Judge rules surprise witness in lawsuit brought by fired IDOT workers will cost them.
By ANDY KRAVETZ and Patrick Oldendorf Of the Journal Star
PEORIA — A federal judge Tuesday barred 16 former IDOT employees fired seven years ago from asking a jury next week to compensate them for money not put into their pension plan.
The former Illinois Department of Transportation workers were seeking compensation after jurors found two weeks ago they were fired by representatives of then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich because they were Republicans.
Left for the jury to resolve next Monday is how much money, if any, the workers will receive for lost wages and "mental distress." Jurors will also decide if the state must pay the employees' legal bills.
In all, the damages could run into the millions.
On Feb. 17, the jury found former IDOT Secretary Timothy Martin; Scott Doubet, who headed IDOT's bureau of personnel management; and Mike Stout, now in charge of the traffic safety division; all acted within a scheme to root out Republicans in the early years of the Blagojevich administration.
The plaintiffs are Scott Whitlow, Bruce Carmitchel, Lori Coonen, Melanie Dennison, Sharmin Doering, Jileen Eisele, Janice Gower, Stuart Hunt II, Brad Jones, Catherine Kennedy, Barbara Mabie, Adil Rahman, Anthony Saputo, Cathy Scaife, Don Williams and Jason Yoakum.
An agreement worked out Monday between the two sides will allow all 16 to be rehired within the IDOT in similar jobs they held when they were fired in 2004. The reinstatement will take effect on March 14, according to a court order.
With regard to the pensions, U.S. District Judge Michael Mihm said the former IDOT workers can't bring up lost pension money because their attorneys failed to disclose an expert witness to their counterparts.
Under federal rules of evidence, both sides must reveal whom they will call as a witness several weeks in advance to give the other side a chance to prepare.
Stephen Kaufmann, one of the Springfield lawyers appointed as special assistant attorneys general to represent the defendants, urged Mihm not to allow a witness the former employees wanted to call, saying it was "grossly unfair" due to the violation of rules.
Carl Draper, one of the attorneys for the employees, said they had put the state on notice they would be seeking pension damages but couldn't list a specific person because they didn't know who would be in that spot.
Mihm rejected that argument, saying there was nothing in a pretrial list of witnesses indicating anything about pension damages.
Andy Kravetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Patrick Oldendorf can be reached at email@example.com.
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