Judge blocks layoffs of 155 county employees

Issues restraining order saying Preckwinkle cannot tell Chief Circuit Judge Timothy Evans who to lay off

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Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans

A Lake County Circuit Judge on Tuesday, Dec. 5, issued a temporary restraining order to block the layoffs of 155 Cook County employees whose last day on the job was scheduled for Friday, Dec. 8, 2017.

The decision pleased Chief Judge of the Cook County Circuit Court, Timothy Evans, who filed a lawsuit against Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, arguing that she did not have the authority to tell him who to lay off in his department. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed the lawsuit on Evans’ behalf. Her spokesperson in a news report said, “it’s critical that the public safety operations of the court system receive adequate funding.”

In his decision Lake County Circuit Court Judge Mitchell L. Hoffman said the county decides how much money is provided to the courts “and the chief judge decides what to do with those funds.”

The decision was another blow to Preckwinkle, who ordered the layoffs of 321 employees to fill a $200 million deficit in Cook County’s $5.2 billion budget. The deficit emerged after Cook County Commissioners repealed a controversial soda tax after protests from retailers and residents, who argued the tax was unconstitutional and hurtful to businesses and consumers. Instead of layoffs, Evans proposed having workers take weeks of unpaid furlough days off work.  Preckwinkle rejected the proposal, saying it was unworkable because unions had not signed off.

In addition to the restraining order, 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, Dec. 1, 2017. A hearing for that request was scheduled for Wednesday, December 6, but no decision had been made as of Crusader press time.

Preckwinkle’s chief spokesperson, Frank Shuftan, released the following statement.

“From the outset of this process, Judge Hoffman has encouraged us to engage in communications with the Office of the Chief Judge to resolve this situation. We have done so. Unfortunately, the Chief Judge continues to insist that his office is provided with at least $290 million for FY18 instead of the $255 million contained in the Board-approved budget — which is approximately the same amount his office spent in FY17. 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.

Nonetheless, the Chief Judge, as do all offices, has the ability to seek fund transfers from the Board during the year to address any operational priorities as long as the office stays within its overall allocated amounts.”

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