In defending himself against a lawsuit filed in 2007, District 209 school board President Chris Welch has racked up at least $22,000 in attorney’s fees. On Monday night he asked his fellow board members to reimburse him with taxpayer funds – and the measure was approved.
Within a long list of bills to be approved by the school board at its June 16 meeting was a line item denoting $22,442 in legal services from Richardson and Mackoff, a Chicago law firm. School board member Theresa Kelly said that prior to the meeting she reviewed the list and did not recall hiring the firm to work on the district’s behalf. Kelly asked for clarification on the billing during the board’s meeting and was told it is tied to the ongoing defamation suit filed against Welch by attorneys Burt Odelson and Mark Sterk.
According to records filed with the Cook County Circuit Court, partners Myron Mackoff and Travis Richardson are representing Welch in that civil case.
“This is personal,” Kelly said of the expenses submitted to the board. “This has nothing to do with Proviso Township District 209.” The school district includes both Proviso East High School and the Proviso Math and Science Academy.
An attorney for the plaintiffs, Odelson and Sterk, confirmed Wednesday that his clients are suing Welch for a series of allegedly slanderous statements posted on a Web site in July, August and December of last year.
“The district has not been named as a party to the suit, and there have been no allegations made against the district,” said Michael Wall, the plaintiff’s attorney who is in practice with Rothschild, Barry and Myers.
Welch did not immediately return a phone call Wednesday seeking comment.
Superintendent Robert Libka said he did not question Welch’s attempt to pass the expense on to taxpayers, but said after the meeting that Kelly’s argument against paying the bill merits a second look. According to Libka and Kelly, Welch informed board members several weeks prior that he intended to seek reimbursement. With Kelly offering the only objections, Libka said he did not see a reason to disturb the apparent harmony on the matter.
“It seemed appropriate at the time,” Libka said of reimbursing Welch’s legal bills. “I probably have more questions now, but I still feel the same.”
Furthermore, Libka said the longstanding political acrimony between Welch and Kelly has fueled a number of accusations over the years, and he’s not inclined to “drop everything” whenever charges are lobbed.
The superintendent, whose contract expires at the end of the month, also said he can see how the lawsuit and the district are “interrelated.” Pressed to explain the connection Libka said he’s not familiar with the details of the case.
“I think I’d have to know more about the lawsuit,” Libka said. “I haven’t read the lawsuit. It’s not something that I’m privy to.”
Both Libka and Kelly said they are not aware of the district having paid any other legal expenses tied to Welch’s defamation suit.
For complete coverage of this story see the June 25 issue of the Forest Park Review.