Two former state lawmakers won a lawsuit Thursday entitling them to potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in back pay from the state’s budget impasse, furloughs, and previous votes to cut their own salary.
A suit filed in 2017 by former Democratic State Senator Michael Noland and later joined by former Sen. James Clayborne, asked for back pay for when legislators weren’t paid, or when they voted to decrease their own pay, while the two were in the General Assembly. Noland left the legislature to become a Kane County Judge in 2017. Clayborne is now partner at a St. Louis-area law firm.
In the ruling filed late Thursday, Cook County Associate Judge Allen Price Walker said attorneys for Comptroller Susana Mendoza, who is also a Democrat, had not successfully argued the former legislators weren’t entitled to their constitutional pay.
“[The] defendant has not provided this Court with any authority under which to construe its duties to pay legislators’ salaries as being discretionary in nature,” the judge wrote. “Moreover, because the Defendant is responsible for compensating members of the General Assembly, this Court finds that Defendant has a clear, nondiscretionary duty to pay Plaintiffs the portion of their withheld salaries that have been withheld.”
Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie (R-Hawthorne Woods) quickly jumped on the ruling calling on the Attorney General, which represents the state in civil cases, to appeal the ruling.
“Today’s court ruling, which essentially allows legislators to cast politically popular votes refusing pay increases and then, by judicial fiat, receive those pay increases anyway, is yet another vivid example of why Illinois citizens do not trust their state government,” McConchie said in a statement. “The votes of past General Assemblies to refuse pay increases were policy decisions, and not decisions into which the courts should intervene. I call upon the Attorney General and the Comptroller to immediately and vigorously pursue an appeal of this ruling and continue to fight for a reversal until the taxpayers are vindicated.”
The Comptroller’s office has estimated that the cost of reimbursement for Noland and Clayborne would be less than $100,000 each. If the entire General Assembly were due the back pay, the cost could rise as high as $10 million.
A spokesman for Comptroller Susana Mendoza could not be reached Thursday night, but in a statement on the issue in 2019, Mendoza said called the legislators “hypocrites who don’t deserve a penny.”
“I think the arguments have just begun over whether legislators can make big election-year speeches about voting to turn down a raise, issue re-election news releases touting their selflessness in turning down a raise; then years later, shamelessly file a lawsuit to force taxpayers to retroactively pay them $10 million for raises they turned down to get re-elected,” Mendoza said at the time. “How can it be more constitutional to hike salaries mid-term than to keep salaries the same?"
Messages to Noland and Clayborne Monday night were not returned. The Attorney General’s office couldn’t be reached Thursday night on plans to appeal the ruling.
UPDATE (10:51 P.M.):
A spokesperson for Attorney General Kwame Raoul says the AG’s office will review the decision before deciding to appeal.
via The Illinoize
April 9, 2021 at 06:07AM