|The Herald-Review (Decatur IL, USA) |
21 February 1999
Former State Resident Given Formal Apology by Illinois Division of Child Support Enforcement.
by Amanda Wilson
The Illinois State Supreme Court has ordered Guy Hastings, Director of Child Support Enforcement, to send a formal letter of apology to a former Illinois state resident who was forced to pay $9000 more in support than ordered. Paul Laird, now a resident of Washington state and a former resident of Strasburg, IL, has said he will make a written statement in a few days. The Court also ordered DCSE to pay him almost $150,000 in punitive damages.
The pertinent facts are not in dispute. Mr. Laird was ordered to pay $400/mo in child support in 1985. Kankakee County records indicate Mr. Laird had voluntarily overpaid his account by May, 1991. That is when his troubles started.
Mr. Laird was forced to take a medical leave of absence due to Multiple Sclerosis. He presented Illinois DCSE doctor statements and 7 requests for temporary reduction from November 1991 through May, 1993. He was never answered by Illinois DCSE and they now admit that he did send the request and that those requests were ignored. They also admit Mr. Laird never missed a payment.
A suit was filed by DCSE in November, 1993 to modify the child support award. Mr. Laird was never notified of this hearing. The department received a default judgment increasing the support amount to $800. DCSE admits Mr. Laird was never notified of the new amount.
The amount was reduced in 1996 back to the original $400 figure. DCSE continued to count the extra $400 from November 1993 to October, 1996 as child support arrears. They garnished his wages, filed liens against him, reported him to credit bureaus and continue collection thought taking his IRS refunds. Mr. Laird filed suit in 1996 against DCSE and specific employees within that agency. The Appellate Court awarded him almost $60,000 in January, 1998. That judgment has been paid.
The State's Attorney of Champaign County filed charges of malfesciance of office against three DCSE employees - Karen Breaker, Linda Richardson, and Barbara McCloud. Breaker and Richardson were also tried on perjury, falsifiction of records, and theft. McCloud was found not guilty in November, 1998. Breaker plead guilty to the charge of perjury and falsification in a plea bargain. Ms. Richardson was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to 18 months in prison. All three lost their jobs with
This is only the first of 8 cases against the Champaign office. In the most recent case a custodial mother received child support payments 9 months after the father made payments through the court. The father in this case was prosecuted for non-payment and was found not guilty when he presented receipts and cancelled checks. A check by the Auditor's office revealed a practice by the Champaign office of putting support checks in a hidden fund to draw interest for the state. That case has been merged with 7 others in a class action lawsuit. It is scheduled to be heard in April, 2000.
Governor Ryan and his cabinet were unavailable for comment. This reporter has verified that the governor urged DCSE to settle this case out-of-court and that Mr. Hastings refused. DCSE director Hastings also had no comment.
Because the state was found to have acted fraudulently in his case, the Supreme Court had to rule on punitive damages.