Cook County Circuit Court upholds IIT Chicago-Kent Center for Open Government's complaint against the Village of Oak Lawn

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cook County Circuit Court Judge William O. Maki yesterday upheld a complaint filed by Chicago-Kent College of Law's Center for Open Government on behalf of Oak Lawn resident Karen Berge against the Village of Oak Lawn board of trustees. Berge alleges that the board directly violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act last year by considering, voting in favor of, and taking final action on the approval of mass layoffs of village employees during a closed session on July 28, 2009.

Judge Maki's decision allows the lawsuit, Berge v. the Board of Trustees of the Village of Oak Lawn, now pending in Cook County Circuit Court, to proceed. In addition, by denying Oak Lawn's motion to dismiss the case, the judge indicated that he would entertain Berge's motion to have the court review the minutes of the closed meeting to determine what transpired and whether the village board violated the Open Meetings Act.

"This opens the possibility that the veil may be lifted and that the public may yet get to see and hear what occurred in the closed session that gave rise to the decision to lay off more than 30 village employees," said Terrance A. Norton, executive director of the Center for Open Government and the attorney who argued the motions in court.

The Center filed suit on Berge's behalf in August 2009 shortly after the Oak Lawn board ordered the layoff of 34 village employees. Tempers flared in Oak Lawn at that time, and accusations were made that the board had sought to avoid discussing the layoffs in meetings attended by the public.

"This first major court victory for the Center for Open Government vindicates our vision that an active advocacy program can bring sunshine and start the process of cleaning up Illinois state and local government by forcing open the processes of government in Illinois," said Chicago attorney Clint Krislov of Krislov & Associates, Ltd., who founded the Center in August 2009.

Chicago-Kent College of Law established the Center for Open Government to help ensure transparency, accountability and responsibility in local and state government. The Center identifies instances where legal recourse is needed to provide access to government information and proceedings. The Center focuses on cases challenging closed government processes under the Illinois Open Meetings Act, the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, and similar statutes.

Chicago-Kent College of Law is the law school of Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), a private, Ph.D.-granting institution.