Oak Lawn trustees OK release of report on village’s legal spending
By Bob Rakow Correspondent September 11, 2012 11:58PM
Oak Lawn trustees on Tuesday night unanimously agreed to release a confidential report from July that focuses on alleged overbilling by the village’s former law firm.
A mayoral candidate and some trustees had sought release of the report, which was issued as part of a settlement of a village lawsuit against the former firm, Tressler LLP, and contained a confidentiality clause to prevent its public release.
The report was prepared by a Wisconsin-based law firm, Godfrey and Kahn, which was hired in May 2011 to review a similar report prepared by Evergreen Park-based attorney Burton Odelson, who had determined that there was sloppy record-keeping of legal expenses and excessive billing by Tressler.
Sandra Bury, a community activist and candidate for mayor, on July 6 requested a copy of the Godfrey and Kahn report under Illinois’ freedom of information law. The village denied the request, leading Bury to file an appeal with the state attorney general’s office.
The Tressler firm on Aug. 29 informed the village that it would not fight that appeal, leaving the village with the option of releasing the report or fighting its release at taxpayer expense.
Bury will receive an electronic copy of the report Wednesday, said village attorney Paul O’Grady.
She said she plans to release the report to anyone who requests a copy.
“I will make it readily available,” Bury said. “That’s always been my goal.”
Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd) said Tuesday the village board’s finance committee should meet to discuss the report’s fiscal implications. Olejniczak last week called for a special board meeting to discuss the report but it was canceled for lack of a quorum.
Trustee Carol Quinlan (5th) has maintained that a meeting would serve mostly as a platform for opponents of Mayor Dave Heilmann to attack him.
Under the settlement of the lawsuit, Tressler is to pay the village $500,000, Oak Lawn must pay the firm $50,000 and Tressler will forgive payment of another $46,360 owed it by the village.
The settlement comes more than two years after Odelson began his investigation into the billing practices of the Tressler firm, which was hired by the village on Heilmann’s recommendation. Odelson’s inquiry found that the village paid about $550,000 in legal fees in 2005 but paid more than $1 million in each of the next four years when Tressler was Oak Lawn’s law firm.
D.J. Sartorio, a member of the executive committee at Tressler, told the SouthtownStar in 2011 that Tressler’s fees for one “runaway” case, a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a female firefighter, skewed the average of what the firm charged the village during those four years.