A state appeals panel said Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has the right to fire members of the Prisoner Review Board.
In a 2-1 opinion filed Sept. 8, the Fifth District Appellate Court reversed a ruling from Saline County Circuit Court Judge Todd D. Lambert in a complaint involving former review board member Eric E. Gregg. Justice Thomas M. Welch wrote the opinion; Justice John B. Barberis concurred. Justice David K. Overstreet wrote a dissenting opinion.
The Fifth District court convenes in Mt. Vernon.
Then-Gov. Pat Quinn named Gregg to the board in May 2012, though an illness delayed his appointment until April 26, 2013. The state Senate approved his six-year term on Nov. 7, 2013, to expire Jan. 21, 2019. Rauner dismissed Gregg on Oct. 2, 2015, citing discrepancies in financial disclosure reporting both between his nomination and appointment, as well as during his time on the board, during which he was barred from earning outside income.
One issue was a medical lift chair Gregg had accepted as a gift before he was formally appointed to the board, but after Quinn had announced that appointment. That gift had not been reflected on the initial economic interest statement. A second was income listed on a 2014 bankruptcy filing that Gregg said was a clerical error. He also maintained he had no access to money placed in a fundraising account for his medical bills, saying a church controlled those funds.
When Rauner moved to dismiss Gregg’s complaint, Lambert rejected the request, finding Rauner’s decision to be reviewable according to the Illinois Supreme Court’s 1976 decision in Lunding v. Walker, because the review board is quasi-judicial and independent from the executive branch.
Gregg’s complaint went to trial, resulting in a finding he was wrongfully terminated, an injunction preventing Rauner from both blocking Gregg from serving on the board and appointing a replacement.
Rauner’s appeal of Lambert’s ruling argued his action should not be subject to judicial review and asserted he had just cause to remove Gregg from the board. Welch and Barberis did not consider the latter position because they determined Rauner’s decision was not reviewable. That determination is rooted in the determination the review board is not “a quasi-judicial agency for which political independence is necessary for the integrity of its processes.”
Welch wrote that Lunding doesn’t apply to Gregg’s complaint because it involved the Board of Elections, which is mandated in the 1970 state constitution as a politically independent body, whereas the prisoner review board was a later creation of the General Assembly and its members are subject to removal by the governor.
“There is no indication that the Legislature intended the IPRB to be a neutral, bipartisan board whose duties require absolute freedom from the executive branch,” Welch wrote.
In his dissent, Overstreet said the General Assembly enacted the review board for two functions: to act as the governor’s agent in hearing executive clemency applications, and to act as an administrative body with independent, final power in parole matters. He further noted the legislative language that created the board “reveals an intent to create an independent board that is quasi-judicial in nature.”
While Overstreet agreed review board members can be removed for cause, such as “incompetence, neglect of duty, malfeasance or inability to serve” - he also maintained any such gubernatorial decision should be subject to judicial review.
The 2-1 decision remanded the matter to the circuit court for further proceedings.
Gregg is represented in the matter by Winters, Brewster, Crosby and Schafer, LLC, of Marion. Arguing on Rauner’s behalf are the offices of the state attorney and solicitor general.