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Sheriff Dart asks judge not to award back pay to fired officers

Thursday, November 02, 2017
Chicago Tribune
by Steve Schmadeke

Hoping to limit the fallout from a recent court ruling that could force Sheriff Tom Dart to shell out millions of dollars in back pay to fired officers, his attorneys have asked a judge to rule that the county has no obligation to reimburse the money.

Dart’s legal team filed the paperwork in Cook County Circuit Court on Wednesday. The move comes after a state Appellate Court ruled the sheriff’s merit board, which is responsible for hiring, firing and promoting officers, was “illegally constituted” from 2011 to 2015. With the state Supreme Court recently declining to hear yet another appeal in the case, the lower court ruling stands. The sheriff is now concerned it could open the door for back-pay claims from more than 250 fired officers; officials estimate it could easily cost the county millions in taxpayer dollars.

Hoping to stem the damage, Dart’s office asked Judge Diane Larsen to rule that fired sheriff’s deputy Dixie Rios is not entitled to back pay and to refer Rios’ case back to the merit board for reconsideration of his firing. Rios’ 2014 lawsuit is one of several pending Cook County cases involving an officer fired by what the Appellate Court has ruled was an improperly appointed board.

The merit board’s makeup was at the center of a 2013 lawsuit filed by fired Officer Percy Taylor. In the end, Taylor prevailed, with a Cook County judge reversing his dismissal and ordering the sheriff to pay back wages. The Appellate Court upheld a Cook County judge’s decision to reverse Taylor’s dismissal and ordered the sheriff to pay back wages.

In its decision, the Appellate Court laid out the problems with the board at the time of Taylor's 2012 firing: A year before, then-merit board member John Rosales was appointed to a one-year term even though Dart and the Cook County Board did not have the authority to appoint him to anything less than a six-year term.

What's more, Rosales was never reappointed but remained on the tribunal, whose duties include holding disciplinary proceedings, and joined in its decisions until 2015, according to court records. He left the board that year after being appointed by Gov. Bruce Rauner to a four-year term on the Illinois Commerce Commission.

Twitter @SteveSchmadeke

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