Village of Oak Lawn Legal Tab: Taxpayers’ Money at Work
Readers asked Oak Lawn Patch to probe the village for legal billings into investigation of the former village attorneys. We asked and we will continue to ask.
The investigation into the former village attorneys—it’s now being re-investigated by a new law firm—has so far cost Oak Lawn taxpayers $31,869. That meter is still running.
Legal billings to date for the investigation into alleged overbillings and practices of Tressler, Soderstrom, Maloney & Preiss were obtained from the village through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The investigation has taken on the taint of a political power struggle among members of the Oak Lawn Village Board.
The Odelson Report
Tressler handled the village’s legal business beginning in October 2005. Tressler was hired at the recommendation of Mayor Dave Heilmann, the same year that the mayor’s Unity Party slate was swept into office.
The firm took on such ongoing, high-profile litigation as Oak Lawn firefighter Sharon Januszewski’s sexual harassment lawsuit and the Kmart lawsuit over the 111th Street and Cicero Avenue TIF.
When the village’s legal fees nearly tripled to $3.5 million under Tressler’s watch—fees that the village board approved paying—Tressler was fired after heated public debate in open session between the mayor and village board members in September 2009.
Querrey and Harrow, the village's current legal counsel, was hired to take Tressler's place.
A few months later, the village board hired attorney Burt Odelson to conduct a legal audit of alleged overbillings by the former village attorneys. Odelson’s 14-month investigation culminated with a 38-page report submitted to the village board in April.
The Odelson Report concluded that mishandling of cases by the former village attorneys cost village taxpayers up to $10 million in economic damages. The report also implicated the mayor of covering up legal billings and other missteps by the former village attorneys.
The report acknowledges the assistance of Trustee Tom Phelan, chair of the village board’s finance committee, who helped organize and compile exhibits. Phelan has been highly critical of the mayor, his former slate-mate, since the splintering of the Unity Party.
Odelson, who was given a $25,000 cap to compile his investigative report, billed the village $10,477, according to a Jan. 26, 2010 invoice. The billing covers professional services between Dec. 17, 2009 and Jan. 25, 2010.
No additional billings from Odelson concerning his report on the former village attorneys were forthcoming from the village in response to Patch’s FOIA request.
Odelson claims in his report that Tressler may have mishandled the Januszewski lawsuit, costing village taxpayers $1.5 million in economic damages, and failed to communicate a previous settlement offer to village board members and the village manager.
A cassette recording of the Jan. 8, 2008 executive session was turned over to Tressler’s attorneys last month in exchange for extending a two-year statute of limitations within which to file a legal malpractice claim.
In May, the village paid a $15,000 retainer to the Wisconsin-based law firm of Godfrey & Kahn to conduct another audit of the former village attorney’s legal billings.
“There are so many great firms in Chicago. I don’t know why we had to go to Wisconsin,” Heilmann said.