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Shelby County – Private attorney practice continues – 69 pages of legal explanation not convincing enough?

Shelby Co. (ECWd) –

It appears Shelby County is slow on the uptake of information provided to them.  As outlined in a recent article (here), the County Government is not permitted to hire private legal counsel without express statutory authority.  In the case of Shelby County, no such authority can be found yet the attorney hired is still doing work for the county.

January 23, 2020, I sent this email to the County Chairman Bruce Cannon.  To date, no response from him.

January 27, 2020, I asked the Shelby County State’s Attorney the following in this email:

  • In light of the established case law on the point of a County Board hiring private attorneys, do you agree that the hirings that took place in 2014 (County Board Action) were improper and not supported by any laws in place at that time?
  • If you disagree and believe it was legal for the County Board to make such hiring, can you provide any statutory provision for such action?

To date, no response from the State’s Attorney.

I provided the State’s Attorney and County Clerk, who shared it with all the County Board members,  69 pages of legal research that was compiled by the Illinois Attorney Generals Office.  That information spells out the legal analysis on County Government hiring private attorneys and whether the county is liable for such bills.  We took the liberty of highlighting the key points as there is a lot of information provided in support of the key point, the legality of County Government hiring private counsel.

I recieved a response from County Board member Earl Baker:

“Thank you for this information. I believe the law is settled. States attorney who Is the Sol law Authority for county board.”

There are several reasons this issue must be resolved but probably the most important is financial.  The taxpayers elected and are paying for a State’s Attorney.  As spelled out in the court’s history on this, the taxpayers should not have to pay for yet another attorney to do the job of the duly elected official.  In fact, the courts have made it crystal clear.

“This court held that by law the State’s Attorney is “the attorney and legal adviser of the county officials in all matters pertaining to the official business of the county.” Ashton, 384 Ill. at 297. The Counties Code neither expressly nor implicitly authorized the county board to employ private attorneys. Ashton, 384 Ill. at 299. Therefore, the court held that private counsel could not enforce his contingent fee contract to perform legal services for the County, as the contract was wholly void. Ashton, 384 Ill. at 301.”  That case has not been overruled or negatively treated on appeal either.

While a recent change in the law did provide certain powers to a State’s Attorney to appoint a Special Assistant State’s Attorney for complex litigation, it does not give County Boards a green light to hire private attorneys nor does it provide a single provision for such a person to be compensated.

The County Board has a meeting next week, February 13, 2020, at 9 am.  The meeting location has changed to the Lake Shelbyville Visitors Center just east of the dam.

We do not see anything on the agenda to address this inappropriate hiring nor is there any indication any steps have been being taken to stop the practice and stop paying the bills, which the legal history supports not paying.

We urge members of the public to attend the meeting and speak on any matters you feel needs to be heard by the County Board and other citizens.  The past practice of public comment has been very open and other than a couple of board members that don’t want to hear anything negative, I believe most are appreciative of hearing input from the public and do want to fix any problems that are identified.

You can download a copy of the legal research at this link or view it below.

AG opinion on County private counsel

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