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Local News

Joliet plans to lay off lawyers while paying more for legal services

JOLIET – Joliet would pay more for legal services while contracting out work now done by three staff lawyers, but the city expects to get the money back on better lawsuit settlements, according to the 2016 budget proposal.

The city also would hire an inspector general in the Legal Department with money saved by eliminating three staff lawyers, City Manager Jim Hock said.

The three jobs that would be cut in the Legal Department are the only layoffs in the proposed 2016 budget, Hock said.

“With all three positions, there will be money for the inspector general and contracting out,” he said.

The total budget for the Legal Department is expected to drop in 2016.

But the city would pay $118,000 more for legal services next year, according to the budget. The additional costs include a $120,000 salary for an inspector general, a new position that would be created at the urging of Mayor Bob O’Dekirk.

The cost of salaries and pension contributions would drop from $697,000 this year to $465,000 in 2016. But the budget proposes paying $350,000 for outside law firms next year.

The city allocated no money for outside law firms in the 2015 budget. Joliet does use an outside firm for the Evergreen Terrace case. But those costs in both 2015 and 2016 are put in a separate budget for Evergreen Terrace.

The proposed Legal Department budget of nearly $1.8 million in 2016 would be a $471,000 drop compared with 2015. That is based on the expectation that legal claims will fall from the $1.35 million this year to $750,000 in 2016.

“We think that we’ll have better representation in the courts and have some positive outcomes in the courts,” Hock said. “Looking at the settlements and the outcomes we’ve had in the last couple of years, I think we can do better.”

O’Dekirk said he believes the city will save money using outside lawyers because it won’t pay for health insurance, pension and other benefits.

“Those are ongoing costs we pay that are going off the board,” he said.

He also said outside attorneys will bring specialized expertise in personal injury cases, labor contracts and civil rights cases now handled by staff.

The only staff lawyer staying would be City Attorney Marty Shanahan, who was hired last year and would be paid $141,000.

Leaving would be Mary Kucharz, John Wise and Gregory Smith, all longtime city employees. Hock said Smith already had plans to leave for another position.

Joliet staff attorneys represent the city in court in state and federal cases. They also prosecute traffic tickets and ordinance violations in Will County Circuit Court. A staff attorney also represents the city in liquor commission cases.

The proposed budget for the Legal Department includes two other positions: a paralegal paid $67,000 and a legal secretary paid $61,000.

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