Heilmann Reviewing ‘Observations’ from Legal Investigation
Mayor calls post-settlement report a waste of taxpayer funds. Questions pending final report's objectivity because of its ties to another Oak Lawn trustee in that it continues to criticize a friend who was once part of village's legal team.
Mayor Dave Heilmann gave a hint of what might be included in the second of two legal investigations into allegations that the former village attorney overbilled Oak Lawn taxpayers and botched major litigation.
A final report that will most likely never be made public because of a confidentiality agreement tied to a $500,000 out-of-court settlement with Tressler, Soderstrom, Maloney and Preiss, will be submitted to the village board in early July.
The Oak Lawn Village Board voted unanimously in February to accept the settlement and a confidentiality agreement prohibiting village board members from speaking publicly about the terms and details of the investigation.
Wisconsin-based law firm Godfrey and Kahn, that touts white-collar investigations and defense as one of its areas of expertise, brokered the settlement with Tressler. Godfrey and Kahn were hired to conduct a second investigation following a legal audit by attorney Burt Odelson.
According to the mayor, he received “observations” from Godfrey and Kahn pertaining to him. Heilmann said that the village had to “go through hoops” to allow those mentioned in the report a chance to respond to criticisms and having those responses included as exhibits.
“[Godfrey and Kahn] wouldn’t give us the report to review and then get back with questions which is odd because we’re the client,” Heilmann said, a practicing attorney. “If it took the author of the report two months to draft something then allow someone two weeks to respond. What they were trying to do was give us one day.”
The mayor also questioned the report's objectivity, because Eric Wilson, the lead investigating attorney, is a former fraternity brother of Trustee Tom Phelan (Dist. 6).
Asked if he had concerns about any findings in the report, Heilmann said, “I personally have no apprehension of anything they want to say about anybody.”
Heilmann criticized “accusations” made in the observations against his friend, attorney and community theater-partner Norman Chimenti. He is now of counsel at the same law firm where the mayor is a partner at Clausen Miller.
Chimenti was hired as an “overseer” during most of Tressler’s watch as Oak Lawn’s village attorney between October 2005 and September 2009, before the Tressler was terminated because of mounting legal bills.
The mayor said that Wilson, the attorney leading the investigation, told the village board there was no misconduct that would cause a claim to be filed against Chimenti, whose role as the overseer for Tressler was criticized in the Odelson report.
“The direct statement from Mr. Wilson was they could not dream up a set of facts that would support a claim against Mr. Chimenti,” Heilmann said. “He was never part of the issues with Tressler. This person was repeatedly attacked and included solely because he was a friend of mine. He’s been maligned and dragged through this for years.”
Heilmann said that Chimenti wasn’t even questioned by the Godfrey and Kahn in their investigation of Tressler. Yet the “observations” criticize and question his hiring of Chimenti as a member of the village's legal team. He called the post-settlement report a waste of taxpayer funds.
“They’re writing about Mr. Chimenti in those [observations] and my recommending him and questions about his role,” Heilmann continued. “I would hire him again tomorrow. It really begs the motive behind something like that. These were issues specifically asked by specific board members to be looked at. You can’t use taxpayer funds to settle political disputes.”
Wilson said the final report would be in the village’s hands by July 8. He would not comment who else besides the mayor was provided with “observations.” Trustees are expected to vote on whether to convene a special executive session to hear the report, but with a divided village board and the mayor as the tie-breaking vote, that special meeting may not happen.
Heilmann has long maintained that he encouraged fellow village board members in 2010 to sit down and negotiate with Tressler to get $96,000 in outstanding fees waived without incurring additional legal fees.
The mayor also said that he was troubled by the $16,000 spent on legal costs to defend the village after it was served with a federal subpoena last year. The subpoena requested all materials related to the hiring of Querrey and Harrow, the firm that replaced Tressler.
Heilmann said that the federal investigation against the village was still ongoing.
“I’m frustrated,” he said. “The residents are being stuck with paying $16,000 to defend a criminal action and the residents didn’t do anything.”
Read more GOVERNMENT NEWS: