Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Alleging Illegal Spending in District 113A, Plaintiffs Plan to Appeal
The complaint—filed in 2010 by former board member Janet Hughes and Lemont residents Laura Reigle, Duane Bradley and Louis Emery—was dismissed with prejudice Thursday afternoon.
Update, 12:15 p.m.
Attorneys from the Center for Open Government at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law and the law firm Krislov and Associates, which represented the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said they plan to appeal the judge's ruling.
They released the following statement Friday morning:
"As attorneys for the plaintiffs in the lawsuits against the Lemont-Bromberek Combined School District 113A board members and officials, we are disappointed by Judge Martin's dismissal of the complaints, and we strenuously disagree with Judge Martin's view that the school district's expenditures of moneys in excess of legal appropriations, and without the actions necessary to legally authorize transfers glosses over the district's undisputed violations of Illinois law."
In the statement, the attorneys said Martin's ruling 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."
Emails to plaintiffs Janet Hughes, Laura Reigle, Duane Bradley and Louis Emery have not been returned.
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Original story, 12:18 a.m.
A Cook County judge on Thursday dismissed a $12 million lawsuit alleging illegal spending and concealment in Lemont-Bromberek Combined School District 113A.
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.
In a hearing Thursday afternoon, Judge LeRoy K. Martin dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning it cannot be refiled, Board Member Lisa Wright confirmed.
"The judge agreed with our arguments, granted our motion and dismissed the entire case with prejudice," Wright said in an email.
Further details of the dismissal were not immediately available.
Two lawsuits, which were eventually consolidated, were filed in December 2010 by the Center for Open Government at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law on behalf of former District 113A Board Member Janet Hughes and Lemont residents Laura Reigle, Louis Emery and Duane Bradley.
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 Thursday 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.
The original lawsuits were filed the same week all four plaintiffs filed candidate petitions to run for the open seats on the District 113A school board during the April 2011 consolidated election. Emery dropped out of the race in February, while Hughes, Reigle and Bradley lost on Election Day.
Reigle is currently running for state representative in the 82nd District.