Kadner: No winners in Robbins vs. Robbins
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org October 21, 2013 10:44PM
Charles White on the porch of his Robbins home, which has been in the family since 1958. He would have to give up his mineral rights for mining under his property for the planned Robbins quarry. | Gary Middendorf/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 23, 2013 6:16AM
The Cook County court clerk in the Daley Center called the case of “the village of Robbins vs. the village of Robbins.”
It turned out that was an error but an appropriate one.
Some residents of Robbins were in court on Monday, trying to get a judge to stop village officials from pursuing a “quick-take” of massive property for a development plan that includes the construction of a rock quarry and underground mine.
The controversial scheme, which would involved a private company taking over 20 to 30 percent of all the land in Robbins, is creating something akin to civil war in one of the poorest suburbs in the nation.
David Johnson, 70, a retired insurance man and longtime Robbins resident, was in the courtroom of Circuit Court Judge Mary Mikva, hoping to throw a legal wrench into the machinery.
He was represented by David Dyson, another Robbins resident, who has no legal training.
“I fix machines at the post office,” Dyson told me.
They were in court because that’s where folks often end up when they feel they are being abused by the government and taken advantage of by corporate interests. Dyson and Johnson believe the courts are where ordinary people go to get justice.
They had drafted the complaint against the village themselves, and as I read it before the court hearing began, I knew the men from Robbins were in trouble.
They wanted the judge to issue a preliminary injunction to stop the Legislature from considering a shell bill that might eventually contain language that would allow their property to be taken by the village through a process known as “quick-take” eminent domain.
As Mikva would eventually explain to the Robbins residents, “I can’t imagine I would ever, in a million years, tell anyone they couldn’t go the Legislature to get relief.”
In other words, no judge is going to prohibit a municipality from asking the Legislature to do something it is empowered to do under the law.
But Mikva said that wasn’t her reason for refusing to hear the case for an injunction on this day. The Robbins residents had failed to legally serve notice of the lawsuit on the village.
In fact, that produced quite a comical scene, with three lawyers showing up on the side of the judge’s bench where government attorneys would normally stand, but all of them refusing to acknowledge that they were representing the village.
Donald Kreger, one of the attorneys, told the judge he had not been officially authorized to represent the village and because proper legal notice had not been served on the village he was not appearing on behalf of the village.
The judge acknowledged the unusual circumstances and tried to be as nice as possible to Johnson and Dyson, who were neatly attired in blue suits. She said she would schedule a status hearing on the case in 60 days but encouraged the two men to consult an attorney.
Not only had they failed to legally serve the village, but their lawsuit claimed that they were representing all of the residents in Robbins.
Mikva noted that they could not legally make such a claim. Johnson could name himself as a plaintiff or other individual residents but could not state the lawsuit represented all Robbins residents, she said.
Johnson pleaded with the judge to hear the case immediately. The Legislature might consider a quick-take bill for the Robbins land in the veto session this week.
State Rep. Will Davis (D-Hazel Crest) has said he submitted a shell bill (a measure that has language that may have nothing to do with Robbins but can be altered to address quick-take) in the spring session of the General Assembly for that purpose.
Johnson explained that he was appearing “pro se,” so “if I say something stupid, I apologize,” and tried to emphasize the urgency of the situation to the judge.
Mikva, in turn, tried to explain that the passage of such legislation would not preclude Robbins citizens from pursuing remedies in court. She said that, although she’s no expert in that area of the law, it’s her understanding that quick-take, eminent domain proceedings require court hearings.
Johnson and Dyson were obviously frustrated and disappointed.
“They want quick-take, and we want quick-stop,” Dyson had told me before the hearing, obviously testing out a witticism he hoped to use with the judge.
He never got the opportunity.
Robbins residents told me after the court session that some of them would travel to Springfield today to try to prevent legislators from considering the bill to allow quick-take in Robbins.
After the court hearing, Kreger attempted to explain to the Robbins residents that they did not have a clear understanding of the meaning of quick-take. It does not mean the government or a private entity can just take their land without giving them an opportunity to go to court or to negotiate a purchase agreement, he said.
They would have an opportunity to go to court and contest the process, even after quick-take legislation was passed, the lawyer explained.
The Robbins residents were reluctant to accept his explanation at face value.
Kreger is not the village attorney for Robbins but apparently employed by the village to negotiate for it during the land acquisition process.
Dyson and Johnson, like many Robbins residents, don’t trust anyone right now.
“People are trying to swoop into our community and take all our land without asking us for permission,” Johnson said. “People keep saying the mayor and elected officials represent our interests. But they don’t. They tried to keep this deal a secret.
“All we want is someone to listen to us.”