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Judges shrug off Preckwinkle plan to end nearly free health insurance

Swearing-day 2010 for Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle.  Chief Judge Tim Evans outgoing board President Todd Stroger incoming

Swearing-in day 2010 for Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle. Chief Judge Tim Evans, outgoing board President Todd Stroger and incoming president, Preckwinkle, say the Pledge of Allegiance. | Sun-Times files

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Updated: November 10, 2013 6:27AM

A handful of Cook County criminal court judges Tuesday shrugged off county board President Toni Preckwinkle’s proposal to cut off their nearly free county health insurance, saying the benefit is one they barely use.

While some judges at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse said they believed Preckwinkle was flexing her political muscles, they said they don’t rely on the county health insurance they are eligible for less than $1 a month.

“It’s inconsequential,” one judge said about Preckwinkle’s threat. For him, the judge said, the county’s insurance is “secondary.”

“We get these freebies but who is using the freebies?” he said.

The judge said as state employees, he and some of his colleagues rely on state health insurance packages.

However, under state law, the judges are also classified as county employees and can use the insurance perk.

The cost of insurance the judges can opt for costs the county $440 to $1,700 a month per employee, Preckwinkle’s office said.

“I think we’re [the county] going bankrupt. We’re losing money. Everyone’s gotta do what they gotta do,” another judge said of Preckwinkle’s proposal some believe is aimed at Cook County’s Chief Judge Timothy Evans.

This judge said she always has paid extra money for a PPO plan she has been using for herself and her family for the last 17 years.

Preckwinkle has been feuding with Evans over the backlog of criminal cases in Cook County. Indeed, Evans and Preckwinkle have been locked in a tug-of-war over various court issues since she became county board president in 2010, and their political rivalry goes back decades. Starting in 1983, she twice tried unsuccessfully to unseat Evans, who was the 4th Ward alderman. She defeated Evans on her third attempt.

One judge interviewed Tuesday said he didn’t think Preckwinkle was trying to stick it to Evans.

Another veteran judge begged to differ. He said Preckwinkle is simply engaging in a “political back and forth” with proposals that are “unconstitutional.”

“I think it’s [proposal] more of, ‘Let’s see if I can drive them crazy.’ And I won’t be driven crazy,” the judge said.

Circuit court judges earn $183,000 annually while associate judges make $174,000. A small fraction of that salary - $500 - comes from the county while the balance comes from the state.

Preckwinkle’s spokesman Owen Kilmer Tuesday brushed off insinuations that his boss was trying to take a shot at Evans and reiterated that the proposal was to ensure that all employees have health insurance and that approach was “fair” to everyone.

The proposal will be introduced later this month as part of Preckwinkle’s preliminary 2014 budget.


Twitter: @rummanahussain

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