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By Pat Pratt
The latest in a myriad of wrongful-termination litigation over the years, a state appeals court has rejected claims by Madison County’s former administrator and IT director that the circuit court erred in two cases regarding their firings.
The Illinois Fifth District Appellate Court on June 15 issued a judgment in the appellate case of Rob Dorman and Doug Hulme versus Madison County. The judgment applies to three claims made in now dismissed cases challenging their April 2020 ouster, one a chancery hearing requesting administrative review of their firing and another miscellaneous review hearing.
In those three challenges to the circuit’s earlier decision, Dorman and Hulme charged the court erred when it denied a change to an out-of-county judge, erred in dismissing a complaint seeking administrative review and erred when it granted the county summary judgment of a dismissal related to a finding the county did comply with the state Open Meetings Act.
Regarding the change of judge, the magistrate presiding in the original case in Madison County was changed from Judge Christopher Threlkeld to Thomas Chapman per a request by the plaintiffs. Soon after, Dorman and Hulme filed a motion requesting an out-of-county judge “due to the fact that a Madison County political body is involved in this case.”
Following a hearing, Chapman denied that motion, however, he later granted another judge change, assigning Ronald J. Foster to the case. In the appellate judgment, the court wrote the plaintiffs were not entitled to relief on this issue because they failed to cite statutory requirements which would trigger an outside judicial review.
“Here, it is undisputed that none of the motions to substitute judge were verified or had an attached affidavit,” the judgment states. “Thus, the circuit court was not required to refer the motions to another judge for review as the motions failed to comply with the statute. Thus, we find that the circuit court’s denial was not in error as the plaintiffs failed to properly invoke the statute.”
The second issue raised by Dorman and Hulme on appeal was the circuit court’s dismissal of an administrative review request they filed which was denied by the circuit court.
In that matter, the state’s attorney’s office had presented a motion to dismiss the complaint because it felt Dorman and Hulme “did not exhaust their administrative remedies under the personnel policies of Madison County and, therefore, could not seek administrative review in the circuit court.”
A few months later, county legal representatives asked the case be dismissed because the plaintiffs did not have the summons delivered properly in accordance with applicable law. Coming into play in the summons delivery issue was the interference created as a result of the restrictions involved because of the coronavirus pandemic which was flourishing at the time.
The appellate panel, however, disagreed with Dorman and Hulme’s challenge of the dismissal, writing the service of summons in administrative review cases is mandatory.
“We do note that plaintiffs are correct that in certain cases the 35-day requirement has been relaxed where the plaintiffs made a good-faith effort to issue summons within the statutory period, but nevertheless, due to some circumstance beyond their control, summons was not issued within the statutory period.”
“Here, the plaintiffs assert that the defendant’s purported acceptance of service when combined with the COVID-19 pandemic is grounds for “good cause,” especially since the defendant failed to raise the issue in its initial motion to dismiss. We disagree,” the judgment reads.
The third issue raised by Dorman and Hulme on appeal was a purported violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act. The plaintiffs argued text messages between board members at the aforementioned meeting were not part of the record, the agenda was not in accordance with state law and a state order by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker allowing for online meetings was not proper.
“While some of the plaintiffs’ vague and/or conclusory responses to the defendant’s motion for summary judgment imply that there was not a quorum because members were not physically present, there are no specific allegations that the executive order entered by Governor Pritzker, and by which the defendant conducted its meeting, was improper or invalid. There is no case law cited to support such an assertion and the executive order at issue is never cited or mentioned directly.
“Again, there are no mentions of text messages or unrecorded conversations in the plaintiffs’ pleadings in the circuit court. Therefore, because those issues were not properly raised and argued before the circuit court, they are forfeited and cannot be raised on appeal,” the appellate
When asked for comment on the appellate decision, Dorman’s attorney Thomas Maag said only that he plans to take the matter to the state supreme court on behalf of both plaintiffs.
The appeals decision is but a sliver in the salvo of litigation filed over several years in county and federal court regarding the ex-officials firings. The firings themselves stretch even further back, into the prior state’s attorney office’s administration and a kerfuffle over the accessing of restricted information, which the plaintiffs argue in court filings was done in the spirit of blowing the whistle on county corruption.
The firings came following the establishment of a public corruption task force by then Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons to investigate “allegations of probable official misconduct, possible bribery, and other potential charges,” according to court documents.
The Illinois Attorney General’s Office, which took over the task force following the ouster of then
Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons, determined in early 2020 there was insufficient evidence to support charges against the former officials.
Dorman and Hulme were terminated in April 2020 by a 25-1 vote of the county board, which they have since challenged was based on fraudulent information provided by the task force and a conspiracy to retaliate against them.
Randy Pierce of Herald Publications also contributed to this article.