Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans | Youtube screenshot
CHICAGO — Cook County's chief judge has asked to be dismissed from a lawsuit in which inmates said the county violated their rights by letting a television show film at the county's jail, claiming he is shielded from being sued in this instance.
In the summer of 2015, officials made the Juvenile Temporary Direction Center available for Twentieth Century Fox Television to film scenes for the hit TV show “Empire.” Minors — identified in the complaint only as T.S. and Q.B. — said filming restrictions such as otherwise unnecessary lockdowns changed the center’s essential rehabilitative and education nature and deprived pretrial detainees of schooling, family visits, their usual movement and attention to sick-call requests.
In a motion filed Jan. 17, Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy Evans asked U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer to dismiss him as a defendant, asserting the 11th Amendment bars the plaintiffs’ claims targeting him.
According to Evans, the office of the chief judge has administrative and operational control of the detention center. He said the plaintiffs don’t dispute the fact state lawmakers transferred that control away from the Cook County Board prior to the filming at issue, but still tried to paint him as a “county official” in this instance despite his office being considered a “state entity.”
Evans detailed the Illinois Supreme Court’s definition of the state’s unified court system, which explains each circuit court is a unit of state government even though counties have a statutory role in funding those courts. He further said several courts have held that his post is not a “person” for the purpose of the law under which the plaintiffs filed their claims.
“Claims for damages against state entities and state officials in their official capacities are barred by the Eleventh Amendment,” Evans wrote in the motion. “And state-law claims against state officials in their official capacities are barred regardless of the relief sought.”
Evans further pointed to a decision U.S. District Judge Manish Shah rendered in July in Mathlock v. Fleming. The plaintiff there was a JTDC detainee who sued Evans, the county and the center’s superintendent Leonard Dixon, saying employees injured him while applying handcuffs. That lawsuit further alleged a failure to adequately hire, train and supervise employees. Shah dismissed claims against the Office of the Chief Judge and Dixon, a decision Evans called “thorough, carefully-reasoned and on-point.”
The motion explained why and how the Illinois General Assembly transferred administrative control over the center’s budget to Evans’ office and said Dixon exercised Evans’ control, not the county’s fiscal authority.
“The Chief Judge’s Eleventh Amendment immunity is even clearer here,” the motion said, adding a stipulation between the plaintiffs and Evans’ office states: “Dixon was the final policy-maker” for the office with respect to the “Empire” filming.
Evans also said Pallmeyer should disregard the plaintiffs’ argument that Shah incorrectly decided Mathlock because, no matter whether his office got its authority from the state constitution or the County Shelter Care and Detention Home Act, he still is a state official protected by the Eleventh Amendment.
The plaintiffs also were wrong, according to Evans, to assert U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve, in an earlier ruling on their complaint, held Evans’ office “was exercising county administrative authority.” In reality, Evans asserted, St. Eve “declined to decide the Eleventh Amendment defense” until discovery established who was the final policy decision-maker allowing Fox to film at the center.
With that question now ripe, Evans asserted, it is time for him to be dismissed.
Lawyers from the Illinois Attorney General’s Office are representing Evans in the matter.
The plaintiffs are represented by Eimer Stahl LLP and Weil & Chardon LLC, each of Chicago.