Oak Lawn mayor questions critical report
BY BOB RAKOW Correspondent September 21, 2012 9:56PM
Updated: October 24, 2012 6:36AM
Oak Lawn Mayor Dave Heilmann wants to know why a recent report that questions his relationship with the village’s former law firm — which was accused of overbilling the village — barely mentions that there’s a federal investigation into the village’s hiring of that firm’s successor.
“The fact is, the two matters are directly related to one another,” Heilmann said in responding to the report for the first time.
In addition, the report was written by a fraternity brother of Trustee Tom Phelan (6th), one of Heilmann’s political foes, Heilmann has said.
The implication that political gamesmanship is involved comes as another municipal election season begins to shape up. Community activist Sandra Bury recently announced she will challenge Heilmann for mayor in the April 2013 election.
The village hired Querrey and Harrow as its law firm in 2009, replacing what now is Tressler LLP. There were allegations of overbilling by Tressler, and the village did get about $500,000 back in settling a lawsuit against the firm. No one has been charged with wrongdoing.
A recent report into the alleged overbilling, compiled by the firm of Godfrey and Kahn and released this month, affirmed an earlier report, concluding that Oak Lawn officials were negligent in tracking legal fees and questioning Heilmann’s recommendation to hire the firm, whose partners included a friend of Heilmann’s brother-in-law.
In a written response to that report, Heilmann said, “The hiring of Querrey is under federal criminal investigation. The conduct of Tressler is not.”
He said attorney Eric Wilson and Godfrey and Kahn spent nearly $500,000 investigating “every possible legal, personal and political issue regarding the former attorneys but completely ignored everything giving rise to a criminal investigation and the hiring of Querrey.”
Godfrey and Kahn said the criminal investigation was not referenced in the legal report because it was not part of its assignment.
Heilmann long has alleged that Phelan was instrumental in getting Querrey and Harrow hired as village attorney because of Phelan’s friendship with one of the firm’s partners, Mike Stillman.
The village was served with a grand jury subpoena in June 2011, asking for all records and emails regarding the hiring of the firm.
Phelan has denied involvement in the hiring. But Heilmann provided email records showing that on June 28, 2009, Phelan emailed village manager Larry Deetjen at 5:45 a.m., telling him to meet with Stillman later that day at an Evergreen Park restaurant. Phone records show 90 calls between Phelan and Stillman in the six weeks leading up to Stillman’s hiring as village attorney, Heilmann said.
“Just weeks before Querrey was hired, Phelan wrote in an email that he wanted to give legal work to his friend Mike Stillman, the managing partner at Querrey, because Mike had helped him ‘personally and professionally,’ ” the mayor said.
Phelan said Heilmann “has been making the same baseless accusation for the past three years in an effort to distract attention from the real issue here: the fraud that he orchestrated on the village of Oak Lawn that cost taxpayers millions of dollars.”
Godfrey and Kahn also was hired by the village to respond to the criminal subpoena at the same time it was working on the legal bills report. Heilmann suggested Wilson should have told Oak Lawn officials that the firm could not ignore the criminal matter while investigating the alleged overbilling when the lead investigating attorney (Wilson) was “subject to bias” by being the fraternity brother of a trustee.
Phelan also didn’t disclose that he and Wilson were fraternity brothers until several weeks into the legal investigation, Heilmann said.
He also is critical of Deetjen for failing to provide proposals from other law firms before Querrey and Harrow was chosen.
“I was shocked because Querrey doesn’t have a law practice with experience in serving as board counsel for municipalities like Oak Lawn,” Heilmann wrote in a July 2009 memo to board members.
Heilmann told Deetjen that Querrey and Harrow was not qualified, but Deetjen said the majority of the board supported hiring the firm.
Bury said Heilmann is attempting to distract voters by trying to convince the public that the criminal investigation should be tied to the report on legal billing.
“I’d like his answer on why he is linking these events together,” she said. “He is a smart man and seems to be counting on the public to be confused on this issue.”
She said if the investigation were merited, “There would have been some action by now.”