Sheriffs win round in court tiff over salaries

2013-11-12T18:30:00Z 2013-11-12T22:05:45Z Sheriffs win round in court tiff over salariesKurt Erickson Lee Springfield Bureau nwitimes.com
November 12, 2013 6:30 pm  • 

SPRINGFIELD | A state appeals court has ruled in favor of county sheriffs who are seeking to restore part of their salaries cut by Gov. Pat Quinn and state lawmakers.

In a recently released ruling, the Fifth District Appellate Court overturned a Franklin County judge’s dismissal of a complaint by county law enforcement officials that the governor and General Assembly had failed to budget the full amount of a stipend they receive from the state.

Under state statute at the time, sheriffs in every county of Illinois — except Cook — were scheduled to receive a $6,500 yearly stipend from state coffers in addition to their county salaries. The Legislature and Quinn, however, allocated only $4,196 for each sheriff in 2010 and 2011.

Former Rock Island County Sheriff Michael Huff and the late Franklin County Sheriff George “Bill” Wilson filed suit seeking the missing $2,304 for each year, arguing the state cannot change the salary of an elected official while they are in office.

It’s an argument similar to one used by lawmakers who successfully fought Quinn’s recent attempt to withhold their salaries in order to pressure them into resolving the state’s pension problems.

The appeals court agreed with the sheriffs and returned the case to Franklin County.

In addition to continuing to argue on behalf of the two sheriffs, attorney Jolanta Zinevich, of Long Grove, said attorneys intend to ask the court to designate the case a class action, meaning each of the 101 sheriffs during 2010 and 2011 could qualify for compensation if the lawsuit is successful.

“When we go back to court, we plan on renewing that motion,” Zinevich said Monday.

The state could be on the hook for about $465,400 in back pay if the sheriffs win.

Since reducing the stipend in 2010 and 2011, the law governing the stipend has been amended to allow the legislature and governor to pay out less than is required.

It was not clear Monday when the Franklin County case would resume.

“We do intend to move forward vigorously,” Zinevich said.

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