Appellate Court Closes the Book on D. 97 Lawsuit

Voluntary dismissal comes nearly 18 months after initial appeal filed.

A lawsuit that sought to toss out the results of Elementary District 97's successful tax rate referendum has finally been dismissed by an Illinois Appellate Court.

After months of granting extensions to Taxpayers United of America to file documents related to the case and other matters, a three-judge panel entered the order Dec. 7.

Documents related to this case are filed as PDFs.

The motion to withdraw was filed by Andrew Spiegel, who represented Noel Kuriakos, an Oak Park resident and Herbert Sorock, from Wilmette who filed suits against their respective districts shortly after their referendums were approved in April 2011.

Other moves to block the referendum from taking effect were also blocked. A Cook County Court judge in late May 2011 blocked a TUA effort to stop the referendum from taking effect.

Helping District 97's efforts was a friend-of-the-court brief filed by in June 2011 by The Committee to Support Oak Park Schools, which was formed to advocate for passage.

Then on July 1, 2011, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Mary Mikva dismissed the case. TUA filed an appeal and got the judges in August 2011 to merge District 97's case with that from Wilmette Elementary District 39, a move that a lower court judge rejected.

In a statement, District 97's school board president Peter Barber said they were pleased that this matter had been finally resolved.

"We appreciate the support we received from the community on this issue. While it was unfortunate that we had to waste valuable time, energy and resources fighting this lawsuit, we remain steadfast in our belief that defending the decision the residents of Oak Park made on April 5, 2011 regarding the District 97 referendum was the right thing to do. Now...we can fully focus our efforts on what is most important—providing our students with a high-quality education that will help them succeed both in and out of the classroom," Barber said.

District 97 voters approved a tax rate hike in April 2011 by a margin of 54 to 46 percent of the vote. TUA challenged the results because the group said the language on the April 5 election ballot intentionally misled voters about the impact of the referendum on their property taxes and that the district failed to use the equalizer in determining the real cost to the taxpayers.

TUA's executive director Rae Ann McNeilly said TUA withdrew its appeal because legislation signed into law in August had the same effect at the lawsuit.The chief sponsor of what became Public Act 97-1087 was State Sen. Don Harmon, who represents most of Oak Park.

"That was the solution we were seeking. We were happy the reform occurred," McNeilly said."Once that was achieved the wrong thing to do was to continue the suit."

It took almost another four months for the group to seek a voluntary dismissal of the appeal. In a document filed on Nov. 27, TUA noted that it was "was no longer in a position to continuing to litigate this appeal," according to the motion to voluntarily dismiss the appeal. No other explanation was given; a statement was released by TUA, however.

Had it not been dismissed the case could have gone on for months longer. A schedule to file documents in this case had been by the Appellate Court and TUA had until Dec. 18 begin filing briefs.

Legal fees as of last year amounted to about $40,000.


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