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The Mechanics
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Chicagoland Thu Jul 16 2009

When Is An Engineer Not An Engineer?

Answer: When the government says so.

An Illinois state law could prevent a Skokie man from calling himself an engineer despite an engineering background of 50 years, 123 patents, and work on cameras that accompanied astronauts to the moon.

On July 8th, Judge Mary K. Rochford of Cook County Circuit Court heard oral arguments brought by attorneys for Burton Siegal in an emergency hearing that could make or break legal precedent on free speech rights reaching far beyond the engineering field.

At stake: Government regulation of the use of words.

Most people would shudder at the very idea of laws governing speech, but in reality, it happens all the time...and we're fine with it. Consider the fines levied against CBS when Janet Jackson experienced her infamous wardrobe malfunction during the 2005 Superbowl, or those pesky bleeps you hear every time Cartman on South Park utters words you know anyway.

The accepted basis for this approved form of censorship is for the protection of people, whether pure of heart (children), or weak of heart (the elderly). But politicians also claim they should regulate words for the general welfare. We wouldn't want just anyone calling himself a doctor, teacher or engineer, right?

Herein lies the logistical problem with government regulating words. Besides being a violation of the right to free expression, there's no way government rules could possibly keep up with the evolution of language in society. There are doctors and teachers of many fields and different specialties, just as there are political engineers, social engineers, and genetic engineers, all of whom do not need to be licensed to perform or advertise their professions.

It would be fair to say that Burton Siegal is an engineer who practices engineering. And, considering his experience in serving customers for half a century, it would be fair for him to continue advertising his business as Budd Engineering.

Not according to the folks at the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. They argue Siegal must stop using the word "engineering" in the name of his business because he is not a licensed professional engineer. They say the Professional Engineering Practice Act regulates the word "engineer," not simply who may use the descriptor "professional engineer."

Design News magazine covered the case last September when Siegal and his lawyers were beginning the process of preventing the issuing of a cease-and-desist order against him for using the word "engineering."

Following the events of last week, however, the case is still in the purview of the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation's administrative hearings.
Siegal's lawyer Anthony Sanders argued last week that the circuit court should grant an emergency injunction of the prosecution due to the constitutional challenge he is bringing. Questions of constitutionality cannot be factored into the judgment of the administrative hearing, and the prospect of changing the name of Budd Engineering would have an immediate negative impact on Siegal's livelihood.

Unfortunately, Judge Rochford ruled against an injunction last week because she determined Siegal's administrative remedies had not been exhausted. However, she was clear to point out her ruling should not be understood to comment on the merits of the actual case.

Administrative hearings will continue in mid-August. The department will likely rule against Siegal and his lawyers will then appeal to the circuit court.

Then, this will be a case for everyone to watch.

Because it should not be omitted: I am an expert witness for Siegal's attorneys on the topic of Internet databases.

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Burt Siegal / July 17, 2009 5:50 PM

Thank you for your participation in stopping this perversion of the law. Your comments were elegant. Although, you probably know it, your readers might profit from knowing that I have a BSME from the University of Illinois.

Mark Denzler / July 17, 2009 7:50 PM

The case against Burt Siegal and his company is a tragedy and sends a chilling message to many manufacturing companies and thousands of engineering graduates. Burt is an engineer by education and training with impeccable credentials. He received an Outstanding Alumni Award from the University of Illinois' engineering department in 2005 which is a highly esteemed program. The Illinois Manufacturers' Association is supportive of Burt's cause and has been actively working in conjunction to stop this miscarriage of justice.

Brian McGuire / July 20, 2009 7:34 AM

Manufacturing companies should watch this case closely becuase of the ripple affect it might have through the industry. The Tooling and Manufacturing Association is proud to count Burt as a member and happy to be lending support to his cause.

H. Barnett / January 23, 2010 11:39 PM

The true perversion is going to the yellow pages, looking under "Engineers-Professional" finding a corporation "Budd Engineering" owned by Rita Siegal and Burton Siegal of which neither are P.E.'s and paying them $150 per hour for work... implementing it and finding out it doesn't function! THEN finding out they were illegally in the yellow pages (and both knew it and admitted to it under oath) then having to sue them for consumer fraud and have Burton take his self-inflicted plight to the media and twist the truth in many ways, of course- ALL of this is in my opinion and please don't believe anything I say; verify it for yourself... check the Illinois 1989 engineering act and its exemptions. Burton says he's an employee of these corps and falls under the manufacturing exemption in the act. Illinois sees it that he is an employee of Budd Engineering and since Budd has no P.E. on staff Budd can not offer or perform engineering services to the public and does not qualify for the mfg exemption because he is not a direct employee of the corps he provides enginnering services to. Burton makes the situation sound as if he loses his fight with the IDFPR, then engineers working as employees of corps will not be allowed to practice their chosen profession. This is not IDFPR's intent in its prosecution of Burton. They want him to cease offering engineering services to OTHER corps because he does not fall under any exemptions in doing so. Engineers that are employees of the corps they provide engineering services to, ARE exempt under the Illinois engineering act, as I understand it. In my opinion, Burton is soliciting support for his fight with the IDFPR by inciting the fear of job-loss in engineers who are practicing legally, by representing their situation to be the same as his, and if he loses they effectively lose too. This is NOT how IDFPR sees the situation. Read all of Burton's comments on the web and JUDGE FOR YOURSELF now that you know more about the situation.

Hank / May 24, 2011 12:55 PM

The guy who commented above me is a complete maniac. He has made it his mission in life to terrorize and stalk those he feels have "wronged" him. Mr. Barnett spent a week last fall picketing in front of Burt's house. Do not listen to what he says. Mr. Siegal has done nothing wrong. Mr. Barnett is a career scam artist who needs serious mental help. He has spent the past 5 years harassing an elderly couple through the court system. It is very sad and pathetic.

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