Cook County Litigants Take on Child Care Fees

     CHICAGO (CN) – The Circuit Court of Cook County, Ill., is making money off of child care fees that most people don’t use, a class alleges.
     Lead plaintiff Randall Gatz says the $10 fee charged to all civil litigants “crosses the line into improper taxation.”
     While children’s waiting rooms “serve the laudable goal of having a place for unattended children who find themselves in contact with the court system,” Gatz says, he suspects that the money the county collects supports other services.
     In 2012 Cook County collected an estimated $3.13 million in room fees, but only served about 14,750 children, the May 4 complaint alleges.
     Gatz says “the separate nature of the fund is really illusory, and is in reality part of the general courthouse operating budget.”
     The 2013 budget for the fund allegedly included the salaries of 11 stenographers, four clerks and four court coordinators who clearly aren’t taking care of children.
     Gatz says the fee also violates the Illinois Constitution because it “imposes the burden of funding a childcare program that goes beyond the functions of the judicial system on all civil litigants.”
     Indeed the Rolling Meadows courthouse where Gatz filed his circuit court complaint does not even have a children’s waiting room, and he was charged the fee even though he has no children of the age to use it, according to the complaint.
     Of Cook County’s six courthouses and 10 other facilities, only eight have childcare services, Gatz says.
     In the majority of cases filed “no one associated with the … case uses the children’s waiting room,” Gatz says, adding and the $10 fee amounts to an illegal litigation tax since the rooms are “not funded by those who use the service.”
     Gatz’s complaint names as defendants circuit court clerk Dorothy Brown and Cook County treasurer Maria Pappas.
     The class wants the court to hold the fee as invalid, block its future application and return all fees paid by civil litigants in the last five years.
     It is represented by Joseph Siprut.

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