kinds of matters.” Moreover, the legal process is time-consuming and complex, which is especially limiting for those who work in jobs that will not accommodate them. Mr. Levi is working to combat this by making the system more accessible by implementing a program across the country that trains librarians to assist people with finding solutions to their civil legal problems.

Mr. Levi has had a distinguished career both as a partner at Sidley Austin LLC and as chairman of the board of the Legal Services Corporation for nearly a decade and he continues working to make the American justice system more equitable. The work that he and the Legal Services Corporation do for Americans is essential and I am excited to see the changes that their reforms will affect. Mr. Levi is also excited for the future — he concluded our conversation with a message of encouragement: “Look for great things from your generation of lawyers.” 

Lucy Ritzmann is a second-year in the College pursuing a double major in Law, Letters, & Society and Political Science.



By Manning Farnsworth Snyder

The extent of the First Amendment has been a popular topic in the news recently, specifically regarding social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter. As social media platforms and usership continue to grow, so has the extent to which free speech applies to them. In understanding how the First Amendment applies to these organizations, one must look at precedent, albeit limited, and how the independent organizations confront arising conflicts.

In 2017, Packingham v. North Carolina was argued in the Supreme Court. The case involved a convicted sex-offender from North Carolina, Lester Packingham, who was arrested for using Facebook to post about a traffic court experience in 2010. A North Carolina state law exists prohibiting sex offenders from using social media. Packingham was a landmark case in defining the realm of free speech for social media platforms. The court unanimously ruled the North Carolina statute unconstitutional, and the case is quite significant as it is one of the first cases to address the relationship between the First Amendment and social media sites.

Furthermore, there is not a lot of precedent to reference regarding social media free speech regulations. Even when looking at other prominent historical First Amendment Supreme Court cases before 1990, such as  Whitney v. California or Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, none involve the Internet or social media simply because the Internet was not invented yet. Cases that do involve the Internet such as Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union or United States et. al v. American Library Association have established precedent for how the First Amendment applies to the Internet, but not specifically how it applies to social media. The last Supreme Court case involving social media and the First Amendment before Packingham came in 2015 with Elonis v. United States, which addressed the First Amendment, but the majority decision did not rule on First Amendment matters. The Packingham v. North Carolina case brief stated that “the Internet’s forces and directions are so new, so protean, and so far reaching that courts must be conscious that what they say today may be obsolete tomorrow.” Additionally, there is some precedent in lower courts regarding social media and free speech, such as Bell v. Itawamba County School Board, a case in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that ruled that public schools can punish a student for using Facebook and Youtube as a platform for posting song lyrics that referenced an alleged sexually relationship between two teachers and female students. The case, while useful in understanding public schools’ role in matters of social media, is not helpful in determining to what extent the First Amendment applies to social media outlets.

Many people are under the impression that the First Amendment allows them to say or “post” whatever they want, regardless of the extremity or the vigor of the opinion. Recently, Facebook removed the Alex Jones “Infowars”  far-right podcast citing a violation in the company’s social networks policy against hate speech. Youtube, Spotify, and LinkedIn, among others, followed suit in removing Jones and other “far-right sites”. The move caused somewhat of an uproar among some Republicans, notably Ted Cruz, who said that Facebook has become an “arbiter of free speech”. As Facebook and Twitter are private businesses, they individually have the power to determine their policy regarding hate speech, obscene language, and harassment, but also what is considered a violation of such policy—all without the interjection of a third-party. Facebook bans hate speech, yet allows for humor, satire, or social commentary related to these topics;” Twitter bans “excessively violent images in profiles and headers.”

In October 2018, the Supreme Court announced they will hear a case entitled Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck that will define what a public forum is and will address the issue of: “under what circumstances can a private entity… be deemed a state actor subject to claims under the First Amendment?” The oral argument will be heard in late February, and the decision could clarify many lingering questions regarding the First Amendment and how they coincide with private technology companies.

The Packingham opinion noted the importance of social media and websites to a private citizen: “Websites can provide perhaps the most powerful mechanisms available to a private citizen to make his or her voice heard.”  With no finite definition or statute to the range of the First Amendment in regards to social media, is it acceptable for people to assume that free speech does not extend to social media?

Manning Farnsworth Snyder is a first-year at New York University, studying journalism and sociology.