Two longtime Illinois political reform advocates have asked a judge to extend federal oversight over the Cook County Clerk’s office, to continue to root out allegedly politically motivated hiring practices under Clerk Karen Yarbrough.
On June 10, Michael Shakman and Paul Lurie, together with political organization, the Independent Voters of Illinois – Independent Precinct Organization, filed a motion in Chicago federal court.
In the motion, the reform advocates argue Yarbrough and her office have resisted the efforts of a court-appointed monitor, known as a “compliance administrator,” to ensure the clerk’s office comes into alignment with court decrees pertaining to so-called political patronage hiring.
Shakman and his co-plaintiffs asked U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang to extend the tenure of the compliance administrator by another 12 months
“… Simply having written policies governing employment actions is not enough to justify vacating the Decrees because ‘the devil is not just in the details, but in the implementation,’” the Shakman co-plaintiffs wrote in their motion.
“The CA’s (Compliance Administrator’s) findings over the last two years … that the Clerk has repeatedly violated its written policies and procedures, demonstrate that the Clerk has not implemented a durable remedy.
“The CA’s findings that the Clerk has not cooperated with the CA and has repeatedly ignored deadlines imposed by the Court also show that absent continued Court oversight, accompanied by an extension of the CA’s appointment, the Clerk will not implement a durable remedy to prevent unlawful political discrimination from returning.”
The filing comes as Shakman and his fellow reform advocates continue their running court battle with Yarbrough over the need for federal oversight of government hiring practices in Chicago and Springfield through longstanding court orders.
Collectively known as the Shakman Decrees, the orders represent the outcome of efforts first launched in 1969 by Shakman and Lurie to use the federal courts to force reforms on the infamous political patronage hiring practices in Illinois, Chicago and Cook County governments, that has stood as one of the leading examples and drivers of political corruption in the state.
The decrees have forbidden governments in Illinois from basing most hiring and promotion decisions on workers’ political allegiances. The decrees also empowered the courts to appoint so-called “special masters” and compliance administrators to ensure compliance.
However, in recent years, prominent Democratic officials in Illinois have launched legal frontal assaults on the decrees.
In 2019, Yarbrough asked courts to remove oversight from her office, saying enough time had elapsed and enough reform had been achieved to compel the courts to lift federal hiring oversight.
That filing came in response to a complaint filed against Yarbrough by Shakman, Lurie and the Independent Voters group, accusing Yarbrough of running “an illegal patronage employment system” and showing “pervasive disregard” for the court decrees.
Yarbrough has also been targeted by other court actions from current and former clerk’s office employees, accusing her of political discrimination in hiring and promotion decisions.
In 2020, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkier largely sided with Shakman, rejecting Yarbrough’s efforts to end oversight.
Yarbrough appealed to the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
In its decision, the appeals court said it agreed the time for the decrees was running short. But it upheld Schenkier’s ruling, requiring the clerk’s office to comply with the decrees – for now.
As Shakman and Yarbrough sparred over oversight to her office, Yarbrough’s fellow Democrats, Gov. JB Pritzker and Attorney General Kwame Raoul, have argued repeatedly in court that oversight is no longer needed. They argued the state has installed a “durable remedy,” as required in the decrees, to fix the state’s historically corrupt hiring and promotion practices.
Shakman has similarly opposed Pritzker’s efforts to end federal oversight of state government employment, saying the governor has not offered any real proof that the problems have been fixed.
Similarly, in the case against Yarbrough, Shakman said the county clerk has also failed to demonstrate that she has fixed neither the problems outlined by Judge Schenkier in 2020, and continues to resist the reforms required by the court decrees.
While Yarbrough’s office has developed a policy manual, as required by the court, the clerk has not yet implemented those policies or trained supervisors and others in the clerk’s office on how to abide by and implement those policies, resulting in “widespread noncompliance” in the clerk’s office.
Further, Shakman noted the court’s appointed compliance administrator has reported Yarbrough and her team have refused to cooperate with the compliance administrator and has failed to enforce the written policies.
“The Amended Manual contains the structure, clarity and accountability that could lead to compliance if the employees responsible for employment actions enforced them,” Shakman wrote in his motion. “Unfortunately, a repeated absence in the CA’s Reports are any findings that anyone has been held to account for violating the Decrees or the Clerk’s written policies and procedures.
“… The Clerk will not achieve compliance or implement a durable remedy unless employees know that the Amended Manual is more than words designed to satisfy a federal judge.”
As in other filings against both Pritzker and Yarbrough, Shakman noted the mere passage of time should not be sufficient reason to lift oversight of allegedly corrupt hiring practices, if the problems themselves are not yet fixed.
“Each defendant in this case has control over its fate,” Shakman wrote. “When a defendant implements a durable remedy, Plaintiffs have readily joined motions to terminate the Decrees as to that defendant.
“If a defendant drags its heels or fails to cooperate, that defendant has no basis to complain about continued judicial oversight. The Clerk unfortunately is in that category.”
According to federal court records, Yarbrough also filed a motion on June 10, which is docketed as a motion to vacate. However, as of Tuesday, June 14, that document was not available for public view, according to the online docket for the Northern District of Illinois court. The docket contains no record of a motion to seal.
Shakman and his co-plaintiffs are represented in the action by attorneys Brian I. Hays and Ernesto R. Palomo, of the firm of Locke Lord LLP, of Chicago, and
Edward W. Feldman and Mary Eileen Wells, of Shakman’s law firm, Miller Shakman Levine & Feldman, also of Chicago.
Yarbrough has been represented by attorneys with the law firm of Hinshaw & Culbertson, of Chicago.
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June 14, 2022 at 09:17PM