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Preckwinkle can't make chief judge lay off 155 for now, judge rules

Tuesday, December 05, 2017
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

A judge ruled Tuesday that the Cook County Board can’t make Chief Circuit Judge Timothy Evans lay off employees, averting for now more than 155 job cuts that were supposed to begin Friday.

Lake County Circuit Judge Mitchell L. Hoffman issued a temporary restraining order after a two-hour break in the case that gave negotiators for Evans and County Board President Toni Preckwinkle a chance to hammer out a last-minute budget compromise. They didn’t come to an agreement.

Evans sued Preckwinkle last week, contending the county doesn’t have the authority to tell him who to lay off. Hoffman agreed on Tuesday, telling lawyers in court that the county decides how much money is provided to the courts, “and the chief judge decides what to do with those funds.”

The county’s $5.2 billion budget included about $200 million in last-minute cuts that hit Evans’ office hard. Although the office accounts for 5.6 percent of the county’s 2018 operating budget, it was hit with nearly half the overall layoffs approved by the County Board, Evans stated in his lawsuit.

Evans said layoffs of probation, social service and Juvenile Temporary Detention Center employees would harm his ability to ensure public safety. He also said the budget called for eliminating positions the chief judge doesn’t have the authority to cut under union employee contracts.

“It is critical that the public safety operations of the court system receive adequate funding,” said a spokeswoman for Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who filed the case on behalf of Evans. “This order will accomplish that.”

Preckwinkle, however, had contended she was trying to create a better balance of supervisors to employees.

Evans also wants the judge to order the county to spend tens of millions of dollars more on his office during the current fiscal year that began Friday. Hoffman, though, said he wasn’t prepared to rule on that aspect of the case yet. He set a Wednesday date to determine the next steps in the case.

Assistant Attorney General Sunil Bhave said that the County Board has the obligation to provide an amount of money that’s “reasonable and necessary” for court operations.

“The county approved an appropriation that it determined adequately supported the Office of the Chief Judge, and the county does not have the resources to appropriate additional funds,” Preckwinkle spokesman Frank Shuftan said.

Shuftan also said the chief judge has the right to come before the County Board to ask for changes to his budget during the year, provided he does not spend more money than the board gave him.

Before county commissioners approved the budget last month, Evans proposed having workers take weeks of unpaid furlough days off work instead of layoffs. Preckwinkle rejected that, saying it was unworkable because unions had not signed off.

Hoffman, however, blocked Preckwinkle from “interfering with the authority” of Evans to achieve cost reductions through “furlough days ... and other payroll cost reductions.”

hdardick@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @ReporterHal

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