Updated 10/25/2011 11:34 p.m.
Nearly $40,000 in payments to two law firms whose lawyers provided personal legal service for Proviso District 209 school board President Chris Welch were halted last week by a state-appointed, financial-oversight panel tasked with supervising the district’s finances.
Last week, at its monthly meeting, the panel voted to table $62,147 in payments to three law firms: Cozen O’Connor; Richardson & Mackoff, LLC; and Del Gado Law Group, LLC.
Two of the law firms – Cozen O’Connor, and Richardson & Mackoff – are owed at least $38,642 for defending Welch in an ongoing defamation suit. Welch was sued back in 2007, and over $50,000 in district money has already been used to pay a portion of his legal bills.
Del Gado is the firm that handles the district’s legal work.
The oversight panel’s decision to table the payments to the two other firms followed the D209 school board’s approval of the fees earlier this month.
According to the terms of a settlement D209 reached (known as the “Don Williams Settlement”) in August, district money can be used to pay such personal legal fees.
But Jim Popernik, chairman of the financial-oversight panel, said D209 needs to better explain why district money should be used to pay these fees.
“There are … questions as to whose responsibility those invoices are,” Popernik said.
When asked about the matter, D209 board member Theresa Kelly said in an email, “Certain individuals use the public resources as if it were their very own piggy bank to cover the cost of what I believe is senseless and reckless behavior. We continue to pay … [for] litigation [while] our students lose opportunities to compete with students from other schools.”
From here, Popernik said, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) will submit formal questions to D209 about the board’s approval of the payments.
If the payments are approved, district taxpayers will have paid a total of $113,703 for Welch’s personal legal fees in the defamation case.
Welch refused to comment on this story, but D209 Spokesperson TaQuoya Kennedy sent a statement by email.
“Serving as a member of the [District 209] board of education is a volunteer position that board members take on because of their commitments to their communities and their interest in education and furthering the success of District 209,” Kennedy said. “Because of their service and volunteer status, they are afforded certain protections. Protections against lawsuits is one of them. That protection is afforded under the board of education’s policy.”