A Sangamon County judge Wednesday ordered the Illinois Civil Service Commission to stop any further action on the case of fired state workers Dawn DeFraties and Michael Casey until he decides if the commission lost its right to rule because a time limit ran out.

By BERNARD SCHOENBURG


POLITICAL WRITER


 


A Sangamon County judge Wednesday ordered the Illinois Civil Service Commission to stop any further action on the case of fired state workers Dawn DeFraties and Michael Casey until he decides if the commission lost its right to rule because a time limit ran out.


 


In allowing the stay of Civil Service Commission proceedings, Circuit Judge Patrick Kelley granted a motion filed on behalf of DeFraties and Casey. Their lawyer, Carl Draper, said state law allows only 60 days for the commission to rule on a case after it receives transcripts of proceedings, and that 60-day period ended last weekend.


 


Kelley set an Aug. 8 hearing in his court to hear arguments to determine if the commission lost jurisdiction. If so, Draper says, DeFraties and Casey would be reinstated to their jobs.


 


Though working for other state agencies when they were fired in April 2006, DeFraties and Casey were alleged to have given favorable treatment to politically connected job applicants when they worked in personnel at the Department of Central Management Services.


 


After hearings before an administrative law judge for the Civil Service Commission, that judge, Anthony Dos Santos, recommended that most of the charges be thrown out. However, he also recommended two-week suspensions for minor infractions, including allowing some employment applications to be graded ahead of others.


 


The commission met May 17 and decided to remand the case to the administrative law judge for more testimony, even though there was no request from lawyers on either side for a continuation of the hearing. Dos Santos then set this Friday as the next day to hear more testimony — but Kelley’s order now puts off that hearing.


 


Assistant Attorney General Matthew Bilinsky, representing the Civil Service Commission, argued in court Wednesday that the commission did meet the 60-day requirement because it took action — remanding the case. He said that state law calls for a decision within that time period, but not necessarily a “final decision.”


 


Kelley did indicate in a comment in court that he questions if the May 17 “findings and decision” of the commission satisfied the legal requirement to come to a decision within 60 days. He noted that it didn’t end the case, as it actually remanded the matter for more testimony.


 


He compared the title of the document to a cage in a zoo marked “zebra.”


 


“You can call it whatever you want,” Kelley said. But if the animal within is a cow painted with black and white stripes, “that doesn’t make the cow a zebra.”


 


Draper said after the hearing that he thinks the commission was legally bound to make a final decision within the 60-day limit, because in such cases, employees awaiting a ruling may have lost benefits and are in limbo, unable to search for new jobs because they might get their old jobs back.


 


“I think if we asked the man on the street, ‘What’s a decision,’ a decision isn’t ‘Oh, I want to go back and think about it some more,’ or ‘I’d like more information.’ Those are simply delays that aren’t allowed by statute,” Draper said.


 


Joseph Gagliardo, a Chicago lawyer representing the state agencies that DeFraties and Casey last worked for, said, “We do believe that the commission had the absolute right to remand (the case for more evidence), and we’re optimistic that ultimately that will be the ruling” from Kelley.


 


Bernard Schoenburg can be reached at 788-1540 or bernard.schoenburg@sj-r.com.