Attorney general says ex-lawmakers waited too long to seek back pay
SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois attorney general says two former lawmakers should not receive back pay for frozen cost-of-living increases and forced furlough days because they previously voted to approve the two measures and waited "for so long" to file a lawsuit challenging their constitutionality.
Those laws, a Cook County judge ruled last month, violated an article of the state's governing document that dictates legislators' wages cannot be changed during the terms for which they were elected.
Judge Franklin Valderrama's ruling was a partial win for Democrats Michael Noland, from Elgin, and James Clayborne Jr., from Belleville, who sued for lost wages. Noland is now a judge in Kane County; Clayborne is an attorney.
Through a statement issued in July by their attorney, Michael Scotti III, of the Chicago firm Roetzell & Andress, the former lawmakers said the lawsuit was filed "to protect and vindicate the independence of each legislator."
The lawsuit is applicable only to Noland and Clayborne, but its outcome could create an avenue for other lawmakers to seek the same financial reimbursement.
Potentially, those lost wages could be sought by and paid out to all members of the General Assembly who were affected by the statutes the judge deemed unconstitutional -- the cost-of-living freeze, effective from July 2009 through June 2018, and the furlough days, effective from 2009 through 2013.
But the Illinois attorney general's office argued in a court document filed Aug. 5 that Noland and Clayborne's voting history -- each "voted repeatedly in support" of the pay freezes and furloughs -- and lack of previous legal action negates their claim.
The two voted "fourteen separate times over the course of nine years" in support of the statutes that their lawsuit claims are unconstitutional, the document states. It adds that Noland filed the case six months after he left office, and Clayborne joined the suit seven months after he announced his retirement from the General Assembly.
The former lawmakers' lawyer responded in a court filing Wednesday that it was the state that waited too long to challenge the suit, filed in June 2017.
In a July interview with WGN Radio, Comptroller Susana Mendoza called the lawsuit "disgusting on so many levels."
"It's nothing more than a nasty money grab by these politicians that frankly don't deserve to have ever served, as far as I'm concerned," she said. The next hearing in the case is set for Sept. 9.