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Cook County freed from federal oversight

Thursday, November 01, 2018
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
by Patricia Manson

Cook County freed from federal oversight

By Patricia Manson Law Bulletin staff writer
Anti-patronage attorney Michael L. Shakman poses in his office in 2009. On Wednesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sidney I. Schenkier granted a motion to end federal oversight for some branches of Cook County government. Shakman, who was present in Schenkier’s courtroom, said patronage-free government is not “an impossible dream.” — AP Photo/M. Spencer Green
Posted November 1, 2018 11:03 AM

Praising the battle Michael L. Shakman has waged against political patronage in government hiring, a federal judge on Wednesday dismissed Cook County as a defendant in the lawsuit the Chicago lawyer filed 49 years ago.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Sidney I. Schenkier granted a motion to end federal oversight of the county’s hiring and promotion practices.

Schenkier granted the motion after finding the county is in substantial compliance with a settlement agreement — termed an agreed supplemental relief order — it reached in November 2006 with Shakman and his fellow plaintiffs.

“This is a big day,” Schenkier said during a hearing in the Dirksen Federal Courthouse. “This is a day where we see we don’t have to be trapped by the past, we don’t have to be trapped by the history of things.”

He said the settlement agreement shows what can be accomplished when people cooperate with one another.

And he said the agreement sends a message to other government entities still involved in the litigation.

“Substantial compliance is not an impossible dream,” Schenkier said. “It is an achievable goal.”

Shakman, of Miller Shakman & Beem LLP, was among the parties and attorneys in the case who spoke during the hearing.

Shakman described the hearing as an “historic moment” in the litigation he began in 1969.

“Patronage practices hurt a lot of interests which are important in our country,” he said.

He said basing employment decisions on a worker’s political loyalties and activities deprives individuals of their First Amendment rights.

Patronage practices deprive the public of government workers who are chosen for their qualifications, Shakman said.

He said patronage practices also hurt democracy by “hijacking public resources” to help incumbents.

And he said a patronage system encourages elected officials to hire too many workers.

Shakman said former federal judge Wayne R. Andersen and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle are among the people responsible for bringing the county into compliance.

Andersen presided over the Shakman litigation for about 10 years before retiring from the bench in July 2010. He was among the spectators at the hearing.

Andersen encouraged the parties to work together and took such concrete steps as appointing a monitor to oversee the county’s compliance with the law, Shakman said.

He said Preckwinkle — unlike other officials who exhibited “varying degrees of enthusiasm” for reform — worked hard to bring the county into substantial compliance.

Preckwinkle said the hearing “marks an important milestone” in the county’s history.

“Unlawful political discrimination will not be tolerated in the county,” she said.

Schenkier’s finding of substantial compliance applies to the county and to three units independent of the president — the Cook County Public Defender’s Office, the Cook County Health and Hospitals System and the Office of the Independent Inspector General.

Speakers at the hearing included Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Daniel H. Brennan Jr. and Dr. John Jay Shannon, CEO of the Health and Hospitals System.

Amy P. Campanelli heads the public defender’s office and Patrick M. Blanchard oversees the inspector general’s office.

In addition to the county, government entities that have been dismissed from the litigation are the city of Chicago, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office and the Cook County Forest Preserve District.

Defendants still involved in the litigation are the Illinois governor’s office, the Cook County Court Clerk’s Office and the Cook County Recorder of Deeds’ Office and Assessor’s Office.

In the litigation involving Cook County, Andersen appointed Julia M. Nowicki in late 2006 as the compliance administrator.

Mary T. Robinson was selected to take the post in March 2009 after Nowicki resigned because of demands on her time as a neutral and consultant for a law firm.

Complying with the settlement agreement has cost the county about $8 million since 2006.

That amount includes about $3 million paid to resolve 108 claims filed by individuals who maintained their careers were affected by patronage demands.

After Wednesday’s hearing, Robinson said the money was well spent.

The county could have paid a consultant $8 million and not achieved the results seen under the settlement agreement, she said.

At the hearing, Robinson said there has been “a dramatic shift in attitude” among both managers and rank-and-file members of the county’s workforce.

The policies and principles in the settlement agreement are embedded in the county’s practices, Robinson said.

And she said employees who had been demoralized came to believe they would be treated fairly and their work would be judged on its merits.

Shakman’s attorney, Brian I. Hays of Locke Lord LLP, noted no objections were raised to the request that the county be found in substantial compliance.

“This is not an ending, but a new beginning to county employment practices,” Hays said.

The case is Michael L. Shakman, et al. v. County of Cook, et al., No. 69 C 2145.

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