In an exclusive investigation, the Oak Lawn Leaf has learned that the Village of Oak Lawn used the litigation process with taxpayers’ funds to investigate the Oak Lawn Leaf and the former Mayor’s law firm in a lawsuit unrelated to either party.
The bombshell discovery comes in light of the village’s own motion to collect some of those taxpayer funds through a motion against a former employee who sued the village. The employee, Chad Weiler, sued the village after being named on the “Phelan Hit List” and then being fired by Mayor Sandra Bury and Village Manager Larry Deetjen.
During the course of the litigation process, both Weiler and the village were allowed to engage in a process known as discovery whereby each side can question the other’s witnesses under oath in depositions. Documents were also requested by each party regarding the underlying “wrongful termination claim”.
However, the Oak Lawn Leaf has learned that the Village of Oak Lawn didn’t stop at requesting relevant documents, but also went further, requesting documents that were designed to undermine the Oak Lawn Leaf as well as besmirch the reputation of former Mayor Dave Heilmann.
Attorneys for the village deposed Heilmann during the course of the litigation and reportedly asked questions that had nothing to do with the litigation but rather appear to be designed to damage Heilmann’s reputation. For instance, a reliable source reported that the village attorney asked Heilmann whether he had ever “made fun of Mayor Sandra Bury’s weight”.
The question had no relevance to whether Weiler was fired illegally. Heilmann, who is an attorney in private practice for Clausen Miller, confirmed he was asked the question and said that he answered “no”. However as a litigation attorney for over 26 years, Heilmann had never seen the process used in that manner before. “You have to take a step back and wonder what on earth they are talking about with the lawyers which would result in a question like that being asked in a federal lawsuit”, he said.
The investigation of the Oak Lawn Leaf during this litigation was just as egregious. Heilmann founded the entity but has long ago relinquished all ownership. Both Village Manager Larry Deetjen and Mayor Sandra Bury have refused to answer any questions posed by the Oak Lawn Leaf and have blocked all of its employees’ emails from communicating with this media outlet.
During the lawsuit, Bury and Deetjen took their preoccupation with the Oak Lawn Leaf a step further. In the discovery process, they demanded all communications between the owner of the Oak Lawn Leaf and any attorney at Heilmann’s law firm of 150 lawyers in an attempt to dig up information that could be used against the online media site.
Robert Streit, the Dean of the Village Board of Trustees, said that he was disappointed that the village would play politics with the litigation process. “This unfortunately is another example of Mayor Bury and Larry Deetjen playing politics with taxpayers’ funds”, said Streit.
The corporation that owns the Oak Lawn Leaf issued an official comment for the story, through its attorney, stating, “Not since the Nixon enemies’ list has any government official so blatantly violated the public’s trust. The media does not exist to promote Mayor Bury. She and Mr. Deetjen should really reassess the role of government and its relationship with the media”.
The village has estimated the costs of discovery and depositions and related fees to be around $6,000 to $7,000. Dominick Lanzito, the village attorney involved in the litigation, did not return a call from the Oak Lawn Leaf to answer why the administration was using tax dollars and the village attorney to investigate the owner of the Oak Lawn Leaf. No emails were found from the Oak Lawn Leaf to any attorney at Clausen Miller despite the village paying $1,300 for the server search of over 150 attorneys.
Mayor Sandra Bury and Village Manager Larry Deetjen were reportedly present during the depositions.