A state-appointed panel that oversees Proviso Township School District 209’s finances approved the settlement of a 2-year-old lawsuit at a meeting Monday night.

The suit was filed in 2009 by several people in response to D209 using tens of thousands of dollars in district funds to reimburse board President Chris Welch for legal fees after he was sued, personally, for libel in 2007.

The plaintiffs listed in the 2009 suit included Arbdella Patterson, Carlos Anderson, Kevin McDermott, Don Williams, and Proviso “taxpayers.” Patterson and Anderson have run, unsuccessfully, for board seats in the past; McDermott is a current board member and Williams is the father of state Rep. Karen Yarbrough (D-7th).

The settlement was only listed as “approval of Donald Williams settlement” in an agenda and packet made available to the public. No further information was supplied.

The 2009 lawsuit argued that the district should not be responsible for Welch’s legal fees in the 2007 libel lawsuit because Welch was sued personally, and that the money should be returned. Chicago attorneys Burt Odelson and Mark Sterk sued Welch after he made allegedly libelous comments about them on a blog he authored periodically, called Proviso Insider (provisoinsider.blogspot.com). That case is still ongoing, and D209 has not responded to questions about reimbursement for any additional legal fees.

Around the time the 2009 “Donald Williams” suit was filed, Welch’s attorneys had already been paid some $50,000 in district money for the libel suit, the Forest Park Review reported at the time.

The terms of the settlement are unknown at this time because D209 has not responded to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for a copy of the document. It is likewise unclear how much the district spent on legal fees in this case; but James Popernik, chairman of D209’s financial oversight panel, said he believed a district insurance policy, capped at $40,000, would be covering all of the costs. 

“There is an amount that is supposed to go to Williams for his attorneys that was part of the settlement,” said Popernik, referring to the agreement.