Tentative hearing date set for Crystal Lake, D-155 dispute

CRYSTAL LAKE – A courtroom showdown between a group of Crystal Lake residents, Community School District 155, the city of Crystal Lake and the McHenry County regional superintendent is set for Nov. 7 if no out-of-court settlement is reached.

Judge Michael Chmiel set the date after all four parties finalized legal representation as the Lake County State's Attorney Office stepped in to represent McHenry County Regional Superintendent Leslie Schermerhorn. McHenry County State's Attorney Louis Bianchi traditionally would represent the superintendent, but because he is one of the three private citizens who initially filed the lawsuit against District 155, he could not serve in that capacity.

Daniel Jasica, chief deputy state's attorney for Lake County, said he still was getting caught up on the case and has not determined whether to file any motions. Jasica has stepped in on McHenry County cases in the past when Bianchi was involved in a conflict of interest in 2011.

"It is not common, but on the other hand, it is not unprecedented or all that unusual," Jasica said of representing McHenry County.

Residents – including Bianchi and his wife – unhappy with the $1.18 million bleacher expansion project at Crystal Lake South High School filed a lawsuit saying the district failed to follow the city zoning process and made the structure too large and too close to their property lines. The school district later brought the city and regional superintendent into the lawsuit to determine whether the regional superintendent or city had zoning control of district projects.

The city has since filed a motion for summary judgment asking Chmiel to rule on whether the school district must follow city ordinances. Jasica said that If the judge finds no material issues of fact, the hearing on Nov. 7 would be the only time to make arguments before Chmiel renders a decision.

If the judge does find issues of fact, a full jury trial could take place.

A court ruling of any kind still could be avoided.

A group of former District 155 board members have offered to mediate the process to find a solution out of court and save money for taxpayers. Although city and district representatives have said they are open to the possibility, no formal meeting has taken place.

Tom Burney, who represents the residents, said mediation also could work for his clients.

"Any kind of effort to stop all this spending of money on lawyers – even though I am a lawyer – would be a benefit," Burney said.