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Jack L. Genius v. the County of Cook et al

June 16, 2011

JACK L. GENIUS,
APPELLEE,
v.
THE COUNTY OF COOK ET AL., APPELLANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Burke

JUSTICE BURKE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Chief Justice Kilbride and Justices Freeman, Thomas, Garman, and Karmeier concurred in the judgment and opinion.

Justice Theis took no part in the decision.

OPINION

At issue in this appeal is whether the Cook County Employee Appeals Board possessed jurisdiction to discharge the plaintiff from his position as a police officer with the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. The appellate court held that it did not. 398 Ill. App. 3d 321. For the reasons that follow, we reverse the judgment of the appellate court and remand the cause to that court for further proceedings.

Background

In May of 1996, the plaintiff, Jack L. Genius, was employed as a police sergeant by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County (Forest Preserve District). That month, plaintiff was indicted by a Vermilion County grand jury on criminal charges involving the unauthorized purchase of police badges from a police equipment company located in Danville, Illinois.

On June 17, 1996, the Forest Preserve District superintendent, Joseph Nevius, informed plaintiff in a letter that he was suspended without pay pending the resolution of the criminal charges filed against him. In a later hearing, Nevius explained that officials in Vermilion County had requested that the Forest Preserve District not take further disciplinary action against plaintiff while the criminal matter was proceeding.

On June 18, 1996, plaintiff wrote to Steven Castans, the Forest Preserve District chief of police, and asked "if any formal departmental charges" were to be filed and, if so, "the date and time of the Civil Service Hearings." Plaintiff also stated that he was demanding his "Due Process Rights as provided for under Civil Service Law." Castans did not respond to this letter.

The criminal case in Vermilion County ended in a mistrial. The criminal charges against plaintiff were ultimately dismissed in February 2001.

On May 1, 2001, plaintiff wrote to Superintendent Nevius and informed him that the charges in Vermilion County had been dismissed. Plaintiff formally requested reinstatement to his previous position and also requested full back pay from the date of his suspension on June 17, 1996.

On May 25, 2001, Nevius responded with a letter titled "Notice Of Intent To Seek Discharge." In this letter, Nevius informed plaintiff that it was his "recommendation as General Superintendent" that plaintiff be discharged because he had violated various rules and regulations of the Forest Preserve District and its police department. The letter set forth the relevant rules and stated that on "numerous occasions between 1991 and 1996" plaintiff misrepresented to others that he was authorized to purchase police badges; purchased and sold police badges for personal gain; engaged in sexual conduct while on duty; allowed the use of alcohol and controlled substances in a police vehicle; and entered closed Forest Preserve District property for the purpose of engaging in sexual conduct. The letter also stated that, pursuant to the "Human Resources Ordinance," plaintiff had a right to file a written response to the charges.

The "Human Resources Ordinance" referenced by Superintendent Nevius was a Cook County ordinance (Cook County Ordinance No. 00--O--08) which came into effect April 5, 2000, and which changed the procedures for disciplining county employees. In general, the ordinance abolished the Cook County Civil Service Commission and its accompanying rules, established the Bureau of Human Resources and a new set of human resource rules, and created the Cook County Employee Appeals Board (Employee Appeals Board or Board) to hear disciplinary actions brought against employees. Cook County Municipal Code § 44--41 et seq. (amended Apr. 5, 2000).

Two differences between the old and new Cook County disciplinary rules bear mention here. First, under the civil service rules, a department head could impose a suspension of less than 30 days on a civil service employee, but only the Civil Service Commission itself could impose a suspension of more than 30 days and only after the employee had been given an opportunity to be heard in his own defense. Cook County Civ. Service R. IX, ยงยง 1, 12. In contrast, under the human resource rules, no limit is placed on the length of suspension that a department head may impose, although a suspension of more than 10 days must first be reviewed by the chief of human resources and the ...


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