Cook County’s chief judge sued the county board president and treasurer in an effort to block budget cuts and layoffs for the next fiscal year.
The $5.2 billion budget, unanimously approved by the Cook County Board of Commissioners late last month, is expected to cut 161 circuit court employees in fiscal year 2018.
In a lawsuit filed in Cook County Circuit Court Thursday, Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans petitioned for the court to enforce an administrative order Evans put in place that would stop the layoffs and “provide sufficient funds” for the offices of the chief judge, circuit clerk and sheriff.
Evans is represented in the suit by Illinois Attorney General Lisa M. Madigan’s office.
Lake County Circuit Judge Mitchell L. Hoffman presided over the first hearing in the case today at the Daley Center. Evans, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and County Treasurer Maria Pappas were not present.
Cook County Assistant State’s Attorneys Kent S. Ray and Paul Castiglione said they needed time to hire outside counsel for the county board.
Before adjourning for the day Hoffman offered a “strong suggestion” for both parties to continue their negotiations, adding that “this type of litigation should be a last resort.”
The case was continued by agreement to Tuesday.
Preckwinkle’s chief spokesman Frank Shuftan said the board is willing to do as Hoffman suggests.
“Recognizing [Hoffman’s] encouragement to engage in additional communication with the Office of the Chief Judge, we will continue to make ourselves available to the Chief Judge as we have throughout the budget process,” Shuftan said in a written statement.
Evans’ complaint asks for a judge to “take whatever action is necessary” to implement the administrative order and stop any layoffs without approval from the chief judge.
“A county has no authority to unilaterally select specific nonjudicial employees of a court for termination of employment or reduction in force,” Evans argued in the complaint.
Under Supreme Court Rule 21(d), a proceeding to enforce a chief circuit judge’s orders must begin with a complaint and summons, then the case will proceed to a bench trial before a judge from a different judicial circuit.
Evans said in a statement last week that he would “consider his legal options” following his concerns of the cuts made in the budget.
Of the 321 county employees targeted for layoffs, nearly 50 percent of them work in the circuit court — but the court accounts for only 5.6 percent of the county’s overall budget, according to the suit.
Evans contends the county board chose employees with higher salaries and more seniority.
Doing so not only causes “disruption to the essential functioning of the court,” it also violates those employees’ collective bargaining agreements, Evans argued.
More than 400 county employees were proposed to be laid off, but the commissioners amended the budget bill at last minute to save a number of positions, including 22 employees in the Office of the Public Guardian, which represents abused and neglected children and adults with a disability in court.
The case is Timothy C. Evans v. County of Cook, et al., 17 CH 15851.