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Article updated: 2/24/2013 12:53 AM

Law firm donated $6,000 to Island Lake candidates

By Russell Lissau

The law firm that represented four Island Lake trustees during a nasty political battle in 2011 has donated $6,000 to the candidates running against Mayor Debbie Herrmann and her allies, state records show.

Zukowski, Rogers, Flood and McArdle gave the group running as the "For the People" slate $6,000 on Feb. 6, campaign disclosure reports revealed.

In an email to the Daily Herald, partner David McArdle explained the donation actually was a gift of services that amounted to $6,000, typically called an in-kind donation.

Available records didn't describe the donation that way. But "For the People" campaign manager Wayne Schnell confirmed it was a gift of services, not cash.

The donation is far and away the single largest gift the group -- led by mayoral candidate Charles Amrich until he recently was removed from the ballot -- has reported. Its other reported receipts total $1,105.

McArdle was the lawyer who represented the four trustees in the 2011 battle. He also represented Amrich in his unsuccessful attempt to stay in the current mayoral race.

Additionally, McArdle represented "For the People" trustee candidate Tony Sciarrone when his candidacy was legally challenged by the same activists who went after Amrich. That case was dropped, though, so Sciarrone remains on the April 9 ballot.

Herrmann, a frequent target of McArdle's Island Lake clients, said she wasn't surprised by the donation.

"I have no doubt that the arrangement agreed upon was for Mr. McArdle to provide services to the candidates in exchange for the appointment to village attorney in the event that the majority of Mr. Amrich's slate would win the election," she told the Daily Herald in an email.

When asked if the donation was part of an effort to become the village's lawyer, McArdle said the Crystal Lake firm would like to be considered for the job.

"If the slate is fortunate enough to win and be placed into office, and if the new mayor solicits new law firms, we will happily apply," he said.

"For the People" trustee candidate Mark Beeson denied the donation is part of a political quid pro quo.

"Nobody has made an offer, and he hasn't asked," Beeson said.

McArdle and his firm were deeply involved in a legal battle that divided the Island Lake board and the community in 2011.

That March, a majority of village trustees voted to hire McArdle as the board's attorney. At the time, the Chicago firm Ancel, Glink, Diamond, Bush, DiCianni and Krafthefer had been representing the board, Herrmann and the village staff.

The four trustees also voted to stop paying Ancel Glink for its services. Both steps were opposed by other trustees allied with Herrmann.

The moves came during an ugly feud between the quartet and the mayor over Ancel Glink's legal fees and other issues.

Ancel Glink continued working for the town, however, because Herrmann argued the board didn't have the legal ability to change law firms. She promptly sued the trustees who'd engineered the moves in Lake County court, alleging they'd acted improperly.

So, for a while, two law firms represented the two factions -- and both racked up billable hours until the case was settled in August 2011.

For the five months it represented the trustees, McArdle's firm charged the town $70,923, village documents show. That sum was reduced as part of the settlement to $59,211.

Ancel Glink billed the village $189,952 during those same five months, records show.

Between the two firms, the bills for those five months exceed what the village was billed for legal services in all of 2010, records show.

Also as part of the settlement, McArdle's firm was retained as legislative attorneys on an as-needed basis. At a recent public meeting, McArdle said he has not done any work for the village since the settlement.

Looking back, Herrmann called the battle an "ill-fated" attempt by her political foes to reduce her mayoral abilities and ditch Ancel Glink, which still represents village hall.

"In my opinion, if Mr. McArdle would have been successful in stripping the mayor's powers in 2011 he would have been appointed as village attorney," Herrmann said.

McArdle resurfaced in Island Lake last month after local activists Louis Sharp and Daniel Field sought to force Amrich and Sciarrone off the ballot. The men claimed both candidates owed the village debts and were therefore legally ineligible to serve.

Despite McArdle's legal maneuvers, an electoral board met Feb. 4 and voted 2-1 to disqualify Amrich as a candidate, citing an overdue $174 garbage bill that hadn't been paid when he signed candidate paperwork on Dec. 18, 2012. The debt was settled by the time Amrich submitted campaign documents later in the month, but that wasn't good enough for the board.

Amrich appealed to Lake County court, and again he was represented by McArdle. Last week, Judge Margaret Mullen dismissed the appeal because McArdle didn't follow the law when delivering key documents to people involved in the case before a scheduled hearing.

As for the case against Sciarrone, evidence never was presented to the electoral board. Sharp and Field dropped the matter the same night Amrich was disqualified.

The firm's donation to the "For the People" slate is listed on the slate's financial reports, which are public and viewable online at elections.state.il.us.

Municipal candidates who raise or spend at least $3,000 must file quarterly financial disclosure reports with the state board of elections. They must also file individual reports for donations of $1,000 or more.

Donations of less than $150 do not need to be itemized on the reports.

In addition to Sciarrone and Beeson, the "For the People" group includes clerk candidate Teresa Ponio and trustee hopeful Keith Johns.

Even without a mayoral candidate, the "For the People" candidates can continue to work together.

The group reported receiving $105 in non-itemized donations in a Jan. 14 report. It also reported receiving $1,000 from the Chicago Title and Trust Co. in a Feb. 13 report.

That second document included the donation from McArdle's law firm.

Herrmann is running for re-election as leader of the "United for Progress" slate. The team has not yet filed campaign disclosure paperwork with the state.

In addition to Herrmann, the slate includes Clerk Connie Mascillino and trustee candidates Josh Rohde, Ken Nitz and Ed McGinty.

When contacted by the Daily Herald, none of the "United for Progress" trustee candidates seemed troubled by the $6,000 donation. But Nitz said it should "raise some eyebrows" if McArdle's firm becomes the village's legal team after the election.

"Quid pro quo donations and political favors are a plague at every level of government," Nitz said in an email. "Public officials have a duty and an obligation to serve the entire public, not just their supporters."

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