Linconshire hires lawyers tied to conservative group to defend lawsuit

  • Union members filled the boardroom at Lincolnshire's village hall to hear debate over a controversial right-to-work proposal that has since led to a pair of lawsuits against the town.

    Union members filled the boardroom at Lincolnshire's village hall to hear debate over a controversial right-to-work proposal that has since led to a pair of lawsuits against the town. Russell Lissau/Daily Herald file photo

 
 
Updated 4/13/2016 3:06 PM

Lincolnshire officials have hired lawyers associated with a conservative nonprofit group to represent them in a second lawsuit stemming from the village's right-to-work ordinance.

The Liberty Justice Center will defend the village in Lake County circuit court against allegations that officials violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act by creating politically based rules for public comments during a discussion of the right-to-work proposal in December. The firm already is defending the village in federal court against a lawsuit alleging the ordinance is illegal.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Liberty Justice Center won't charge Lincolnshire for its work on either case, which was an important factor for village officials.

"It has been (the board's) strong commitment to ensure the village doesn't incur costs related to the employee empowerment ordinance," Village Manager Brad Burke said. He declined to comment on the case itself.

The Liberty Justice Center was created by an organization called the Illinois Policy Institute that has championed right-to-work legislation, among other issues. The village's ordinance was based on a model crafted by the Illinois Policy Institute.

The Lincolnshire ordinance, which was enacted Dec. 14, allows workers at private-sector companies in town to refuse to have union dues or fees automatically deducted from their paychecks.

The Illinois Policy Institute warned municipalities considering right-to-work ordinances to prepare for court challenges. Even before the lawsuits against Lincolnshire were filed, the Liberty Justice Center offered to represent the village pro bono.

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Trustees approved the ordinance without first getting an opinion on its legality from their own attorney.

The plaintiffs in the Open Meetings Act case are Antioch resident Robert J. Gillengerten and Berwyn resident Bradley J. Levy, two labor-union members who attended the board meeting because of the right-to-work plan. Hundreds of people filled village hall for the meeting.

Anticipating a large crowd, Lincolnshire officials created special rules for public comment before voting on the plan. No formal restrictions on public comment at board meetings existed previously.

The Open Meetings Act allows government boards to establish rules for public comment. According to the lawsuit, those rules are supposed to be politically neutral.

At the meeting, Mayor Elizabeth Brandt closed public comment even though many people who wanted to speak against the proposal were waiting to do so. Before moving on, Brandt asked if anyone else favoring the proposal wanted to speak.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In their lawsuit, which was filed in February, the plaintiffs allege Brandt's decision to end public comment was discriminatory and illegal.

Trustees voted Monday to hire the Liberty Justice Center to handle the case.

Right-to-work zones are a major tenet of Gov. Bruce Rauner's Turnaround Agenda for Illinois. Yet, in a formal opinion issued last year, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said federal labor law only allows such policies to be enacted statewide.

In February, four labor unions sued the village over the ordinance, claiming it violates the National Labor Relations Act and the Labor Management Relations Act. They're seeking to have the ordinance declared invalid and to prevent its enforcement.

Lincolnshire was one of the few towns in the North or Northwest suburbs to formally endorse Rauner's Turnaround Agenda. which also calls for minimum wage reform, tax freezes, political term limits and lawsuit reforms. It has been the only town in the Chicago area to adopt a right-to-work ordinance.

Labor groups have since called for boycotts of Lincolnshire's nonunion businesses.

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