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Staff reporter A budget cut that erased a 2.8% pay increase for Illinois judges has embroiled them in a legal battle with the executive branch. Hopes of quickly ending the dispute over the pay raise, vetoed by the governor, were dashed. The Illinois Supreme Court decided to let the lower courts handle the matter. The state high court dismissed an order by Cook County Circuit Court Judge Benjamin E. Novoselsky directing Illinois Comptroller Daniel W. Hynes to pay the 2.8% cost-of-living increase. Novoselsky v. Hynes, No. 96689. A class action over the pay-increase dispute, which affects 900 state judges, including three circuit judges who are named as plaintiffs, was ordered to proceed. The suit, previously stayed by the high court, claims that the governor lacks the authority to refuse to grant the raise. Jorgenson v. Blagojevich, No. 03-CH-12419 (Cook Co., Ill., Cir. Ct.). The lawsuit stems from Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s decision to veto a $3.7 million cost-of-living increase for Supreme Court, Appellate Court and Circuit Court judges. The decision is part of a $222 million cut from the fiscal year 2004 budget recently passed by the state General Assembly. A bill that would have retroactively granted judges cost-of-living increases was also vetoed. State judges’ salaries have been annually modified to account for inflation since 1991. At one point last month, the Illinois Supreme Court ordered Hynes, the comptroller, to adjust state judges’ salaries as mandated by law. Four days later, Hynes filed by mail a motion to vacate the order before processing the judges’ pay without the increase the next day. Fast action Before Hynes’ motion could be served on the entire court, it ordered him to appear and show why he should not be held in civil contempt for violating its order. The motion asked the court to allow the issue to travel the usual road from trial court to appeals. After much deliberation, the court agreed. Karen Craven, a spokeswoman for the Illinois comptroller’s office, said the reversal was anticipated. “Comptroller Hynes has always felt that a legal action filed in the proper jurisdiction with appropriate notice is the way to resolve this issue,” she said. “And the Supreme Court’s order . . . accomplishes that.” Kevin M. Forde, one of three attorneys representing the judges, said that judicial independence is at stake. “It’s about whether the governor can reduce judges’ pay,” Forde said of the case. “The constitutional guarantee is designed not for the personal interests of judges but to promote and protect the integrity and independence of the judiciary,” he said, referring to a state constitutional prohibition on cutting judges’ salaries. Richard J. Prendergast, a solo practitioner in Chicago and Forde’s co-counsel, said that the governor’s attempt to bypass existing law sets a dangerous precedent. “If the governor or anyone else has the power to withhold the cost-of-living adjustment once the salaries are adjusted by law, he could arguably cut the judges’ pay by 50%” by arguing fiscal management, “which he clearly doesn’t have the power to do,” Prendergast said. Before the most recent decision, Hynes had said that he was “not challenging the state Supreme Court’s role as the ultimate decision-maker in this matter” but disagreed with the court’s attempt “to direct an executive officer by administrative order instead of through an open court process.” Song’s e-mail address is [email protected].

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