Three prominent election lawyers now involved in Elk Grove term limits case

Three of the top election attorneys in the state are now involved in legal wrangling unfolding in a Cook County courtroom over the Elk Grove Village term limits referendum.

And as proof that politics make strange bedfellows, the lawyers serving as general counsel for the state Democratic and Republican parties are on the same side.

Michael Kasper, the top attorney for the Democratic Party of Illinois and longtime lawyer for House Speaker Michael Madigan, appeared in court for the first time this week on behalf of Elk Grove Village Clerk Lorrie Murphy, who's refused so far to certify the ballot question. That's because of a remaining objection pending before the court brought by the Committee To Oppose The Retroactive Term Limits Referendum, represented by John Fogarty, who also works as the lead attorney for the Illinois Republican Party.

On the other side is attorney Burt Odelson, who represents the referendum backers and has asked the judge hearing the case to compel the village clerk to certify the question. Odelson won a separate case last week in which Judge Maureen Hannon ruled a new state law barring retroactive municipal term limits unconstitutional and entered an order that the clerk certify the question.

Odelson and Kasper famously squared off in 2010 when the latter successfully defended a challenge to Rahm Emanuel's Chicago residency before he became mayor.

The binding Elk Grove question would ask voters whether the mayor and village trustees should be able to serve no more than two consecutive 4-year terms. If approved, it would prevent four longtime incumbents - including Mayor Craig Johnson - from running again in April 2021.

Kasper and Fogarty have until noon Friday to submit legal briefs, ahead of a scheduled court hearing Monday afternoon, when the judge could rule in the second objection case.

Though she already addressed the question of constitutionality in the first objection brought by Elk Grove resident Benjamin Lee, Fogarty said he will argue the proposed ballot question should be tossed because as composed, it is vague.

"We'll make our best argument," Fogarty said. "Frankly, we're just hopeful to present it to an appellate court."

The Cook County clerk's office planned to begin preparing ballots for printing as soon as this weekend, though attorneys say it's also possible for a question to be on the ballot and the results not count, depending on later court decisions.

Kasper declined to comment Thursday, saying it's his long-standing practice not to discuss matters pending before a court.

Odelson said it was a "last-minute surprise" when Kasper, known for his prowess in election matters, arrived in the courtroom Wednesday afternoon.

"Three of the top lawyers are involved," Odelson said. "But I'm on the side of the people to get it on the ballot."

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Burt Odelson, who led an effort in 2010 challenging Rahm Emanuel's Chicago residency, now represents Elk Grove Village term limits referendum organizer Tim Burns. Chicago Sun-Times, 2010
John Fogarty Jr., an election attorney who is also general counsel to the Illinois Republican Party, is representing a committee that opposes a proposed retroactive term limits referendum in Elk Grove Village. Submitted Photo
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