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Judge sides with Berrios, tosses Ethics Board lawsuit seeking $10K fine

A Cook County judge has tossed out a lawsuit filed against Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios by the Cook County Board of Ethics last year, which demanded that a judge order Berrios to pay a $10,000 fine for hiring his sister and son to work in his office.

Judge Moshe Jacobius ruled the ethics board exceeded its legal authority in entering the fine against Berrios.

“Notwithstanding the strong, legitimate public policy considerations prohibiting employment of relatives, the court cannot authorize the board’s actions,” the judge wrote in ruling April 15.

Berrios said in a statement he had no choice but to defend himself, his office and “all other independently elected constitutional officers in Cook County” after the ethics board issued its $10,000 fine.

“Cases like this are sometimes necessary to provide guidance on the limits of power and the scope of authority granted to administrative agencies like the Board of Ethics,” Berrios said.

Ranjit Hakim, executive director of the ethics board, said, “We absolutely don’t agree” with the ruling and will decide whether to file an appeal.

Berrios was ordered to pay the fine in 2012 after an ethics board investigation into the hirings, according to the lawsuit filed in Cook County Circuit Court.

Berrios hired his sister and son to work at the assessor’s office just two days after he took office Dec. 6, 2010, according to the lawsuit. They were paid $108,000 and $68,000, respectively.

The ethics board conducted an investigation shortly after and found Berrios violated antinepotism laws, the lawsuit said.

Berrios refused to pay the fine, arguing any ethics ordinance did not apply to him, nor did the ethics board have any jurisdiction over him, the lawsuit said.