Illinois court says governor can't be sued over bribery scandal

| 9/20/2002

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled Thursday a taxpayer watchdog group cannot sue Gov. George Ryan and other state officials over a licenses-for-bribes scandal. The decision strikes down a citizens' anti-fraud law.

The court decided that only the Illinois attorney general can sue state officials to recover money, such as salary and benefits paid to corrupt employees, which should have gone to the state.

"Where, as here, the state is the real party in interest, individual taxpayers have no standing to bring the cause of action," Justice Thomas Kilbride wrote for the court.

The Better Government Association had sued over a bribery scandal that took place while Ryan was secretary of state. The group was seeking to recover the salaries of employees who took bribes to issue driver's licenses to unqualified truckdrivers. It also sought the salary of Ryan, who has not been charged with wrongdoing.

BGA also wanted an accounting of all illegal funds accepted by state employees. It filed the lawsuit in 1999 under a law that let citizens sue when the state was defrauded but the attorney general declined to take action. The high court ruled the law unconstitutional.

"The defendant state officials ... and for that matter all state officials, now have a virtual insurance policy guaranteeing their immunity from accountability for wrongdoing committed in office," the group wrote.