State budget mess prompts trial delays, layoffs at suburban courthouses

  • Lake County Chief Judge John T. Phillips said he's had to put some court reporters on unpaid furlough because of a state budget problem.

      Lake County Chief Judge John T. Phillips said he's had to put some court reporters on unpaid furlough because of a state budget problem. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 3/23/2015 8:44 PM

Trials are being delayed at suburban courthouses and court reporters are being laid off or furloughed as the state runs out of money to pay them.

Local chief judges have started to make those moves as Illinois is set to run out of money to pay court reporters' salaries at the end of the month. Gov. Bruce Rauner and lawmakers haven't yet approved a solution to fund court reporters through the end of the fiscal year June 30.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

House Speaker Michael Madigan late Monday introduced a proposal late Monday that would give Rauner $1.3 billion to spend via cuts in programs throughout state government.

It still needs to win approval from lawmakers, though, and couldn't get to Rauner until Thursday at the earliest as written.

Meanwhile, in Lake County, Chief Judge John Phillips has started furloughing court reporters, scheduling them to take an unpaid day off for every day worked. DuPage County Chief Judge Kathryn Creswell said the court will lay off 16 of 24 court reporters as of April 1. Cook County hasn't made a plan public.

Kane County Chief Judge Judith Brawka said 16 court reporters were put on furlough last week, basically cutting their staffing in half.

Brawka said some judges also are being encouraged to take vacations now instead of later to ease the burden, but she said there's no way they can make it to June 30.

"I'm upset for the court reporters who are generally very dedicated, neutral and hard-working employees for the state," she said.

Court reporters take down what's said in court. Law requires having a verbatim transcript of certain proceedings, and in most counties, that means having a court reporter on hand.

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Judges have already been forced to delay cases because of a lack of court reporters, Phillips said. Rather than getting a May trial date, cases will be pushed back to June or July, he said.

"It's a set of dominoes to delay justice," he said. "When one falls, they all fall."

Creswell said the uncertainty around the state's finances means it's unclear if she'd be able to rehire all the court reporters facing layoffs even if there is a budget fix.

Rauner has asked lawmakers for the power to make cuts in other state spending to fill the gap for court reporters. The state also has run out of money to pay for a program that helps low-income families pay for day care, and an Aurora facility has shut down as a result.

Soon, the state could miss payroll for guards at some state prisons.

This week is critical because lawmakers are set to take a two-week spring break starting this weekend, and Rauner needs them to approve any budget fix.

• Staff writer Harry Hitzeman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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