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updated: 10/15/2010 5:18 PM

Circuit clerk wins, loses in first stage of legal battle

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  • Deborah Seyller

      Deborah Seyller

 
 

Kane County Circuit Court Clerk Deb Seyller found herself both winner and loser after the first major decision in her lawsuit against the county board Friday. But the biggest questions for taxpayers are still unanswered.

By the end of Monday, Seyller will have an additional $520,000 to apply to her current year's budget. The cash infusion will keep Seyller's office open after her entire payroll for the budget year was exhausted with about six weeks remaining. That's Seyller's first win.

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Her big loss came in Judge Stephen Sullivan's ruling that the $520,000 will come from money Seyller already controls. Those funds sit in special fund accounts that generate income from fees Seyller collects, such as the administrative fee charged whenever someone files a lawsuit.

Those feels currently fund 32 percent of Seyller's personnel budget. She has testified her staff, as a whole, spends 32 percent of their collective time doing duties eligible to be paid out of the special funds. The funds are also used for capital costs, such as copier leasing fees.

Seyller has maintained for more than a year that such money was not available to help fund her payroll more than it already does. The funds do have certain legal restrictions, but Sullivan ruled the $520,000 is a just expense for the special funds to cover. Seyller had hoped to get the $520,000 from the county's general fund.

That loss also generated, at least in Seyller's view, a second win.

"I now have a mechanism of safety in using those funds, she said.

Seyller had believed further use of the special funds would make her legally liable for improper use of restricted funds. Indeed, testimony revealed Friday that Kane County State's Attorney John Barsanti opened an investigation into Seyller's office within the last year. Barsanti sought evidence of official misconduct for illegal fund use when Seyller expressed her liability fears a year ago. The investigation found Seyller had appropriately used the funds to that point by closely monitoring job activities of employees eligible to have salaries paid through the fund. On Friday, Seyller said Sullivan's ruling will act as a bulletproof vest against future liability.

"I have a judge's signature, and I believe in that, Seyller said.

There are two possible glitches in the ruling. For one, Chief Judge F. Keith Brown must also sign off on the increased use of the special funds. If he doesn't, Sullivan would be faced with essentially ordering his boss to change his mind.

Second, Seyller's own legal team expressed fears that an appellate court could overrule Sullivan, leaving Seyller liable for illegal use of the funds even after Sullivan ordered her to do so.

The big questions for taxpayers in the main part of the lawsuit are yet to be answered. That includes whether or not they'll be stuck with the price tag for the two legal teams hired to represent Seyller and the county board to fight each other. The county board is trying to make Seyller personally liable for the costs. That will force another taxpayer-funded legal team, from the Illinois Attorney General's office, to get involved in the main case.

As that case moves forward, Sullivan made it clear it will be with some personal disdain.

"It is certainly not within the provenance of any court to be telling any public official how to spend its money, Sullivan said in his decision Friday. "It's not something the public expects and not something the public wants. This matter should have been resolved outside of these court proceedings.

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