CHICAGO – A Cook County, Illinois, judge sued county leaders Thursday in an effort to prevent a recently passed budget from being enforced.
Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans says the county’s budget cut of 10 percent will eliminate more than 160 essential jobs at the county’s court, adversely affecting its ability to function. Evans seeks an injunction to prevent the county from handing out pink slips and an order for county commissioners to submit a new 2018 budget.
According to the lawsuit, the county’s new budget eliminates over 320 employees countywide. The court will absorb almost 50 percent of the layoffs, even though court operations account for only 5.6 percent of the county’s operating budget.
The lawsuit names county board of commissioners president Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County treasurer Maria Pappas, and the county as defendants.
In addition to operational concerns, the lawsuit cites possible conflicts stemming from bargaining agreements with unionized judicial employees. Those agreements contain a clause requiring the county to fire employees with less seniority when workforce reduction must occur.
Evans says the county budget targets some of the more senior and highly paid employees for termination. If forced to comply with the budget, it would require the judge to violate the collective bargaining agreements and open the county up to more lawsuits. The judge says the county has no authority to force him to comply.
He also points out the county will not be able to offer home confinement as a condition of bail since the budget calls for the elimination of probation department employees.
“Laying off these pretrial supervisors will adversely impact pretrial reform efforts underway in Cook County and effectively eliminate home confinement as a condition of release on bail,” Evans says in the lawsuit.
The budget also forces a shortfall of the county’s juvenile temporary detention center budget, which Evans says will negatively impact its safety due to reduced staffing.
“The JTDC operates with an integrated system structured to ensure the constitutional rights of all children housed in detention there,” the lawsuit states. “The county’s inadequate funding of the JTDC damages if not destroys this structure by significantly undermining detention oversight and implementation of legal standards.”
Evans says he submitted an alternative plan to county commissioners that included closure of two branch courts, furlough days for all staff and suspension of low-priority programs. The commissioners, however, refused to consider his proposal.
Calls for comment made to Evans and Preckwinkle after business hours were not immediately returned.