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Foxx's office cites conflict, causing delay in chief judge's lawsuit to block Cook County layoffs

Friday, December 01, 2017
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

Update: There’s a delay until at least Tuesday in Cook County Chief Judge Tim Evans’ lawsuit against County Board President Toni Preckwinkle over layoffs in the new budget.

A Lake County judge on Friday agreed to delay arguments in the case until 11 a.m. Tuesday after Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s lawyers said they needed time to hire outside counsel because the office has a conflict of interest.

Attorneys declined to detail the conflict after the hearing at the Richard J. Daley Center, but Foxx spokesman Robert Foley later said the reason was because “the state’s attorney’s office represents the office of the chief judge in multiple cases pending litigation.” Lawyers for Attorney General Lisa Madigan, whose office is representing the chief judge, agreed to the delay.

In allowing the continuance, Lake County Judge Mitchell L. Hoffman urged both sides to engage in negotiations before Tuesday’s hearing, saying the Illinois Supreme Court has made it “very clear” in the past that it prefers not to see such lawsuits filed between separate branches of government – in this case the judiciary and legislative.

“This type of litigation should be a last resort,” said Hoffman, who was brought in from outside Cook County for the hearing.

Original story follows.

Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans on Thursday sued County Board President Toni Preckwinkle to block layoffs approved last week as part of a budget that was slashed in the wake of the pop tax repeal.

Evans contended in the lawsuit that “the county has no authority” to tell him who to lay off, while the courts have the authority to “compel the expenditure of resources necessary to allow the judicial branch to perform its constitutional responsibilities.”

The suit, filed on Evans’ behalf by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office, asks a judge to put in place an order that would block the layoffs and “provide sufficient funds” for the offices of the chief judge, circuit court clerk and sheriff to operate the courts. Evans also asked that a judge from outside Cook County be appointed to hear the case.

Preckwinkle spokesman Frank Shuftan said the board president hasn’t seen the court filing, “but will certainly defend the budget passed by the board.” He noted that any delay in the layoffs “will result in deeper cuts later.”

Evans’ office was hard hit by $200 million in budget cuts the County Board unanimously approved last week based on Preckwinkle’s recommendations. The spending plan called for more than 155 layoffs in the areas Evans controls — the most of any county office, department or agency.

All told, the county expects to lay off more than 320 people as part of a $5.2 billion budget for the financial year that starts Friday. In his suit, Evans noted his office would absorb nearly half the layoffs, even though it accounts for only 5.6 percent of the county operating budget.

Preckwinkle and commissioners said they were working to eliminate middle managers in offices that have too many and avoid harming front-line services. Evans instead proposed different cuts, including 20 unpaid days off for all his employees. Preckwinkle rejected that option, saying Evans had not reached agreement with the affected unions.

Evans, whose twin daughters work in his office, said the layoffs would “cause disruption to the essential functioning of the court” and would force violation of county worker union contracts.

Twitter @ReporterHal

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