The battle over video gaming in Forest Park continued in Cook County Circuit Court on Feb. 1, as a judge outlined the next steps in deciding whether a binding referendum question will be included on an upcoming election ballot.

Associate Judge James Carroll highlighted the timeline for appealing the ruling of the village’s electoral board. On Jan. 23, the electoral board decided to disqualify more than 200 pages of a referendum petitions submitted by a group called Let Forest Park Vote on Video Gaming because six of those pages had a heading that differed from the rest.

James Watts, a Madison Street bar owner, had challenged the referendum petition. That challenge was heard by a three-person electoral board that included Forest Park Mayor Anthony Calderone, Clerk Vanessa Moritz and Commissioner Tom Mannix.

The local electoral board, against the advice of its attorney, decided to disqualify the entire petition instead of just the six pages that bore a different heading.

Village Attorney Tom Bastian said he thought throwing out only the six petition sheets with an incorrect referendum date of Nov. 8, 2016 would be the appropriate remedy. The six sheets with the different heading contained less than 100 of the nearly 3,000 valid signatures on the petitions.

Carroll will hear and decide the case at 11:30 a.m. on Feb. 15 in Room 1707 of the Richard J. Daley Center, 50 W. Washington St. in Chicago.

“I think the law is on our side, and I think Judge Carroll will agree with us,” said attorney Ed Mullen, who represents Let Forest Park Vote. 

If Carroll rules in favor of Let Forest Park Vote, the question “Shall video gaming be prohibited in the village of Forest Park?” will be included on the November 2018 election ballot, according to the Cook County Clerk. 

Let Forest Park Vote’s question is binding, which means that if a majority of Forest Parkers vote against the practice, video gaming — which is now allowed — will be outlawed in the village.

The pro-referendum group originally wanted its question on the March 20 primary ballot, but three advisory referendum questions had already been submitted for that ballot in November 2016. Only three questions are allowed on any ballot per state law.

Moritz certified the advisory questions for the March ballot on Jan. 10.

Mullen must submit a brief to the court by Feb. 6. Attorney James Nally, who represents Watts, must submit a reply to Let Forest Park Vote’s brief by Feb. 9.

Referendum appeal judge has Forest Park connection

James Carroll, the Cook County Circuit Court judge assigned to hear the Forest Park referendum appeal, once worked at Chicago-based Quinlan & Carroll Ltd., a boutique litigation firm that formerly represented a Forest Park village commissioner who got into a bar fight, according to the judge.

Carroll said he was fuzzy on the facts, but he believed the case occurred about 15 years ago. He did not name the commissioner his firm represented and said he had only minor involvement in the investigation.

“It was one of the board trustees; he got into a bar fight, and the police were called in and he was arrested, and we were hired to do an investigation. But I participated to a minor extent,” Carroll said to those gathered in court on Feb. 1. “In fact, I remember meeting the mayor, Mr. [Anthony] Calderone, on one occasion, possibly two, but for whatever reason we never finished the investigation.”

Carroll did not mention why his firm never finished a report. But because the village of Forest Park was a client of his former firm, Carroll offered to recuse himself from the appeal.

Let Forest Park Vote on Video Gaming, a political action committee represented by attorney Ed Mullen, and attorney James Nally, who represents those challenging the referendum petitions, agreed that Carroll’s recusal was not necessary.

Nona Tepper

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