Attorneys File Appeal in Lawsuit Against District 113A Officials
The original complaint—filed in 2010 by former board member Janet Hughes and Lemont residents Laura Reigle, Duane Bradley and Louis Emery—was dismissed with prejudice in March.
A former school board member and three Lemont residents filed an appeal Friday in their $12 million lawsuit alleging illegal spending and concealment in Lemont-Bromberek Combined School District 113A.
Natalie Potts, executive director of the Center for Open Government IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, confirmed that attorney Clint Krislov appeared in Cook County appellate court on behalf of former District 113A board member Janet Hughes and Lemont residents Laura Reigle, Duane Bradley and Louis Emery to challenge the dismissal of the lawsuit March 15.
"Appeals take several months to get going, so we're in the beginning of that process," Potts said. "We'll file an appeallate brief this summer, and the defendants will get the chance to respond. We'll expect a decision this summer or fall."
The complaint, originally filed in December 2010, claimed current and former district administrators and board members "engaged or aided in illegal spending" from 2007 to 2010, "and then took steps to conceal expenditures by draining funds legally appropriated for other purposes," which allegedly resulted in the loss of $12 million in taxpayer money.
Two lawsuits, which were eventually consolidated, were filed in December 2010 by the Center for Open Government on behalf of Hughes, Reigle, Bradley and Emery.
Listed as defendants in the lawsuit were former Superintendent Tim Ricker; Assistant Superintendent Mary Gricus; former Business Manager Robert Beckwith; current Board Members Lisa Wright and Kevin Doherty; and former Board Members John Wood, Sue Murphy, David Leahy, Gwen O'Malley and Al Albrecht.
Also named as defendants were Knutte Associates, an accounting firm responsible for the district's financial audits from 2007 to 2010, and Lloyds London, the insurance firm that entered into an agreement with Beckwith in 2005.
According to court documents, the plaintiffs alleged that District 113A board members and employees "repeatedly caused monies from the district's working cash fund to be diverted or otherwise used in violation of law and without proper notice having been given to District 113A taxpayers."
The lawsuits claimed that the district's financial statements from 2007 to 2009 showed the district spent more than $3 million more than was authorized in the board-approved budgets.
The lawsuits also alleged that representatives from Knutte and Associates, which performed audits of the district's financial statements for fiscal years 2007 to 2009, were aware of legal violations and aided in wrongdoing by providing clean audits of the district's financial statements.
The complaint dismissed last month by Judge Leroy K. Martin was an amended version of the original lawsuit. The initial suit was dismissed in July 2011 by Cook County Judge Rita M. Novak, who ruled that the complaint could be refiled with more particularity as to each defendant's actions, and whether they are being sued in their personal or official capacity.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint Aug. 29.
District 113A attorney James Petrungaro issued the following statement after the lawsuit was dismissed last month:
"The school district and individual defendants are very pleased with the court’s ruling and welcome the complete dismissal of the lawsuits. The decision affirms that the district board members and administrators acted completely within the law. It’s unfortunate that so much of the district’s time and resources had to be devoted to lawsuits that the court decided lacked any merit."
In the statement, the plaintiffs' attorneys said the ruling of Cook County Judge LeRoy K. Martin viewed unapproved transfers as a "budgeting matter," and did not determine whether district officials violated the law.
"The reason that this district is short of cash is because people spent its working cash fund for other purposes, and left it on the books as if it was still there," the attorneys said in the release. "School districts that spend their taxpayers' money beyond what is legally authorized disserve their constituents and violate the law...We will appeal the ruling and ask to enforce the law, which imposes liability for violating the law.
"We are confident that the appellate court will reaffirm taxpayer standing, declare the Illinois school finance laws to be not mere suggestions and hold that those who willfully violate the school finance laws are personally liable to the district."