OPINION: Madison-St. Clair Record: Biased or not, Kolker's decision not likely to stand
He insists that his decision was not politically motivated and that he had the law on his side. Nevertheless, Associate Judge Chris Kolker's decision – overturning Gov. Bruce Rauner's executive order nullifying the so-called “fair share” fees that non-union state workers must pay to the unions ostensibly representing them – is likely to have little long-term effect.
That's because a similar case, also originating in Illinois, will go before the U.S. Supreme Court next month and expectations are that the high court will reject compulsory union fees as a violation of the free speech and association rights enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Having implemented a merit-raise system for non-union employees and a few thousand workers represented by smaller state-government unions, Rauner sought to extend this merit system to the state’s largest employee union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31.
Needless to say, AFSCME opposed the plan, subsequently obtaining a temporary restraining order against it from St. Clair County Circuit Judge Robert LeChien. Though a state appellate court would have been the proper venue for such a request, the union had reason to believe that St. Clair County Circuit Court would be a friendly forum and LeChien a friendly jurist.
Now Kolker, a former personal injury lawyer who seeks in the upcoming November election to fill the position formerly held by the late LeChien, has made that stay permanent – at least until the Supreme Court weighs in on the matter.
Some have suggested that Kolker shares the politically-motivated approach to justice that LeChien exhibited, pointing to his would-be successor's early, postgraduate employment as a legislative and political aide for House Speaker Mike Madigan – and to his recent marriage to Illinois Trial Lawyers Association lobbyist Katie Davis.
According to Kolker, the governor does not have the legal authority to overturn state law unilaterally. In addition, he maintains, Rauner's executive order violated collective bargaining agreements.
Kolker's campaign committee has already raised $50,000, much of it from members of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association.