CHICAGO — Cook County's sheriff, who is facing a suit by a suspended county jail deputy, wants the suit dismissed on grounds it would be "illogical" for the state's attorney to take disciplinary action against a sheriff's employee.
On Oct. 2, Anthony J. Squeo filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court asking the court to throw out a 45-day suspension meted out to him by the Cook County Sheriff’s Merit Board in July 2017. The board found Squeo, a sheriff's office correctional sergeant, allegedly placed his hand on an inmate's neck for several seconds during a struggle, but did not include that information in his Use of Force Report.
Squeo wants the suspension rescinded and for the county to give him back pay, to pay damages and to cover his legal costs. Defendants are Sheriff Tom Dart, State's Attorney Kim Foxx and the Cook County Sheriff's Merit Board. Dart and Foxx filed motions to dismiss April 15 and April 18, respectively.
Among Squeo's allegations was Dart, in bringing the matter before the board, "usurped" Foxx's authority to do so. To support this claim, Squeo pointed to the state law that says, "The duty of each state's attorney shall be: To commence and prosecute all actions and proceedings brought by any county officer in his official capacity."
Dart said he gave Squeo's interpretation of the law "credit for being creative," but Squeo's argument was "wrong and illogical."
Dart elaborated, saying, "It strains credulity that the same General Assembly that wrote that the Sheriff files charges with the Sheriff’s Merit Board actually intended to prohibit the Sheriff from doing so, and instead ordered the State’s Attorney, who is not familiar with the Board’s Rules and Regulations, to file charges with the Sheriff’s Merit Board on the Sheriff’s behalf,"
Further, even if Squeo's interpretation were spot-on, it would make no difference, in Dart's view.
"Plaintiff argues that the State’s Attorney should bring charges on behalf of Sheriff Dart, meaning that their interests would be aligned," Dart reasoned. "Plaintiff leaves the Court to guess why this would be of consequence in the Board’s disciplinary decision."
Foxx added that Squeo waived his right to challenge Dart's power to bring charges by not raising the issue with the board during the proceedings. Further, Foxx argued the board had jurisdiction over Squeo and its judgment holds, regardless of who represented the sheriff.
"Plaintiff’s claim that he is entitled to have the State’s Attorney represent the party adverse to him (essentially choosing his adversary’s representation), is entirely premised on the idea that the State’s Attorney’s independent judgment may have benefited Plaintiff. But Plaintiff does not allege how this would be so," Foxx stated.
Squeo also maintained the board's action was not valid because of a 2017 decision by the Illinois 1st District Appellate Court in Taylor v. Dart, which said some members of the board had once been improperly appointed to interim terms, instead of the six-year terms required by law.
Dart countered the First District court has since ruled many times the Taylor decision applied only to Taylor, and irregular board appointments will not void board actions. In addition, Dart said regardless how board members were appointed, they were nonetheless "de facto officers" performing "valid acts."
Squeo had wanted his suit to be a class action on behalf of about 300 other sheriff's employees disciplined since 2016, but withdrew his request for class status March 11.
Squeo is represented by Cass Casper of Talon Law of Chicago.
The sheriff is defended by the Chicago firm of Johnson & Bell. The state's attorney and the merit board are represented by the state's attorney's office.
Associate Judge Neil Cohen is presiding over the case.