CHICAGO – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today announced that he is appointing University of Illinois Hospitals’ Special Counsel and former Chief Judge of the Cook County Circuit Court Donald P. O’Connell to serve as mediator in the stalled negotiations over medical malpractice reform in Illinois. The Governor has reached out to all four legislative leaders and the heads of all groups involved in discussions and gained their support for resumed negotiations.
“The exorbitant cost of medical malpractice insurance has become a serious burden on doctors in Illinois, and in the long run, patients are paying the cost. We see medical rates going up and access to medical services in some regions of the state going down as doctors leave Illinois. There isn’t an easy fix to the situation – as we witnessed during the long and heated negotiations this spring. But we can’t let the challenge of finding common ground stand in the way of relief for patients,” said Gov. Blagojevich.
“Today I am pleased to announce that the Honorable Donald O’Connell, one of the best, most experienced mediators in Illinois, has agreed to work with all the parties involved in medical malpractice reform to get negotiations back on track. Judge O’Connell has earned the respect of his peers in the judicial and legal communities for his ability to bring opposing parties together and reach settlements outside the trial room. I am confident that his leadership and sound judgment will help bring everyone back to the table to find a resolution that protects patients’ access to affordable health care, and ensures that doctors in Illinois can continue serving without fear of losing their life-savings.”
Judge O’Connell is considered the leading mediator in Illinois. He was recognized by Chicago Lawyer Magazine for most consecutive years as the leading judge for settlements of significant injury and wrongful death cases.
Since 2001, Judge O’Connell has served as Special Counsel to the University of Illinois hospital system where he advises executives on medical negligence issues. He will complete his service with the U of I this month. In addition, he conducts private mediations in catastrophic injury, wrongful death and commercial cases, and continues to conduct conferences on successful mediation techniques and strategies in complex areas like medical malpractice.
From December 1994 to August 2001, Judge O’Connell served as Chief Judge of the Cook County Circuit Court, where he is credited with restoring public confidence to a court that had been embroiled in scandal during the federal Operation Greylord investigation and trials in the 1980s. O’Connell hired a former FBI agent to look out for corruption, a Special Task force recommendation that had been made – but not fulfilled – several years earlier. O’Connell also established a professional development and mentoring program to help orient new judges.
During his tenure on the Court, O’Connell made numerous improvements to the juvenile justice system, including the creation of a drug treatment court in the juvenile division, establishment of a new juvenile court management system to improve coordination between divisions, and development of a mentoring network for juvenile wards.
O’Connell earned his law degree from Northwestern University in 1968, and became a judge in 1978 when he was assigned to the Law Division of the Cook County Circuit Court as a motion and jury trial judge. In 1990, he was named Presiding Judge of the Law Division.
Gov. Blagojevich sought out Judge O’Connell’s assistance after negotiations over medical malpractice broke down in July. Discussions between all interested parties began early in the year with a list of more than 50 areas of disagreement. By the final weeks of the overtime spring legislative session, two issues kept the parties apart – personal asset protection for doctors and protection for hospitals against claims arising from actions by contractual doctors who practice at their facilities. Lawmakers left Springfield in mid-July without a resolution on medical malpractice reform.
The Governor said Judge O’Connell has agreed to provide the mediation services pro bono.