Village Spends $453K To Settle With Law Firm for $470K

Village agrees to settle with former village attorney after costly litigation.

agreed to end the dispute with its former legal counsel after some village trustees accused the firm of malpractice and overbillings.

Oak Lawn trustees settled with Tressler, Soderstrom, Maloney & Priess for $500,000 during the village board’s executive session on Tuesday.

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Tressler served as the village counsel from October 2005 to September 2009. , with some village board members criticizing Mayor Dave Heilmann for his reluctance to fire the Tressler attorneys because he had friends at the firm.

after members of Querrey’s municipal litigation team joined a new firm that has since taken over as Oak Lawn’s legal counsel.

READ the settlement offer.

Under the terms of the confidential agreement, Tressler will pay the village a settlement of $500,000. The third-party administrator that handled some of the village’s legal claims—CCMSI--is to pay the village $20,000.

in legal bills that it has owed Tressler since 2009 by paying $50,000. Tressler will forgive the remaining balance of $46,360.

The agreement marks the end of a multi-year battle with political underpinnings that has cost the village $453,541 to resolve, including a pair of legal investigations by two different firms.

Village Manager Larry Deetjen placed the settlement at $566,000, including the forgiven debt balance to Tressler of $46,360.

“It should be noted that the unpaid invoices held back by the village since 2009 because of overall billings concerns discovered by the village were unrelated directly to the investigation,” Deetjen said by email Wednesday evening. “[They] were recorded on the village books as accounts payable and due if the village had not successfully secured a ‘global settlement.’”

Attorney Burt Odelson was hired by the village board in January 2010 to lead an audit investigation into possible overbillings and mishandling of such high profile cases as the , and a female village firefighters’ sexual harassment lawsuit.

, and lacerated the mayor and his attorney friend and partner in community theater productions Norm Chimenti, who handled some of the village’s labor contract negotiations.

A month later, to conduct a second investigation.

Godfrey and Kahn, that touts white collar investigations and defense as one of its areas of expertise, helped broker the out-of-court settlement with Tressler.

A breakdown of the total $453,541legal fees to date include:

  • Godfrey and Kahn, $436,672
  • Odelson and Sterk, $10,477
  • Querrey and Harrow, $6,392

The settlement payout—not including the forgiven $46,360 debt balance to Tressler—totals $470,000.

“In January 2010 I did recommend that the board consider trying to get the [outstanding] fees [owed to Tressler] waived for $96,000 without incurring additional legal fees,” Heilmann said. “If we had done that we would have had a net of $96,000, instead of paying up to $450,000+.”

Both parties agreed to not sue each other for future damages. In addition, each party would pay its own legal fees.

“The village sought a thorough and factual investigation and settlement,” Deetjen said. “We received exactly what we sought.”

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Sandra Bury April 13, 2012 at 04:52 AM
They will never know if their public trust was betrayed. Yes John, this outrage is distasteful to me, no matter how pretty or clean the document in legal-speak. The Freedom of Information Act says, “It is declared to be the public policy of the State of Illinois that all persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts and policies of those who represent them as public officials.” It goes on, “Such access is necessary to enable the people to fulfill their duties of discussing public issues fully and freely, making informed political judgements and monitoring government to ensure that it is being conducted in the public interest.” Can anyone honestly say that this agreement honors the spirit of the law of the land? I am thrilled that the Village Board was able to reach an agreement without litigation. I’m outraged that this Agreement hides the truth forever behind a veil of legal jargon and technical complexity. The only morsel of truth the voters can cling to in this very sad situation is the fact that it’s not likely that a law firm would pay out $500,000 in a settlement just to be nice. There was something there. And it stinks. And they got away with it. Is anyone else as angry about this as I am?
Pat F April 13, 2012 at 04:52 AM
It appears by them paying us that we won?/ Doesn't the party who loses usually pay the attorney fees because they were at fault?!?!??
Lorraine Swanson (Editor) April 13, 2012 at 05:30 AM
Scott, I don't know where your comment is coming from regarding the firefighter in question, or what it has to do with the story, so I deleted it. No personal attacks, please, or I will turn on the comment moderation. I don't have time to be a junior high cafeteria supervisor, but will if I must.
JohnEggert April 13, 2012 at 03:18 PM
I write not just as a lawyer but as a resident and taxpayer of Oak Lawn (not life long like Andy, but over 18 years) with a wife who has owned - and at times struggled with - a business in Oak Lawn for now over 30 years. As for the Tressler settlement, you made a nice speech above, but you omit some things. Maybe there was "something there" as you say. More likely than not, there was. However, they did pay back $500,000.00. I don't call that getting away with anything. The taxpayers did get screwed, but not just by Tressler firm; read the numbers above and tell us that we didn't get screwed even more. The best thing about any settlement is that all parties involved have reached the point at which they determined it's time to hang it up. Could be cost, could be lack of will to continue, could be a multitude of reasons, but at the end of the day, it's done. The perfect settlement of any legal claim is one where the paying party feels they paid too much, and the receiving party feels they got too little. Thus is the Tressler matter. My guess is they weren't happy to fork over 500K, and related guess that the board wanted more, but everyone decided to call it quits.
JohnEggert April 13, 2012 at 03:19 PM
Based on the projected costs of continuing the litigation weighed against the probability of further recovery, I would suggest that the Mayor, the Manager and the Village board did the right thing here. To your FOIA point, if everything has been so secretive and concealed from the voters and taxpayers, why have there been so many "investigations" , reports and presentations of findings? And, most importantly, how would we all be able to read the settlement agreement, read news about it and discuss these matters now. The calls for transparency in "the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act" are hollow at best, sophistry at worst. If you want to read more, submit a FOIA request to Clerk Quinlan, but in any event, the matter has been concluded. To that purpose, I congratulate the Village president AND the Board for closing the book.
Sandra Bury April 13, 2012 at 07:08 PM
John, I completely agree that the settlement was the right thing for the taxpayer as a way to curb escalating attorney fees. As far as "in any event, the matter has been concluded," I'm not so sure. The voters have yet to speak on this issue.
Dave W. April 16, 2012 at 01:49 AM
Some of mine are still reading as that, if that helps you figure anything out...that, or Patch software knows it is me...
Dave W. April 16, 2012 at 01:58 AM
I don't know how well FOIA has worked or not...I've read a LOT of these boards, and a few times I've seen mention of people wanting more information and it not being forthcoming. Not many, though. My BIGGER concern is the concept of a 'closed' meeting. I'm sorry, but there should NEVER be a meeting held that Oak Lawn taxpayers are not allowed to view. Perhaps there is to be silence from the gallery, but everything the board or any committee does should be open to the public, every single time, without exception. We LITERALLY pay their salaries, AND elect them...we the people, the taxpaying public ARE Oak Lawn. The town is NOT the mayor, or the village manager, or the clerk, or the trustees. It is US. We should keep unelecting people until they realize they answer to us, not the other way around. This isn't a petty kingdom with barons and ministers. We voted them in, we should vote out whoever thinks they can do deals without doing them in the open, for all the world to see. Sunshine is the best disinfectant, folks, lets open our eyes and let the sun shine in.
andy skoundrianos April 16, 2012 at 03:57 AM
Hey Dave you stole my line!!!
Dave W. April 16, 2012 at 04:12 AM
Which one, Andy? I seem to use every space they allow me...I'm bound to say something good by accident, eventually.
OakLawnGuy April 16, 2012 at 12:00 PM
The "spirit" of an executive session is to discuss matters requiring privacy, such as legal and personnel items. I'm not sure if it's covered by Robert's Rules, but I believe it is within a government's charter. The spirit, however, is very often violated for the personal gain of meeting participants. Closed meetings involving the Oak Lawn Board, or any other, are never going to go away.
Dave W. April 16, 2012 at 01:55 PM
OLG, A lad can dream, can't he? I don't disagree with your assessment, I'm just curious why private matters are in discussion at a village meeting, and why they can make THAT a reason for keeping it private. Seems vastly self-serving. I don't doubt they are here to stay, I just can't help feeling that they breed corruption.
OakLawnGuy April 16, 2012 at 02:51 PM
They do! And I don't disagree with your sentiment to open everything up. It would be informative and entertaining.
andy skoundrianos April 16, 2012 at 03:09 PM
Cleansing light of the truth,or as you wrote sunshine is the best disinfectant Very good line by the way!!!
JohnEggert April 16, 2012 at 03:31 PM
Dr. Bury, Sometimes, when you toss a few blades of grass into the air, it's very clear which way the wind is blowing. "I'm not so sure" the matter has been concluded? "The voters have yet to speak on the issue"? I thought that for you, this was just about ethics, openness and the lawyers and not political. Yet, now it seems as though you are an aspiring mayoral candidate and have not so subtly revealed your intentions. So now, it is clearly about politics. If so, people may now want to know who your running mates are. As you cast aspersions upon the lawyers, the mayor and others, are you prepared to be completely honest and forthcoming with those very same voters by letting readers know (1) whether you are a candidate for mayor and (2) if so, with whom as your running mates? Could it possibly be any of the former Unity Party who split with the mayor, could it? I suppose that your recent comments and criticisms have nothing to do with that though. As you dig into the hiring and the practices of the lawyers involved, make sure that you include ALL of the lawyers, not just the Tressler firm, A-L-L of them. You do want to be fair and open with the taxpayers, right?
JohnEggert April 16, 2012 at 03:44 PM
For you were once darkness, but now you are light. Live as children of light, for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth, and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. Paul: Ephesians 5:1-20
QC April 16, 2012 at 04:03 PM
"Both parties agreed to not sue each other for future damages. In addition,---- each party would pay its own legal fees." No one won. The Losers are the taxpayers who've been bamboozzled by this Board for far too long. It's a shell game folks. While you're watching one hand the Underhand is at work. Count on it!
andy skoundrianos April 17, 2012 at 04:37 AM
Hey John, I thought I was running for Mayor.. Do remember back in 2004 and 2005 When Dave Heilmann all of a sudden started showing up at Board meetings and writing letters to the editor ripping the old coalition party for stuff basically Bob Streit and a few residents including yourself and me, had been complaining about for 9 years prior to that?? Dave said nothing during that time but of course he was not running for Mayor back then. I don't know if Dr. Bury is running or not, but she is doing nothing different than other or( future) candidates for Mayor have done in the past..
Sandra Bury April 17, 2012 at 10:03 AM
Good Morning John! You will get no argument from me about the need for change in our fair Village. I have no idea how the future will play out but I can tell you and anyone that the excessive legal costs are harmful - perhaps not as harmful though as petty and vindictive leadership might be. If I was a business looking to invest in Oak Lawn and all that I knew about it was what a saw on public board meetings, I would run as fast and far as I could. This hurts us. You can't put a dollar amount on that. It's like 3rd grade all over again, while a great opportunity to move forward is squandered. I won't deny that I get fired up about it. Frankly the lack maturity and engagement in this community from the top down are at best an embarrassment. The community and people deserve better.
OakLawnGuy April 17, 2012 at 12:11 PM
I wholeheartedly agree regarding lack of engagement. Some residents, such as the frequent commenters and business owners like yourself, are quite actively engaged. The majority of the citizenry aren't as activist, but I'm consistently appalled at the lack of voter turnout for local elections. While the 3rd District trustee race was as tight as tight can be, it was embarrassing to see the total of votes cast. I personally know of two or three who were pro-Sodaro and did not vote. Imagine if they and 9 others had chosen to exercise their right. D229 had a tax referendum passed a few years back mainly because those opposed to it did not vote. (Not the referendum for a new school, which was soundly defeated.) Voters need to take these races more seriously, and cast a ballot for their candidate of choice, whoever that may be.
Oak Lawn Gal April 17, 2012 at 01:03 PM
OLG maybe we should offer free transportation to and from the polls for OL residents. The Democrats had that down to a science in Chicago. I think it would certainly benefit the village to get more voters out.
Oak Lawn Gal April 17, 2012 at 01:10 PM
This is slightly off topic but I would like to see Dr. Bury and Jane Q and others run for Mayor. It would be good to have more choices in candidates. When I look at the current trustees I don't see anyone I would vote for for mayor.
JohnEggert April 17, 2012 at 02:22 PM
Your points regarding lack of engagement in the community are absolutely correct. I also recall Andy's having mentioned that the general attitude is that for the most part, if something is going on in one area, the only people who care about it are the folks in that area and that there are few - if any - who seem to care about what goes on Village-wide. Deadly accurate. Andy, remember the old Faber/Webb line? "There are 55,000 people in Oak Lawn, and if 50 ashow up at a board meeting, it's a big deal. That's why we can do whatever the #### we want." A successful democracy requires an informed electorate.
andy skoundrianos April 17, 2012 at 07:07 PM
The Sad thing is in Oak Lawn is no one votes 14% turnout in the last local election in 2011. I think that will go up a little in 2013 as it is a Mayoral election.For good or Bad Oak Lawn has been a very Political town for decades. Arguments at the board meetings have been going on long before the cameras were present. What John says is very true.He has been going to meetings for a long time and what Oak lawn needs is not only an informed electorate,but also an engaged electorate.
Dave W. April 17, 2012 at 09:17 PM
Like everything else, you usually get about what you deserve...taxpayers complain, but do little or nothing about it. Like most thieves, politicians enjoy high rates of recidivism in their jobs. Instead of a judge setting anyone free, we elect the fox to watch the henhouse, then wonder where all the eggs and chickens went.
Dave W. April 17, 2012 at 09:43 PM
Andy, I agree with you totally about needing an engaged electorate...I sort of wonder, not saying I know, but, does anybody feel that the whole 95th and Cook debacle really killed off whatever was left of the enthusiasm in Oak Lawn? I remember those meetings being PACKED, but the old board and VM and mayor were as crooked as the letter 'z'. It seems since then, when the wants of the people were TOTALLY disregarded by those people that everybody FINALLY realized that Kolb and cohorts had been shady for years and were going to do what they wanted to do. After that, there was major change, in that we got new trustees in most wards, a new mayor, no more Faber, etc. Even though the town was sort of stuck with the developments, I do remember (I think) the current mayor getting a couple of floors lopped off the tops of those condos (could you imagine THAT, two more levels?), but the village's hands were largely tied. Anyway, it feels like after that big change, the passion for who runs what in town has waned and people hardly care. I'm sure there are people who post on here that don't vote, because that would require them leaving their chair. Easier to complain from a distance.
andy skoundrianos April 18, 2012 at 04:38 AM
Dave you are right I was there back in the Day. One floor was taken off the development and once the housing market tanked the village had to pay to get the other parking lot back behind the vfw hall,that was included in the old tif district!!!! One of many lousy development " choices " by the old coalition party..
LucyEve April 18, 2012 at 07:33 PM
And the men who hold high places Must be the ones who start_ To mold a new reality closer to the heart_ The Blacksmith and the Artist reflect it in their art; forge their creativity ctth_ Philosophers and Ploughmen each must know his part to sow a new mentality ctth. You can be the Captain and I will draw the chart_Sailing into destiny Closer To The Heart
Thirdidstrictguy April 19, 2012 at 12:46 PM
Oak Lawn Guy says he knows a couple of people that didn't vote who were pro-Sodaro. Big Deal! Don't you think some of the people that stayed home were Pro-Streit?
JohnEggert April 19, 2012 at 01:59 PM
Thanks, Andy. Don't forget the infamous comment made by the then business development director. He told me to my face that if my wife and the other property owners on her block (South side of the 5200 block of 95th) persisted in their refusal to sell to Mid-America, the Village would either condemn them all or just build on that parking lot, deprive all of those businesses (the VFW, Deja Brew, Angelo's, Goalpost, Annie's and then Mal's) of their parking and - I quote here - "they can just die and rot on the vine." That was the level of contempt the Village officials had for the people who built the businesses that had been there for decades. If Heilmann, Quinlan, Phelan and Olejniczak had lost that 2005 election, that project would have continued, and those places would all be gone. My wife took tons of grief then from a lot of people, but she stood up for what she thought was right and stood against what she thought was wrong. I know that nobody is perfect - not Dave, Tom, Alex, Bob or Larry - but we have come a very long way on what I think is the right path.


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