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Friday, May 21, 2004

Law - Illinois Supreme Court grants raises to all Illinois judges

From today's Chicago Tribune, in a story headlined "Judges stir up budget brouhaha" :

SPRINGFIELD -- As lawmakers grappled with a crushing budget deficit and Gov. Rod Blagojevich sounded warnings of thousands of potential layoffs, the Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the state to give hefty raises worth up to $10,000 annually to all Illinois judges--including themselves.

The Supreme Court decision bore special political symbolism, coming as the administration was trying to persuade the state's largest employee union to make concessions in a contract up for renewal in a few weeks because of the state's fiscal plight. * * *

The dispute over judges' pay arose last year after a state commission recommended the salary hikes for the state's 911 judges, which Blagojevich later vetoed.

Judges objected to the move and filed suit, complaining that the failure to give them raises recommended by the Compensation Review Board and approved by the General Assembly was unconstitutional. The Illinois Constitution states that judges' salaries can't be diminished during their terms of office.

In its unanimous decision, the high court called Blagojevich's action a fundamental breach of the constitutional principle of separation of powers. Writing for the court, Justice Philip Rarick said the judicial system should be free from retribution for unpopular decisions it might render.

"Today the governor may decide judges are paid too much," Rarick wrote. "Tomorrow he may decide there are too many judges. Eventually he may decide the state would be better off without judges at all."

The increase hikes the seven Supreme Court justices' pay from $158,103 per year to $168,706. The state's 54 appellate justices will go from making $148,803 to $158,783. Circuit judges get a raise from $136,546 to $145,704, while associate circuit judges go from salaries of $127,247 to $135,780.

In his opinion, Rarick noted that the budget for the judicial branch accounts for a fraction of 1 percent of the entire state budget. He acknowledged the "substantial budgetary challenges" facing the governor, but wrote that, while court administrators try to cut costs, they cannot "ignore the Constitution of Illinois."

The NY Times story is here. The Munster Times has the AP story here.

The case is ANN B. JORGENSEN et al., Appellees, v. ROD R. BLAGOJEVICH, Governor, et al., Appellants. The opinion is here.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 21, 2004 09:39 AM
Posted to General Law Related