With the fate of the season for two high school football programs – and potentially a state title – hanging in the balance, retiring Cook County Circuit Judge Kathleen Kennedy is scheduled to hear arguments Wednesday over a request by a Catholic high school hailing from her hometown of Oak Park to force Illinois High School Association to reverse the on-field results of a semifinal playoff contest between Fenwick High School and Plainfield North, which was decided in large part on an erroneous end-of-game call by referees officiating the game.
The case was brought on an emergency basis by Fenwick on Monday. The school is seeking to make its first trip to a state high school football title game in the school’s 87-year history.
That trip appeared certain on Nov. 19, when the school’s students and fans rushed the field at Triton College to celebrate an apparent 10-7 victory over Plainfield North High School.
However, on the final play, the officials flagged Fenwick’s quarterback for intentional grounding on a fourth down pass heaved downfield as the game clock expired. While the rules dictated the game should have ended there, regardless of the penalty, the officials awarded the ball and one final play to Plainfield North, who kicked a field goal to apparently tie the game. Plainfield North then won the game in overtime, 18-17.
The IHSA, which oversees high school athletics in Illlinois, purportedly apologized for the error and invited an appeal, according to Fenwick. But the IHSA refused to hear the appeal, citing bylaws which hold the decisions of game officials are final and cannot be overturned.
That then prompted the lawsuit and emergency petition from Fenwick, who have asked the court to order the IHSA to declare Fenwick the correct winner of the game, based on the IHSA’s rules.
Through its attorneys at the firm of Greenberg Traurig, in Chicago, Fenwick argued the IHSA’s refusal to vacate the result on the field and award the game to Fenwick violates its contract with Fenwick and the state’s other high schools.
They argued the officials lacked the authority under the IHSA’s contracts to extend play on the field, which not only broke the IHSA’s rules, but also endangered the safety of the players, violating the IHSA’s code of conduct.
“Fenwick seeks a declaration to ‘fix’ a breach of contract by IHSA officials,” the lawsuit said. “By express written contract, all parties agree that the IHSA officials lacked authority under the Contract to force the teams to continue to play after the clock expired. Fenwick also seeks a temporary restraining order enforcing the Contract, declaring the game to have ended when the clock expired.
“To allow this unjust result to stand would fly in the face of everything the IHSA stands for in its administration of high school athletics – fairness, reliability, accountability and integrity.”
The IHSA Class 7A football title game is scheduled to kick off on Saturday, Nov. 26.
The legal challenge to the high school football playoff game comes at an interesting time for Kennedy, as she prepares to wrap up a 20-year career on the Cook County bench.
An Oak Park native, Kennedy has served on the bench since 1996. She now hears cases in the court’s Chancery Division.
Among notable cases, most recently, Kennedy has weighed in against the city of Chicago’s attempt to collect fines and fees from certain people who were issued traffic tickets through Chicago’s red light and speed camera enforcement program. Plaintiffs in that case have asked Kennedy to declare the red light and speed camera enforcement program illegal and unconstitutional.
Before securing a seat on the bench, Kennedy, who has practiced law since 1982, served as an attorney with the Office of the Cook County Public Guardian and served as a juvenile hearing officer in the Cook County circuit.
According to an announcement from the Illinois Supreme Court, Kennedy informed the circuit court’s leadership and the state high court earlier this year of her intent to retire Nov. 30. The Illinois state high court would then appoint her replacement, who would serve on the bench until voters get a say in the 2018 elections.
Illinois Supreme Court Justice Mary Jane Theis will review applicants for the position, and make a recommendation to the full court, which will then formally appoint a judge to replace Kennedy in Cook County’s 11th Judicial Subcircuit, a territory that includes portions of Oak Park, River Forest, Proviso, Leyden, Norwood Park, Elk Grove and Maine townships in the county’s west and northwest sides.
Kennedy has twice sought election to the Illinois First District Appellate Court. In 2010, she placed second in the Democratic Party primary election to now-retired Justice James R. Epstein. She filed nominating papers to run for appellate justice again in 2012, but was not placed on the ballot, after the Cook County Electoral Board disqualified her petitions.
She now earns a salary of $184,000 per year, according to public records.