CHICAGO (CN) – The 7th Circuit dismissed charges that former Gov. Rod Blagojevich unlawfully conspired to fire prison captains.
The suit, filed in 2005, alleged that Blagojevich had fired captains of the Illinois Department of Corrections and deprived them of seniority within the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees when they attempted to switch their allegiance to ISEA, an Iowa-based rival union.
When AFSCME contributed $375,000 to Blagojevich’s campaign, the governor had an incentive to prevent the captains from joining ISEA, according to the complaint.
Blagojevich explained cuts in the Department of Corrections as part of his plan to reduce the state’s $5 billion budget deficit when he entered office in 2002. Eliminating the captain position – one of 12 ranks within the department – saved Illinois an estimated $17 million per year.
Blagojevich’s 2003 budget proposal did not include funding for the position, but the Illinois Legislature ultimately passed a budget that included $17.3 million to pay captains’ salaries.
Blagojevich utilized a line-item veto to remove the money, saying in a press release that he could not ask the public “to cover the cost of middle management we just don’t need.”
Most former captains were demoted within the department to ranks represented by AFSCME. The union opposed giving seniority credit to the former captains, acknowledging only “continuous service” in a union-represented rank.
The former captains filed suit and attempted to depose Blagojevich to testify about his motives for eliminating the position. After years of litigation, an Illinois federal judge ruled that legislative immunity protected the then-governor from liability and granted a protective order against his deposition. With Blagojevich now out of office and in the midst of a second criminal trial for corruption charges, the 7th Circuit affirmed.
“Without a doubt, the act of vetoing a line item in a bill constitutes an ‘integral’ step in Illinois’s ‘legislative process,'” Judge John Tinder wrote for a three-judge panel.
Because the cuts targeted a position, rather than particular employees, the court ruled they were legitimate.
“Governor Blagojevich’s elimination of the captain’s position through his budget proposal and his line-item veto substantially attempted to reduce management positions in order to save money,” the May 2 ruling states. “Perhaps the Governor harbored secret motives, but motives do not matter in determining whether the action is legislative.”
The ruling comes almost a year and a half after Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office.