GENEVA – Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen scheduled a meeting for a the Legal Affairs/Claims/Risk Management Committee Sept. 18, then spent more than 90 minutes berating State’s Attorney Joe McMahon for past and current issues and disagreements.
Assistant State’s Attorneys Michele Niermann and Erin Gaeke represented the office at the meeting.
Referring to a 103-page memo he wrote in July, Lauzen listed eight items of contention, including a complaint that the state’s attorney does not give legal assistance when requested.
“I don’t know what your individual perception is,” Niermann said. “We have reached out many times to you. You don’t communicate with us. … We have memos issued by the chairman that really border on defamation. There are inaccuracies contained in those memos. And all we want to do is help you address legal issues and provide legal advice to you.”
Niermann said they were happy to sit down and discuss issues “in a reasonable fashion with reasonable decorum what type of services you need, how they can be improved.”
“But we don’t get the courtesy of the chairman communicating with our office,” Niermann said. “Instead, he issues memos that have inaccuracies in them. We came here today to discuss and open up dialog.”
Lauzen said he put his thoughts into writing because meetings with McMahon have failed.
“If you think you are tired of receiving the memos, can you imagine what it is like for me to have to put them together?” Lauzen said.
Another of Lauzen’s more current current complaints centered around a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Geneva resident Jeffrey Ward, which is now in litigation.
Ward filed a civil complaint seeking all sexual harassment complaints against Alex Bederka, a former prosecutor.
The state’s attorney’s office denied the request, citing several exemptions under Illinois law, including that sexual harassment records are confidential.
Ward appealed to the Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Bureau, which issued a decision on June 14, requesting that the denied documents be provided, subject to redaction in order to protect confidentiality and privacy.
McMahon had issued a statement at the time that confidentiality protects the rights of alleged victims and witnesses in sexual harassment complaints.
“Why was it that we had to learn in the newspapers about this?” Lauzen asked. “The attorney general’s ruling was crystal clear (that) this is information that belongs to the public. And yet there is a legal struggle. … Who authorizes a state’s attorney to contradict or override an attorney general, the top attorney? … It’s my opinion, my position, that the state’s attorney ought to follow that ruling and should not be taking it to court.”
Niermann said the attorney general issued an opinion that was advisory, not binding.
“There are also limitations to that opinion,” Niermann said. “There are facts that are not public and this is a pending litigation matter. We have two different issues. One is a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) issue and one is a sexual harassment issue. Does the board want to take a position that no person who reports sexual harassment gets privacy considerations. That is really what is at the heart of the case.”
County Board member Jarett Sanchez, D-Carpentersville, asked if the attorney general or the County Board could compel McMahon to follow the attorney general’s recommendation.
“It was not a binding opinion,” Niermann said. “It was advisory only. There is no obligation to follow that opinion. The County Board cannot order the state’s attorney to turn over documents.”
Committee member Barb Wojnicki, R-Campton Hills, said several county board members took offense at the fact that sexual harassment happened at the state’s attorney’s office and that they found out about it from Ward speaking to the county board.
“If that information was given to us in executive session, we could maybe have headed it off and not end up in court as we are now,” Wojnicki said. “That information was just never released to us.”
Niermann warned that the complaint process in sexual harassment has to allow for people to be assured of their confidentiality and a confidential investigative process.
“The lawsuit that is currently filed is with respect to FOIA only,” Niermann said. “So it is whether or not the investigatory information that contains all those private details can be disclosed. Now, the discipline was already disclosed, because FOIA says specifically that discipline is subject to disclosure.”
Other areas Lauzen complained about included the $5.6 million settlement agreement for an alcohol and drug treatment center; a dispute about interpreting Roberts Rules of Order after a critical vote; a dispute when Lauzen hired an outside law firm and McMahon said he could charge him with a felony; and how the State’s Attorney’s Office represents the county.