Evergreen Terrace lawyers want out
By Bob Okon Sun-Times Media January 4, 2014 11:48AM
Updated: February 6, 2014 6:44AM
The lawyers for the Evergreen Terrace apartment complex in Joliet have filed a motion to withdraw from the case, saying they have not been paid for their services and have been sued by the sister of the housing complex’s most well known owner, Ronald Gidwitz.
The motion to withdraw is the latest sign that the defense may be unraveling as the legal fight enters its ninth year and Joliet continues to press its condemnation case to take over the 356-unit, low-income apartment complex.
This week, the city council is expected to vote on a settlement with tenants, who, along with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, were co-defendants with Evergreen Terrace owners when the trial started in October 2012. HUD settled with the city of Joliet in November.
Evergreen Terrace in the 300 block of Broadway Street is a privately owned but federally subsidized housing complex for low-income residents. The city initiated its condemnation lawsuit in 2005, contending that mismanagement and neglect have led to crime and poor living conditions.
Lawyers for the Chicago law firm of Ungaretti & Harris would not comment on the motion to withdraw from the federal case.
But the motion filed Tuesday states that “no fees have been paid to U&H for its trial work and significant sums remain unpaid for pre-trial work.”
The motion goes on to state Ungaretti & Harris recently was sued by Nancy Gidwitz, “the sister of Ronald J. Gidwitz and a person with her own interest in the Evergreen Terrace Parties.”
Gidwitz, a prominent Illinois Republican and businessman who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2006 and formerly served as chairman of the State Board of Education, is the owner most known among the group that owns Evergreen Terrace.
Ungaretti & Harris says the lawsuit brought by Nancy Gidwitz “seriously complicates” the firm’s continued involvement in the case.
“U&H should not be forced to continue to represent the Evergreen Terrace Parties while at the same time defending a lawsuit filed by one of the owners of those clients,” the motion states.
A spokeswoman for Evergreen Terrace owners declined to comment Friday.
Joliet City Attorney Jeff Plyman also declined to comment on the motion other than to say it will go to court for a hearing on Jan. 10 “and there will be an opportunity to comment then.”
Both sides have had dissension in the ranks in recent weeks. Joliet Councilman Robert O’Dekirk, a potential candidate for mayor in 2015, last month pointed to $2 million the city has spent on its own lawyers in the case and questioned whether the city should continue to pursue condemnation.
The case has wound its way to the U.S. Supreme Court to establish the city of Joliet’s right to condemn a piece of property in which the federal government has an interest. While Evergreen Terrace is privately owned, HUD provides a subsidy of $1,200 per unit to the owners to pay for rent and other expenses.
The case could still be far from over if EvergreenTerrace owners continue the legal fight.
The presentation of evidence and testimony recently ended. But lawyers from both sides have been given until the end of February to present summaries of the facts and applicable law to U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle, who will rule on the case.
Even if Norgle rules in favor of Joliet, the case would then go to a jury to determine what price the city should pay for Evergreen Terrace. If the price is steep, the city council could be divided over whether it should move forward with the takeover of the property.