Pending budget causes uncertainty amongst Cook County’s employees

By Giulia Petroni
Medill Reports

Three weeks into the new year, Cook County’s budget for 2018 remains stalled by an ongoing lawsuit contesting major cuts, leaving the county’s justice system in an atmosphere of uncertainty.

After the county’s board of commissioners approved 320 layoffs and cuts of over $200 million in order to fill the budget hole caused by the sweetened beverage tax’s repeal, employees under the authority of Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans feared their jobs could be in jeopardy.

“Right now everything is up in the air; we still don’t know,” said Cassandra Bell, assistant team leader at the Justice Temporary Detention Center, in regard to possible layoffs. “The biggest cut would be management, which would be people like myself.”

Evans claimed in his lawsuit that, by reducing funding for the Circuit Court’s operations by 8.5 percent from the amount approved for fiscal year 2017, the board is not guaranteeing sufficient financial support to ensure the proper operation of the court system. The Cook County’s board mandated the termination of 161 Circuit Court non-judicial employees, forcing the court to absorb nearly 50 percent of all the layoffs, according to the lawsuit.

“The Circuit Court of Cook County accounts for 7.6 percent of the overall county budget, but we are unfairly and disproportionately bearing 48 percent of the layoff total,” Evans said in a statement. “We are well aware of the impact that these layoffs will have on the judiciary, its employees and the public. As a result, we are considering our legal options.”

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office filed a motion for preliminary injunction on behalf of Evans against the county, President of Board Commissioners Toni Preckwinkle, and the Treasurer of Cook County Maria Pappas.

The Circuit Court granted a temporary restraining order until the conclusion of the hearing, restraining defendants from implementing or processing the termination, separation or layoff of any employee of the judiciary without prior approval from the chief judge.

At this point, neither the Circuit Court of Cook County’s Director of Communication Pat Milhizer nor representatives of the JTDC’s legal department are allowed to release further information or speak about the pending lawsuit.

In the event that the circuit judge on the case, Hon. Mitchell L. Hoffman, rules against Evans’ motion, “the court will suffer losses in several areas, including the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center and probation services that monitor both adults and juveniles in the community – during and after the time the cases are pending,” Evans said in the suit.

Photo at top: Lawsuit filed by Chief Judge Evans in November 2017. (Giulia Petroni/MEDILL)