Judge rules term limits law unconstitutional in Elk Grove case

A Cook County judge Wednesday ruled a new state law barring retroactive municipal term limits unconstitutional, giving hope to supporters of an Elk Grove Village proposal that seeks to oust longtime Mayor Craig Johnson and other board members.

Judge Maureen Hannon sided with attorneys for Elk Grove term limits referendum organizer Tim Burns, who sought judicial review of the term limits law signed July 19, 2019, by Gov. J.B. Pritzker. The law requires local term limits approved anytime after Nov. 8, 2016, to be prospective, not retroactive.

Though agreeing that state lawmakers could impose term limits, the judge took issue with the retroactivity clause, leading her to throw out the entire law.

Pericles Abbasi, attorney for referendum objector Benjamin Lee, said he'd talk to his client to see if he wants to appeal.

But what's more likely is that a separate objection to the referendum, brought by the Johnson-backed Committee To Oppose The Retroactive Term Limits Referendum, will now work its way through the courts.

"From our perspective, we still have the right to argue this question, and we have another argument we intend to present to the judge," said John Fogarty, attorney for committee Treasurer Gil Schumm.

Abbasi added that since the judge ruled on the constitutionality of a law, the state's top lawyer, Attorney General Kwame Raoul, also could get involved.

After the judge's ruling, Ross Secler, Burns' attorney, said an order would be issued that directs the village clerk to certify the question to the ballot.

The binding question would ask voters whether the mayor and village trustees should be able to serve no more than two consecutive 4-year terms. If approved, it would prevent four longtime incumbents - including Johnson - from running again in April 2021.

As the remaining objection goes through the legal process, Cook County clerk's office spokesman James Scalzitti said there's still time before ballots are printed ahead of early voting that begins March 2.

"We can always work around what's needed for the Elk Grove Village ballots," Scalzitti said. "Even so, as these type of cases move through the electoral board and in some cases appeals process, we don't expect any of the pending cases to present an undue burden with respect to ballot printing."

The legal wrangling comes as rhetoric has ramped up in Elk Grove Village two months before voters go to the polls.

Speaking from the village board dais Tuesday night, Johnson took aim at those behind the term limits effort, echoing previous statements that their actions are "sad" and "sick."

On Wednesday morning, Secler responded in a lengthy written statement, labeling the mayor's comments as "electioneering" meant to suppress and intimidate voters.

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Tim Burns
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