Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 89-CH-01. Honorable Edwin M. Berman, Judge Presiding.
Released for Publication August 13, 1996.
The Honorable Justice Theis delivered the opinion of the court: Hoffman, P.j., and Cahill, J., concur.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Theis
JUSTICE THEIS delivered the opinion of the court:
The plaintiffs filed this class action for declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as an accounting and a refund of fees paid, against the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Aurelia Pucinski, and the Cook County Treasurer, Edward J. Rosewell. In their second amended complaint, the plaintiffs alleged that the General Assembly enacted sections 27.2 and 27.3a of "an Act to revise the law in relation to clerks of courts" (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1989, ch. 25, pars. 27.2, 27.3a, effective January 1, 1989, pursuant to Public Act 85-1252 (the Act)), in order to abate general property taxes and for other nonjudicial purposes in violation of the free access clause of the State constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 12) and the due process clauses of the State and Federal constitutions. Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 2; U.S. Const., amend. XIV. Section 27.2, as amended by Public Act 85-1252, increased court filing fees and section 27.3a imposed a surcharge for court automation. At the conclusion of the plaintiffs' case in chief, the circuit court entered a directed finding in favor of the defendants on the grounds that the plaintiffs failed to present a prima facie case. On appeal, the plaintiffs raise the following issues: (1) whether the circuit court erred when it entered a directed finding in the defendants' favor, (2) whether the court committed reversible error when it refused to admit a certified copy of the legislative debates into evidence, and (3) whether the court abused its discretion when it refused to compel the defendants to produce documents requested under Supreme Court Rule 237(b). 134 Ill. 2d R. 237(b).
We conclude that the circuit court properly granted a directed finding for the defendants because the plaintiffs failed to establish a prima facie case that sections 27.2 and 27.3a are constitutionally infirm. We further hold that although the court should have considered the legislative debates regarding Public Act 85-1252, its refusal to admit the debates into evidence does not constitute reversible error. Finally, the court did not abuse its discretion when it declined to compel production of certain records sought by the plaintiffs. We affirm.
The court below defined and certified the plaintiffs' class as follows:
"All persons, corporations, partnerships, proprietorships, municipalities (other than fees incurred in the filing of cases in its capacity as a law enforcement agency as defined by Ill. Rev. Stats. Ch. 25, § 27.2 ) and other legal entities which, between January 1, 1989 and December 31, 1991, were caused to pay court fees to the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County pursuant to Ill. Rev. Stats. Chapter 25, § 27.2(1), (1)(c), (3) and (5), and pursuant to § 27.3a, amended August 30, 1988, effective January 1, 1989."
At trial, the plaintiffs maintained that Public Act 85-1252 is unconstitutional because (1) the increased fees obtained from civil litigants are used to finance both the criminal and quasicriminal courts, (2) the legislature enacted Public Act 85-1252 in order to raise general revenue for the county, and not to fortify the court system, and (3) the General Assembly failed to conduct a cost study prior to enacting Public Act 85-1252.
The testimony of the plaintiffs' witnesses revealed that the filing fees paid to the clerk of the circuit court are transmitted to the comptroller's office and then deposited with the Cook County treasurer. Ultimately, the funds are placed in the general Cook County corporate fund.
Thomas Beck, a former comptroller for Cook County, testified that the filing fees which are transmitted to the treasurer are not earmarked for use by the clerk's office alone. He also testified that he estimated that Public Act 85-1252 would generate $17.5 million in revenue during 1989.
John Goggin, associate clerk in charge of court operations, also testified. He stated that he participated in the preparation of the annual fiscal budget for the circuit court. He explained that the clerk's total operating budget does not fairly reflect the actual cost of maintaining the clerk's office. Goggin explained that the county absorbs many costs associated with the operation and maintenance of the courts such as rent, storage of court files, heating, air conditioning and electricity. He testified that the county pays $15 million a year in rent for the Daley Center alone. Goggin further stated that one would have to examine several other budgets such as that of the public defender, the public guardian and the office of the chief judge in order to arrive at an accurate figure reflecting the cost of operating and maintaining the court system.
Kevin Cuttone, a former assistant budget director, corroborated much of Goggin's testimony. Cuttone estimated that $7.6 million would be generated from the fees collected for the court automation fund.
During the trial, the parties stipulated to all figures contained in the Comptroller's Report of Cook County (Comptroller's Report) for the fiscal year of 1987, including the budgetary figures for the clerk's office. The court admitted the Comptroller's Report into evidence as exhibit 3. The parties also stipulated to the relevant portions of the Annual Appropriations Bill (Bill) for ...