Kane's Lauzen: Drug treatment facility firm, state's attorney are incompetent, dishonest
Behind-the-scenes criticism labeling Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon's defense against a lawsuit as "flaccid" may play a role in a late effort to prevent a drug-treatment center from opening outside Campton Hills. But that effort may also result in local taxpayers being on the hook for millions of dollars, McMahon claims.
The criticism stems from a 15-page memo obtained by the Daily Herald and written by county board Chairman Chris Lauzen. The memo makes a case that the pending settlement with Maxxam Partners LLC shows McMahon hasn't fulfilled his job to defend the county. McMahon strongly denied the assertion.
Maxxam filed a $68 million lawsuit against the county after the board's second rejection of its plan last year. Maxxam claimed the county's rejection of its plan amounted to discrimination against people with addictions and who are considered disabled. The result of the suit was a proposed consent decree that paves the way for the facility to proceed.
The decree does say Maxxam's plan must still meet all the requirements of the county code. Hence, the county's zoning board began its third deliberation of the plans Wednesday night. That panel will vote next Tuesday, leaving the full county board with a third chance to weigh in.
Lauzen, in his memo and during an interview, called the agreements with Maxxam a "shakedown" of local taxpayers.
"Maxxam abjectly failed twice in the application process; they lied and cheated using political improprieties, but now they are being rewarded by (McMahon) with even more than they originally wanted and requested," the memo reads. "This is worse than being treated like the jamokes at a carnival game. Maxxam is incompetent and dishonest."
Maxxam attorney Christopher Liguori, of Tabet DiVito and Rothstein in Chicago, said he reviewed Lauzen's memo.
"We believe that most of his comments are directed to the state's attorney's office and Glenwood Academy," Liguori said. "As for the chairman's disparaging comments about Maxxam, we strongly disagree with all of them."
"Maxxam Partners and its principals have acted properly throughout the lengthy application process and the current lawsuit. Maxxam remains confident that the facility, which would be approved in accordance with the terms of the proposed consent decree, will be successful and a benefit to the entire community."
McMahon disagreed with the memo, too.
"It contains a lot of innuendo based on incorrect assumptions," he said.
The memo spends several pages on the idea of the political improprieties in the legal process.
Lauzen cites clients McMahon represented before he became state's attorney who, at some point, also served on the board of directors for the Glenwood Academy campus that would be the site of the new treatment center.
Like on many local nonprofit boards, several prominent Kane County names appear on Glenwood's lists of directors. They are names like former Kane County Development Director Phil Bus; Mark Wight, CEO of the company that built Kane County's judicial center; and Sandra Blood, of the family that owned B&B Enterprises, the developer of the Fox Mill subdivision. McMahon filed an appearance for the Fox Mill Limited Partnership while working as a private attorney back in 2010.
After McMahon became state's attorney, county officials helped Glenwood change the legal requirements associated with $14 million in tax-exempt bonds the county also helped Glenwood obtain to buy the land Maxxam now wants.
The legal changes freed Glenwood from having to maintain ownership of the property while the bonds remained outstanding. The rating on the bonds plummeted. Glenwood maintains all $14 million of that debt to this day.
"Is it an 'entangling alliance' to represent private practice clients who also serve on the Glenwood Board, draft and recommend a government resolution, which absolves Glenwood of obligations to Kane County, then negotiate a huge settlement in a lawsuit that contradicts multiple office actions of the Kane County Board to the contrary? At least, should the state's attorney have recused himself in 2012 and 2018?" Lauzen said in his memo.
"Rather than being compensated, we (county officials) are being punished for having worked with them," Lauzen wrote. "Your defense appears flaccid."
The memo serves as fuel for a third vote to reject Maxxam's plan or abstain from the final vote.
Lauzen will not support the plan and will not put his signature on any agreement that pushes the Maxxam plan forward, he said. He has at least one ally.
Kane County Board member Barb Wojnicki said she will "absolutely vote 'no'" when the time comes. She represents the area where the treatment facility would open and believes Lauzen's memo raises troubling points. And there are no substantive changes to Maxxam's plans from the previous two versions that would warrant a different vote, she said.
She agrees McMahon's defense has not been in the best interest of the county.
"There is nothing in that (consent decree) for the county or for the residents of the county; it's all for Maxxam," Wojnicki said. "The board is being pressured to vote a certain way by the state's attorney. That's wrong."
The memo has not escaped McMahon's attention.
"It contains a lot of innuendo based on incorrect assumptions," McMahon said. "It all seems based on this idea that Chris Lauzen has that there is some vast conspiracy going on."
As far as conflicts of interest, McMahon said he has "none whatsoever."
He describes his involvement, eight years ago, with the Fox Mill Limited Partnership as "brief and limited."
"I have almost no recollection about what that litigation involved," McMahon said. "It was completely unrelated to Maxxam or Glenwood."
Asked about B&B Enterprises and Blood, McMahon said he's never had a conversation with her.
"I am the lawyer for the county," McMahon said. "I have worked with the county board to carry out their wishes. Chris Lauzen's opinion does not represent the opinion of the county board."
McMahon said Maxxam's lawsuit changed the legal strategy.
The decision to reach a settlement came as an agreement among the state's attorney's office, the county's insurance company, the lawyer for that insurance company and the outside attorney selected by the insurance company to assist with the case.
Those outside legal fees are about $400,000, according to Lauzen's memo.
McMahon said there was another major player in the legal defense team: Pat Kinnally. Kinnally served as the special assistant state's attorney to the county board until he resigned in December. Lauzen selected Kinnally to serve in that role. In a recent interview, Lauzen even described Kinnally as his older brother's best friend. Kinnally could not be reached for comment.
"The goal of all the lawyers, including the lawyer appointed at Chris Lauzen's request, is to aggressively defend this claim but also minimize the financial risk to taxpayers," McMahon said. "This agreement is a very good outcome that minimizes the financial risk to the taxpayers of Kane County."
Lauzen's memo jeopardizes that outcome, McMahon said. Its characterizations of Maxxam in the face of the deal may provide grounds for the county's insurance company to drop coverage against Maxxam's legal claims, he said.
"If the county loses that coverage, the taxpayers will be responsible for 100 percent of the costs of the lawsuit, all legal fees and any financial settlement. And they will have Chairman Lauzen to thank for that."