BELLEVILLE – State employees must receive their usual pay while waiting for a state budget, St. Clair County Circuit Judge Robert LeChien ruled on July 9.
At a hearing, he decided that the absence of a salary appropriation should not keep state comptroller Leslie Munger from paying 43,000 employees.
LeChien said he would adopt findings of fact and conclusions of law that public employee union counsel Stephen Yokich of Chicago proposed.
He said he would sign an order the next day.
He took under advisement a motion from Munger to disqualify Attorney General Lisa Madigan as her lawyer.
Munger did not oppose the unions, but Madigan did.
Madigan had sued Munger in Cook County on July 1, on behalf of the people, for an order to pay all workers the minimum hourly wage of $7.25.
Madigan’s lawyers successfully argued there that without an appropriation, Munger must exercise authority under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.
Hard feelings from that action followed the lawyers from Chicago to Belleville.
At one point Madigan’s lawyers and Munger’s lawyers argued so sharply with each other that LeChien said, “You can talk to yourselves. I’ll just step out.”
Legislators passed a budget this spring but Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed it.
The fiscal year ended June 30, prompting Madigan to act a day later.
Ten unions sued Munger in St. Clair County on July 2, arguing that the comptroller could not issue warrants for payment of employees without a court order.
“Notwithstanding the lack of budgetary appropriations, the state has sufficient funds to continue to pay state employees for their work,” Yokich wrote,
“Many state employees rely on their paychecks for the necessities of life.”
Madigan moved to dismiss the action on July 6.
Deputy solicitor general Brett Legner wrote that the action duplicated the Cook County action.
Legner wrote that the circuit court lacked jurisdiction because the Court of Claims must hear contract claims against the state. He invoked sovereign immunity.
At the hearing LeChien asked Munger’s chief counsel, Alissa Camp, for details about her motion to disqualify Madigan.
Camp said it was operationally impossible to comply with the federal law.
Munger’s deputy counsel, Sean Coombe, told LeChien they brought the motion because they received no notice of Madigan’s filings with his court.
“Until this morning,” Camp said.
Coombe said, “We were not allowed to put issues in. There was no communication with the comptroller.”
Camp said, “The comptroller is in a very precarious position. The pressure on her personally has been large.”
She said that in Cook County, “We aren’t on the same page with respect to what we are doing in that court.”
Coombe said, “We would like to advance theories that were not advanced there.”
LeChien said he would not decide an issue that might not have to be decided.
He then took up the motion to dismiss.
Yokich argued that a recent Illinois Supreme Court decision on pensions showed the importance of a constitutional clause prohibiting impairment of contracts.
He said employees continue working without knowing when they will be paid or how much.
“That’s an impairment if there ever was one,” Yokich said.
Legner said the pension clause is not a pension clause.
Coombe said, “We say a failure to appropriate impairs the contract.”
Legner said, “This is the first our office has heard about this.”
Assistant attorney general Karen McNaught said, “The judiciary should not be telling the General Assembly to appropriate. The judiciary should not be appropriating money.”
McNaught added that plaintiffs didn’t like the Cook County decision, “so they came running down here to you.”
Yokich said, “If anybody is forum shopping it’s the attorney general.”
He told LeChien, “We are not asking you to be the General Assembly. We are asking you to make sure people get paid for working.”
Legner said, “The role of the court is not to hold the power of the purse.”
Coombe said, “You don’t subscribe to that theory. Courts have ordered payments and the comptroller has honored them. We have it set up in our computers for judicial appropriations.”
McNaught said plaintiffs wanted him to change the Cook County decision.
Had they gotten the relief they wanted in Cook County, they wouldn’t be down here,” she said.
LeChien said, “That case didn’t consider the range of issues here today.”
He asked Yokich to propose findings of fact and conclusions of law.
Yokich said he showed a clear right needing protection, likelihood of success on the merits, irreparable harm and the absence of an adequate remedy at law.
LeChien adopted those and ordered Munger to begin and complete the process of paying employees.