COD board votes to hire in-house attorney

Lawyer will save college money, supporters say

 
 
Posted9/16/2016 5:10 AM
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An assistant U.S. attorney has been chosen by College of DuPage trustees to become the Glen Ellyn school's first in-house attorney.

The board voted 4-3 Thursday night to approve the hiring of John Kness to the new position of general counsel for the college.

Kness will be paid a starting annual salary of $177,000 to handle legal tasks now being done by outside lawyers, including work related to Freedom of Information Act requests, smaller claims filed against the college and general questions about employment law.

His first day is expected to be in November.

More than 100 people applied for the position, which the board created in March.

Board Chairwoman Deanne Mazzochi said what set Kness apart from the other applicants was his background, which includes more than seven years as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Illinois and nearly two years as an associate attorney with the Chicago-based firm Winston & Strawn.

"I think he will do well in this role," Mazzochi said before Thursday's vote.

Trustees Dianne McGuire, Joe Wozniak and Erin Birt voted against the hiring. McGuire and Wozniak had previously opposed the idea of using an in-house attorney.

Supporters say the college needs someone on-site to address legal issues as they arise.

Having an in-house attorney also is expected to save the college money.

COD historically has spent about $500,000 a year on outside legal counsel.

The school's legal expenses increased significantly in April 2015, when federal authorities launched an investigation of the school after it came under fire for its administrative practices. There also were a series internal investigations that caused the school's legal bills to climb.

How much money COD will save by hiring Kness is yet to be determined.

"I certainly know there's going to be much better efficiencies to be gained," Mazzochi said.

As part of his job, Kness is expected to coordinate COD's response to lawsuits and oversee any independent legal counsel the college retains for those cases. In addition, he can interpret regulations and issue certain legal opinions on college-related issues.

"Having this capacity in-house will be a tremendous resource and asset for the college," Mazzochi said. "When we start getting into potentially gray areas, they (administrators and trustees) can get some additional clarity to ensure we don't run afoul of any statutes, any regulations, any board policies, any administrative policies."

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