Lawsuits over state's new retiree health insurance law consolidated in Sangamon County

Maag

Quinn

Four lawsuits over a new law that requires state retirees to pay premiums for their health insurance will be handled in Sangamon County. The Illinois Supreme Court last week approved a request from Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office to transfer and consolidate complaints from Madison and Randolph counties with a pair of suits in the Sangamon County Circuit Court. Court records show that Sangamon County Circuit Judge Steven Nardulli currently presides over the two suits filed there. Records also show that Nardulli last week told the attorneys in those two cases that he is a potential class member to the lawsuit brought by Gordon Maag, a former Fifth District Appellate Court justice. Like all of the state's judges, Nardulli will be affected by Public Act 97-659, which took effect in July. The new law requires retired state employees, judges, lawmakers and university workers to pay premiums for their state health insurance, something they previously didn't have to do after serving the state for a certain number of years. Filed in June in Sangamon County, Maag's suit claims that the new law violates the Illinois Constitution because it changes benefits for members of the state's pension and retirement systems. A provision of the state Constitution dubs membership in these systems as an "enforceable, contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired." Maag's suit also seeks class action status on behalf of all state retirees affected by the law. If approved, his suit estimates that the class would include at least 80,000 members. In July, five retired state employees filed a similar suit in Sangamon County and 48 retirees brought a separate complaint in Madison County. The following month, a group of nearly a dozen state employees filed a fourth suit over the new law in Randolph County. All four lawsuits challenge the constitutionality of the new law, seek class action status and name state officials as the defendants, including Gov. Patrick Quinn, Treasurer Dan Rutherford and Malcolm Weems, director of Central Management Services of Illinois. Because the lawsuits involve common parties and legal issues, Madigan's office, which represents the defendants, filed a motion in July to transfer and consolidate three of the suits under Supreme Court 384. The attorney general's office in August filed paperwork that added the Randolph County suit to its motion. Although the Randolph County suit contains an additional breach of contract claim based on those plaintiffs' collective bargaining agreements, Madigan's office wrote in its motion that it should be consolidated with the three other suits because it challenges the new law on similar legal grounds and on behalf of overlapping plaintiff classes. Springfield attorney John Myers represents the five retirees who filed suit in Sangamon County along with attorney Donald Craven. Myers said they supported the attorney general's request for consolidation. Not only does consolidation mean they won't have to drive out of town to attend court hearings, but Myers said it will allow the matter to proceed efficiently and let the large number of state retirees who live in Springfield stay up-to-date on the proceedings. Myers said now that the Supreme Court has approved consolidation, the attorney general's office has until Oct. 19 to file its answer to at least the two complaints filed in Sangamon County. Because the case management conference in those cases took place shortly before the Supreme Court's consolidation order, it was not immediately clear when the defendants have to answer the complaints filed in Madison and Randolph counties. When it comes to Nardulli's disclosure at last week's case management conference in Springfield, Myers said he wasn't that surprised. "Normally, if a judge is a potential class member, he or she would recuse themselves," Myers said. "The problem here is that every judge in the state of Illinois is a potential class member." Under the doctrine of necessity, Myers said, "someone has to hear the case and that somebody has to be an Illinois judge." Myers said he doesn't have a problem with a potential class member presiding over the case, saying "we all presume judges fairly evaluate the law and that's what I expect will happen here."

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