Election fights cost Island Lake taxpayers $44,125
The lengthy and ultimately fruitless attempts to knock Island Lake Mayor-elect Charles Amrich and Trustee-elect Tony Sciarrone off last month's ballot cost the village nearly $44,125 in legal fees, records show.
Lawyers with the Ancel, Glink, Diamond, Bush, DiCianni and Krafthefer firm represented the local electoral board that heard a pair of cases against Amrich. They also handled the cases and related issues in Lake County circuit court.
The firm prepared for the Sciarrone case, too, but the matter was dropped before it could be heard by the electoral board.
The cases took three months to resolve.
Last week, Ancel Glink's lawyers resigned from village service before they could be sacked by the new administration. The departure is effective this Thursday, the day Amrich will take office.
The bills for the electoral work, which were acquired by the Daily Herald under the Freedom of Information Act, accounted for more than 30 percent of what the village has been charged for legal services so far this year, records show.
The total outraged the mayor-elect.
"It's the taxpayers' money," said Amrich, who defeated incumbent Debbie Herrmann to win the job he held from 1985 to 2005. "I think it's unfair, I really do."
Ancel Glink attorney Keri-Lyn Krafthefer called the bills unavoidable.
"Once an objection is filed, the village has no choice but to convene the electoral board," Krafthefer said in an email. "There is simply nothing the village could have done, and no action the village board could have taken, to avoid these costs."
A long process
It's not uncommon for political activists to challenge the petitions of candidates they oppose -- but the situation in Island Lake this year was unusual in a few ways.
Most challenges end after a single electoral board hearing. After hearing testimony and reviewing documents, the board lets the candidate stay on the ballot or the candidate is removed, and that's that.
But Amrich had to fight for three months to stay on the ballot. He twice took his case to court after electoral boards ruled against him.
By the time a judge said his candidacy was legitimate, Election Day was less than a month away.
Herrmann would have been the lone mayoral candidate on the ballot if Amrich was ruled ineligible. She declined to comment for this story.
Island Lake residents Daniel Field and Louis Sharp were behind the effort to remove Amrich and Sciarrone from the ballot. Both men are business owners with financial ties to village hall.
Field has a municipal contract for computer services, while Sharp Towing is the first company the police department calls when it needs a vehicle removed from a local street. Sharp is a former trustee.
The men filed their first objections to the Amrich and Sciarrone candidacies in January. They argued the candidates were ineligible to run because of financial debts to the village.
An electoral board consisting of trustees Shannon Fox, Thea Morris and Laurie Rabattini knocked Amrich off the ballot after a hearing in early February. Only Rabattini sided with Amrich.
The case against Sciarrone was dropped the same night.
Krafthefer advised the electoral board during the Amrich hearing. Field and Sharp had their own attorney, as did Amrich.
Amrich appealed the ruling to Lake County court. A judge dismissed the case because Amrich's lawyer, David McArdle, didn't properly deliver vital paperwork in the matter. Krafthefer represented the village in court.
Days later, Amrich's slate mates appointed him to fill the vacancy on their team. Once again, Field and Sharp objected to his candidacy -- this time, they argued paperwork was filed late and improperly.
Another electoral board hearing was held in early March, and once more Krafthefer advised the panel. As it had before, the board sided with Field and Sharp and removed Amrich from the ballot with a 2-1 vote.
Amrich took the second case to court, too. On March 12, Judge Christopher Starck reversed the electoral board's ruling and said Amrich satisfied the legal requirements and could run.
As she had earlier, Krafthefer represented the village in court. She also handled a pair of procedural lawsuits stemming from the electoral board decisions.
Field and Sharp have appealed to the state Supreme Court. Ancel Glink's lawyers no longer are involved.
Despite the legal roadblocks, Amrich won the mayor's race with nearly 79 percent of the vote. All members of his slate won by similarly wide margins.
'They have to pay'
Ancel Glink's bills for the electoral board process covered paperwork preparation, review of emails, advice to the village clerk, correspondence, attendance at the board hearings, court appearances and a variety of other tasks.
The firm charged the village for 291 hours of work on the cases, documents revealed. That's more than 12 complete days of service.
Once the objections were filed, village officials had to convene electoral boards, Krafthefer said. And by their nature, those proceedings incur legal fees.
"The village did not cause the cost of the electoral board hearings -- nor did Ancel Glink," Krafthefer said. "But they have to pay for it."
Krafthefer suggested the bills could have been lower if Amrich's attorney filed his paperwork correctly the first time or if either side opted not to fight the matter in court.
Throughout their campaign, Amrich and his allies complained about the village's bills from Ancel Glink, which have totaled hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years and tower above the legal fees of most other Lake County communities.
Amrich had pledged to dump Ancel Glink if elected. The associated costs of the firm's work during the electoral-board process added fuel to the already blazing fire.
Amrich called the village's $44,125 tab "ridiculous."
"I honestly believe that the objectors, Sharp and Field, should be paying for this," Amrich said.
Field was surprised by the size of the legal bills, too. Still, he defended his efforts to remove Amrich from the ballot.
"There are rules in place for a reason," Field said in an email.
Sharp declined to comment.
Amrich estimated he and Sciarrone had to pay their lawyers about $20,500 to handle the cases. One attorney donated at least some of his legal services, according to state campaign disclosure repots. Other legal services were billed to Amrich's campaign committee and will be paid with political donations, records indicate.
Amrich said he supports recently proposed state legislation that would have a county-level electoral board consider objections in municipal, school and township races. That would eliminate any local political bias on the panel, proponents have said. It also would take the financial burden off the local government.
And that's what really burns Amrich.
"It's just sad they had to waste the village's money for no reason at all," he said.