The Cook County Clerk’s Office is freed from court oversight over employment, ending Shakman’s era with near public hype

In a hearing that lasted just 10 minutes, a federal judge relieved Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough from court oversight of the firm’s hiring and promotions, bringing about a sea change in Illinois politics and a boost to patronage. It put an end to a 54-year lawsuit that nearly ended. employment.

The order was lifted by U.S. District Judge Edmund Chan, the sixth judge to preside over a 1969 case filed by reform-minded Democrat Michael Shakman. Shakman claimed that a group of patrons holding government jobs blocked his challenge for delegates. constitutional conference.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Attorney Michael L. Shakman (right) leaving the Dirksen Federal Building in June 2014. Mr. Shakman filed a lawsuit in 1969, alleging that backers of government work had interfered with his candidacy to serve as a delegate to the state constitutional convention.

The judge acknowledged that Yarbrough’s office had not set the example for reforming employment practices, but last summer’s appeals court ruling set the standard for proving that politics had been removed from agency personnel practices. pointed out that had been reduced.

According to these new standards, Mr. Yarbrough’s office was to be relieved of the duties of the so-called Shakman Order.

“This is the end [Shakman] This case,” the judge said. “It should be extremely rare for a case to be older than the presiding judge.” Chan is 52 years old.

In an era of increasing political polarization, Chan said:

“This lawsuit has served its purpose and is closed,” Chan said, noting that individual employees could still sue their government employer for violating the fair employment standards introduced in response to the Shakman lawsuit. . “The northern district will remain open as needed.”

Mr. Shakman did not appear in court for the final hearing of the case that has marked him for decades. His attorney, Brian Hayes, said that since the court appointed monitors to oversee hiring at the Clerk’s Office in 2020, the Clerk’s Office has developed a fair hiring policy and trained its staff. He said he hadn’t done anything wrong.

Last year, a federal appeals court ruling in favor of Gov. JB Pritzker ruled that the compliance requirements imposed by the Shakman lawsuit against the state were too stringent. Court oversight of employment by the governor’s office was lifted last August.

“She did everything we asked her to do,” Hayes said. “Perfection is not the norm, as the Seventh Circuit has determined.”

Yarbrough sat silently next to his lawyers during the hearing and left Dirksen Federal Court without saying a word to reporters. In a statement released after the hearing, she said her firm has spent $3 million on compliance measures since 2020, including fees paid to both sides’ attorneys and compliance monitors.

“We are pleased that the court has recognized our commitment to fair and equitable employment and employment policies,” Yarbrough said in a statement. “The repeal of this consent decree will save taxpayers millions of dollars in litigation costs, help us ensure effective employment standards, build continued efficiency across our offices, and enable Cook County residents to We can now focus entirely on providing the best possible service.”

Yarbrough has frequently faced allegations of sponsored employment throughout his previous duties as county registrar and most of his tenure as clerk. The Clerk’s Office has his 350 full-time staff, keeps records such as birth certificates and marriage licenses, and oversees suburban elections.

of The county inspector general was blown up in 2014 The list of questionable hires in the registrar’s office included Yarbrough’s niece, who was in a $114,000-a-year job.

Less than a year after Mr. Yarbrough became a clerk in 2018, Mr. Shakman filed a lawsuit against the firm for similar employment fraud. Observers said in their report to the court that Yarbrough and his staff were largely uncooperative, frequently stalled when asked to reform, and violated or ignored policies set for employment reform.

The skepticism of well-meaning government activists about Yarbrough’s departure from decree contrasts with 2011, when Shakman himself praised Sheriff Tom Dart’s “leadership and commitment from the top” to change. was.

In 2014, Mr. Shakman said that after several city officials and those associated with then-Mayor Richard M. Daly were embroiled in a scandal involving trucking contracts in the city, a federal judge ruled in 2005. Signed to release the City of Chicago from its appointed compliance monitors. . Several federal governments have been indicted.

Mr. Chan said that although the Shakman lawsuit has been closed, hiring practices are well established throughout city, county and state governments, and that hiring should be based on transparency and competence, and individual employees can still litigate themselves. pointed out that it can cause After the hearing, Hayes said the burden of proof to show political bias in government recruitment in such civil cases would be lower than that required to invoke oversight under the Shakman administration.

About 25 years ago, Hayes, who began litigating the Shakman lawsuit as a first-year associate at a law firm, said the case was a case where Mayor Richard J. Daly held near-absolute power over the state. He said that he fundamentally changed the patronage system that had been practiced in the era. Democrats thanks to his unfettered power to fill tens of thousands of taxpayer-funded jobs with political jobs.

Dick Dally.jpg

Mayor Richard J. Daley at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968. The changes Shakman brought to civil service recruitment fundamentally changed the sponsorship practices in force during the days when Daly held near absolute power over state Democrats.

“We’ve come a long way,” Hayes said in the court lobby after the hearing. “We have made great strides in opening up government posts to the public, applying for jobs and having a fair vote, even if the decision-making process has not always been perfect.” The Cook County Clerk’s Office is freed from court oversight over employment, ending Shakman’s era with near public hype

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