E.C. City Court judge threatens suit over budget cut

2012-11-06T18:00:00Z 2012-11-06T20:50:28Z E.C. City Court judge threatens suit over budget cutSteve Zabroski Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
November 06, 2012 6:00 pm  • 

EAST CHICAGO | A decision to cut the City Court's budget for next year could land the City Council in Lake Superior Court.

City Judge Sonya Morris filed notice with the council late last week that her office was seeking a hearing date in Crown Point regarding the city budget, which reduced her court's 2013 funding by 10 percent. The budget was adopted Oct. 25.

Council members met Monday with their attorney in a closed session to discuss possible responses to the notification of the proposed lawsuit.

Morris had asked for a 2013 appropriation of $833,691, $553,983 of which would pay salaries of the court's 15 full-time and three part-time employees.

A council majority cut that request to $750,322 over opposition votes from Myrna Maldonado, D-at large, and Benita White Arnold, D-at large.

Neither side would talk about the issue Monday. However, during a series of budget workshops in September, Morris' adviser, Merrillville attorney Jon Schmoll, told council members that the requested budget was only an $891 increase over that approved for 2012.

The proposed 2013 budget included a 5 percent salary cut for all court employees except for the judge, Schmoll said, and the only increase was in longevity pay for older employees.

"In March, the judge's opinion was that she was running a bare-bones operation," Schmoll said, "and that's still her opinion."

Council President Gilda Orange, D-6th, called for a reduction in the court's appropriation last month, noting that the city's 2013 budget is $4.8 million less than was budgeted for this year.

"It's a matter of shared sacrifice," Orange said. "Every (city) department ... has taken a cut; it has to be done across the board."

State law permits a Superior Court judge to order that the local court's budget be increased, if it can be demonstrated that the additional funds are necessary to run the court.

The council has until Nov. 21 to respond to the notice.

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