Island Lake officials hope legal fees will tail off with lawsuit settled
The legal fight between Island Lake's mayor and two of the town's trustees ended last month, but the bills from the lawyers representing the town continue to add up.
Through the end of August, the village has been charged $331,496 for legal services in 2011, a Daily Herald review of village documents showed.
That total is about 41 percent greater than the $235,846 the board paid for legal services in all of 2010. It's also much more than the annual legal bills of many other Lake County towns.
Island Lake officials say cost-cutting measures are needed to offset the bills' impact on the town treasury.
"We need to look even more closely … at how we can manage what we have in front of us," Trustee Thea Morris said.
The bills came from two firms. One -- Ancel, Glink, Diamond, Bush, DiCianni and Krafthefer -- has been the town's law firm for several years and represented Mayor Debbie Herrmann during the lawsuit. Its bills have totaled $272,285 for the year.
The second firm -- Zurkowski, Rogers, Flood and McArdle -- was hired by four trustees in March because they wanted their own representation in village matters. Hiring the firm was among the reasons Herrmann sued the trustees later that month.
Its bills have totaled $59,211 for the year.
As part of the settlement, the Zurkowski firm now will be called upon on an as-needed basis and won't deal with routine board matters. A contract with the firm has not been adopted.
"We're basically just going with the one law firm now," Trustee Chuck Cermak said.
So far this year, the Island Lake board has paid an estimated $120,209 to Ancel Glink for its services and $19,737 to the Zurkowski firm for its work. Additional payments on the outstanding bills are pending.
The trustees expect the board's legal fees will decrease now that the court battle is done.
"All the nonsense is over with," said Cermak, who took office in May and was among the trustees who voted to end the lawsuit. "The new board works well together."
Herrmann had feuded with trustees Laurie Rabattini, Don Saville and John Ponio since the 2009 election. The balance of political power on the board shifted this year when Trustee Donna O'Malley -- who ran as part of the mayor's slate in 2009 -- essentially defected to the other side, giving the critics control of the board.
Things heated up in March when Rabattini, O'Malley, Saville and Ponio voted to hire David McArdle as the board's attorney over the objections of two trustees aligned with the mayor.
The new board majority also took other steps to reduce Herrmann's executive powers, including minimizing her ability to make personnel changes. Herrmann vetoed all of the moves, calling them illegal, and then sued Rabattini, Ponio, Saville and O'Malley over the matter in Lake County court.
Ponio and Saville were dropped from the case after they left office in May.
As a result of the lawsuit, Island Lake's legal bills skyrocketed. This year's incomplete sum already is greater than what many other Lake County villages pay for legal representation, Daily Herald research has shown.
In Vernon Hills, legal bills typically average $306,000 for a full year, officials there said. In Fox Lake, yearly bills typically total about $204,000. And in Hawthorn Woods, the bills are a relatively paltry $86,000 annually.
Not all of Island Lake's legal fees this year concerned the lawsuit. Officials also had to deal with union contract negotiations, village code updates, criminal prosecutions and other matters.
Additionally, some of Island Lake's legal bills actually are covered by developers, court fees and other sources, Herrmann said. Between 10 percent and 15 percent of the bills are funded that way, she said.
Regardless, the lawsuit took its toll on the town's coffers.
The two firms charged the village tens of thousands of dollars for their efforts on the case, records show. For April, May, June and July, the lawsuit was the biggest single expense identified on Ancel Glink's invoices.
"What are you going to do?" Cermak said. "You have to pay it."
The board is saving money by holding some meetings without a lawyer from Ancel Glink present, Cermak said. He also suggested board members consider reducing the $100-per-meeting pay they receive.
Morris agreed cuts are needed because of the legal battle's cost. She offered no specifics but said officials need to "look at every avenue."
Herrmann thinks the fight was worth the expense.
"We cannot operate a village under illegal ordinances, and that needed to be resolved," she said.