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The City of Evanston paid three outside law firms nearly $420,000 to defend the City, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, and two City employees in the lawsuit filed by former Director of Public Works Suzette Robinson. The legal fees are in addition to the amount paid by the City to settle the lawsuit – $500,000 – bringing the total cost to the City to $919,936.66.
The legal fees were not made public until now and only in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the RoundTable.
Evanston City policy requires that all expenses in excess of $20,000 appear before City Council for a vote. Expenses appear on the general bills list presented at every Administration and Public Works Committee meeting, and later the same evening before the full City Council. None of the fees billed by the outside law firms engaged to defend the City or other defendants appears as an itemized expense on the bills list.
An email from Mr. Bobkiewicz says, “It is my understanding that in line with past practice, predating 2009, that outside legal expenses appear on the bills list for approval by Council as an aggregate amount, ‘casualty loss.’… The expenses are approved by City Council, but as an aggregate number.”
“Casualty loss” line items are charged to the City’s Insurance Fund. According to a budget memo from February 2017, the Insurance Fund was negative by about $640,000 in 2016. Another budget memo from the fall of 2016 requested by then-Ninth Ward Alderman Brian Miller showed more than $2.9 million in outside legal expenses between the years 2013 and 2015, with more than $900,000 in 2015 alone. These expenses were not itemized on the bills list, but were included in the aggregate “casualty loss” number. Eleven law firms were paid by the City.
The 2018 budget includes a line item for $1.2 million in 2017 in the insurance fund for “legal services – general.” The budget includes $350,000 in 2018 for “legal service – general” and $1.4 million in litigation settlement cost liability.
“Casualty loss” is the aggregate category even when the City is the Plaintiff – the party who filed the lawsuit – such as the James Park litigation.
Outside legal bills are in addition to the budget for the City’s legal department – about $1 million.