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Illinois Supreme Court denies back pay suit

PETER HANCOCK Capitol News Illinois

SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a lawsuit filed by two former state legislators who sued for back pay they believed they were due for raises that they voted against while in office.

Former Sen. Michael Noland, D-Elgin, and former Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville, argued that the pay reduction measures they voted for violated the legislative salary clause of the Illinois Constitution, which says, “changes in the salary of a member shall not take effect during the term for which he has been elected.”

But in a 6-0 decision, the court declined to rule on the constitutionality aspect, saying the former lawmakers undercut their own case by voting in favor of the measures, touting them to the public and waiting too long to file their claims.

“We conclude that under the facts here, where plaintiffs, former legislators, agreed to, acquiesced in, and voted for the Salary Reduction Laws, plaintiffs cannot now be allowed to challenge the reductions in their salaries during their previous terms in office,” Justice P. Scott Neville wrote for the court.

Chief Justice Anne Burke and Justices Mary Jane Theis, Michael Burke, David Overstreet and Robert Carter concurred. Justice Lisa Holder White, who joined the court in July after oral arguments in the case had already concluded, did not take part in the decision.

Illinois is currently governed by the Compensation Review Act. In 1990, a Compensation Review Board that has since been abolished recommended that legislative salaries be subject to annual cost of living adjustments, or COLAs. The General Assembly approved that recommendation and it remained in effect when the board was abolished.

In 2009, in the wake of a severe recession, lawmakers passed a bill canceling those COLAs for the upcoming fiscal year, and they repeated that policy each year until 2019.

Clayborne served in the General Assembly for 24 years, from 1995 to 2019. Noland served for 10 years, from 2007 to 2017. Clayborne claimed he was owed $104,412.93 in lost pay. Noland sought $71,507.43.

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