College of DuPage trustees sue law firms to obtain records

  • The divided College of DuPage board: Top row from left, Deanne Mazzochi, Charles Bernstein, Frank Napolitano; bottom row, Dianne McGuire, Erin Birt, Joseph Wozniak

    The divided College of DuPage board: Top row from left, Deanne Mazzochi, Charles Bernstein, Frank Napolitano; bottom row, Dianne McGuire, Erin Birt, Joseph Wozniak

 
 

Three trustees who have been boycotting College of DuPage meetings for more than a month are now suing three of the school's law firms to get all billing records, notes, memorandums and other documents the attorneys have produced while working for the college.

Dianne McGuire, Erin Birt and Joseph Wozniak filed the lawsuit Friday morning in DuPage County against the firms of Rathje & Woodward, Schiff Hardin and Schuyler, Roche & Crisham.

The trustees are seeking a court order for legal information they say they've been denied access to in the months since the law firms were hired by what was then the board majority of Kathy Hamilton, Deanne Mazzochi, Charles Bernstein and Frank Napolitano. Hamilton resigned in mid-December, leaving the bitterly divided board deadlocked at 3-3 and triggering the meeting boycott.

"The (three) trustees have requested access to this information for some period of time," said Chuck Roberts, the lawyer representing Birt, McGuire and Wozniak. "There's been no response -- or an inadequate response -- to those requests. In order to get access to the information, they deemed it necessary to file a lawsuit."

Board Vice Chairwoman Deanne Mazzochi released a statement saying Birt, McGuire and Wozniak have refused to attend board meetings since Hamilton's Dec. 13 resignation.

"Now, rather than do their job, they have filed a frivolous lawsuit that will do nothing except needlessly cost the college more lost time and money," Mazzochi said.

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She said attorneys from all three firms "have always been available" to answer questions from Birt, McGuire and Wozniak.

"These three trustees have refused to work through normal channels," Mazzochi said. "Any harm they complain of -- and there isn't any -- would be self-inflicted."

According to the lawsuit, the trustees are seeking the following from each of the firms:

• All work product created on behalf of the COD board and any of its individual trustees.

• All billing records related to the legal representation of the COD board and its individual trustees.

• Any correspondence between the firms and the COD board and its individual trustees.

• Any notes or recordings related to the representation of the COD board and its individual trustees.

• Any memorandums or opinions created in relation to the representation of the COD board and its individual trustees.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In addition, McGuire, Birt and Wozniak want all correspondence related to the college that the firms sent and received from Kirk Allen and the Edgar County Watchdogs group and Adam Andrzejewski and the For the Good of Illinois organization.

Roberts said it's important for the three trustees to get the records so they can do their jobs.

"As part of discharging their fiduciary obligation to the board and to the college, they need to be fully apprised as to what their lawyers are doing ... what correspondence or communications their lawyers are having," he said.

Just days after Hamilton stepped down, McGuire and Birt went to COD's Glen Ellyn campus and obtained copies of the college's legal bills for August, September, October and November.

They wanted those documents months ago because COD's legal expenses have increased significantly since April when federal authorities launched an investigation into the school, which had come under fire for its administrative practices. There also were a series of internal investigations that led to the firing of three top administrators, including former President Robert Breuder.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Roberts acknowledged that his clients have been given some of what they've requested. He said the lawsuit "is a way to make sure they get a complete set of everything."

Attempts to reach representatives with Schiff Hardin and Schuyler, Roche & Crisham were unsuccessful. Rathje & Woodward declined to comment.

But in a Jan. 22 letter released by the college, Charles Philbrick of Rathje & Woodward told Roberts that the trustees' request for "every" document related to the firm's representation of COD is "both unnecessary and wasteful."

"As we have told your clients many times in the past, we stand ready to meet with them and answer questions they have regarding our representation of COD," Philbrick wrote. "Your clients have never called to arrange any such meetings."

Philbrick also said the firm would require permission from the full COD board to gather all the requested records, a process that would cost more than $15,000.

He said his firm was planning to take the issue to the board during its Jan. 28 meeting, but the session was canceled because it was one of seven McGuire, Birt and Wozniak have boycotted.

"If these three trustees cared about the College of DuPage, they would attend meetings and work cooperatively with other board members and the college's professionals," Mazzochi said. "Instead, their only communications have been demands that come through lawyers or the press. If they want to discharge their duties, they should appear and engage, not file frivolous lawsuits."

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