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posted: 9/7/2012 5:56 PM

Court fight continues over Heroes of Freedom Memorial Park construction in Gurnee

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  • Kristina Kovarik

      Kristina Kovarik

  • Kirk Morris

      Kirk Morris

 
 

Attorneys are arguing in court documents about whether the Gurnee village board had authority to reject a tentative lawsuit settlement that would require public money to be spent for a memorial to soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Last week, lawyers representing the village filed documents reiterating the board acted properly at a meeting in August and that the settlement can be scrapped. Trustee Kirk Morris' foundation and the village struck the proposed deal on July 16 in Lake County circuit court. The agreement came before a scheduled jury trial for the case that pitted village government against the Pfc. Geoffrey Morris Memorial Foundation, named for the trustee's son, a Marine who died in Iraq in 2004.

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But at an August meeting, the village board voted 4-0, with Morris and another trustee abstaining, against the deal that would have ended a nearly three-year controversy over Heroes of Freedom Memorial Park. The settlement would require memorial construction on a one-acre site on Old Grand Avenue where Gurnee's police headquarters previously stood.

Ellen Emery, one of the attorneys handling the lawsuit for the village, followed the board's vote by filing a motion seeking to have the proposed settlement vacated.

Robert O'Donnell, a foundation lawyer, recently countered in court papers that elected officials had no right to renege on the agreement.

O'Donnell also claimed Mayor Kristina Kovarik told the village's legal team the settlement would be supported by the elected officials before it gained court approval. Kovarik declined to comment Friday, deferring to court documents filed on behalf of the village.

"This is not a case of a rogue attorney cutting a deal," O'Donnell wrote. "It is a case of an attorney following the express direction of her client, with the client then attempting to wriggle out of the deal."

Additional court documents filed by the village on Aug. 30 attempt to bolster the contention the settlement should be unwound because the trustees didn't accept it.

"The Open Meetings Act ... requires the board to schedule a public meeting and discuss and vote upon matters in open sessions," wrote another Gurnee lawyer, David Pardys. "It is undisputed that no such public meeting, discussion and vote concerning the terms of the court order occurred prior to its entry."

Lake County Associate Judge Wallace Dunn signed the agreed order with terms of the tentative settlement the village board rejected. The order says the memorial would be built according to the Morris foundation's original plans on the public land at Gurnee's sole cost on or before Aug. 1, 2013.

Controversy over the memorial erupted in October 2009, when Morris and Kovarik began publicly feuding. Kovarik contended Morris' foundation accomplished little in the five years it was unofficially in charge of the memorial plan and raising private money for its construction on the public property.

In 2010, Morris sued the village over Kovarik's decision to remove his foundation as developer of Heroes of Freedom Memorial Park. Morris claimed the foundation had a right to finish the project. Morris' suit originally was dismissed by a Lake County circuit court judge in 2010. However, a mixed appellate court decision sent the case back to Lake County, with a limited focus on whether Morris' foundation was entitled to at least $200,000 in compensation for having improved the village's land for the stalled memorial.

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