Lame-duck guv fritters millions in legal fees

Public workers’ union cites $6 million paid to law firm as governor pursues losing suits including FOIA battle with One Illinois

A prominent public workers’ union charges that Gov. Rauner is wasting money fighting losing suits as he prepares to leave office. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

A prominent public workers’ union charges that Gov. Rauner is wasting money fighting losing suits as he prepares to leave office. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

As Gov. Rauner prepares to leave office, he continues to squander state money on losing lawsuits, according to a prominent public workers’ union that charges he’s spent $6 million in fees to a private law firm handling labor cases.

That news comes as Rauner also pursues a suit, filed a week after his loss in the Nov. 6 election, against state Attorney General Lisa Madigan and One Illinois in a Freedom of Information Act case as he attempts to withhold 1,783 emails on government appointments from public scrutiny.

On Tuesday, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 charged on its webpage that the “defeated Rauner” was “still wasting money (and) time in court.” Using data on legal fees obtained in a FOIA search, it accused the governor of spending $6 million in his administration, paid to the Laner Muchin law firm specializing in representing management in labor cases.

According to that data and Rich Miller’s Capitol Fax website, the Rauner administration paid $2.8 million to Laner Muchin from his inauguration through November 2016, another $1.3 million over the next year, and $1.9 million over the last year through September.

According to AFSCME, the major case involved the Rauner administration declaring an impasse in negotiations with the union for a new contract in an attempt to impose conditions on state workers, although other litigation with state unions was also involved.

“That meter is still running,” said Council 31 spokesman Anders Lindall. “It’s mostly but not exclusively been dedicated to fighting us — on negotiations, impasse, his freeze on step increases and other matters — and he’s also used them against the SEIU, state police and nurses unions as well.”

An appellate court ruled in October that Rauner’s Labor Relations Board was “clearly erroneous” in backing Rauner’s claim on an impasse, even as the union insisted it was still negotiating.

That case has also prompted Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch and state Comptroller Susana Mendoza to call on Rauner to observe set pay increases from the existing contract — at the potential loss of “hundreds of millions” of dollars if he continues to ignore those raises.

“Now on his way out the door, Rauner hasn’t changed his stripes,” the union charged, citing how his administration asked on Tuesday for an additional 60 days to file an appeal in the impasse suit — a time period that will extend beyond the Jan. 14 inauguration of Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker.

Similarly, his suit against the One Illinois FOIA and the binding opinion issued by Madigan’s public access counselor on the 1,783 emails on government appointments likewise will put publicly funded state attorneys to work on both sides of a case in which Gov.-elect Pritzker could ultimately decide to simply release the emails — something Rauner should be doing himself given the binding opinion.

Rauner’s ongoing struggle with AFSCME in many ways has defined his administration. He initiated the suit that ultimately became Janus v. AFSCME, winning a decision in the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year to strike down so-called fair-share fees for workers who decline to join a public union. But that could prove to be a Pyrrhic victory if the state ultimately loses its suit on Rauner’s declared negotiation impasse, leaving the state liable for past-due wage increases and other penalties.

The Governor’s Office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.