Ethics panel: Law firm must prove Board of Review commissioner didn't profit from firm's suits vs county

By Scott Holland | Aug 29, 2017

A Cook County ethics panel is asking a judge to order a Chicago law firm to present proof the head of the Cook County Board of Review isn’t profiting from his law firm’s legal actions against the county.

A Cook County ethics panel is asking a judge to order a Chicago law firm to present proof the head of the Cook County Board of Review isn’t profiting from his law firm’s legal actions against the county.

On Aug. 23, the Cook County Board of Ethics filed a petition to ask the Cook County Circuit Court to issue an order enforcing its Jan. 27 subpoena against Power Rogers & Smith, LLP.

Larry Rogers Jr. is a commissioner of the Cook County Board of Review, the county board which reviews property tax assessment appeals. He represents the county's Third District, which includes much of Chicago's downtown, South Side and West Side, as well as large portions of south and west suburban Cook County. 

According to the petition, the ethics board has launched an investigation into whether “Rogers economically benefitted in his private legal practice as a partner” at Power Rogers by representing parties who are or who have sued the county.

“Such representation would violate several provisions of the County Code,” the petition continued, “including an outright prohibition on such representations by elected county officials.”

The ethics board first issued a subpoena on Sept. 30, but the firm filed an objection on Nov. 4. In that filing, Power Rogers said the ethics board lacks jurisdiction because the firm is not a county vendor or employee, implied the requested information was proprietary and said giving the requested documents to the ethics board could potentially make them publicly available under the Freedom of Information Act.

Ethics board Executive Director Ranjit Hakim responded to those objections on Nov. 17, largely arguing it was wrong to suggest the board’s subpoena power is limited to county officials, employees and vendors because “a separate informal document production protocol” governs those classes — in fact, they don’t need to be subpoenaed at all.

Hakim also requested a privilege log for each of the requested documents so Power Rogers could explain the basis for retaining privacy rights. The firm filed another objection Dec. 2, but did not provide a privilege log. Hakim sent a revised subpoena Jan. 27, requesting just three types of documents: showing when Rogers became a partner in Power Rogers, when he gained or lost an equity interest in the firm and a breakdown of his compensation since Jan. 1, 2014.

The firm issued another objection Feb. 23, standing on its original reasoning. On March 7, the ethics board referred the matter to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. Ten days later, Assistant State’s Attorney Jill Ferrara told Powers Rogers the office would enforce the subpoena and demanded compliance. But on March 31, the firm again refused to provide any paperwork.

After that refusal, the state’s attorney’s office, citing a potential conflict of interest, said it was precluded from representing the ethics board in enforcing the subpoena, and moved to appoint Paul J. Kozacky and Alastar S. McGrath, of Kozacky Weitzel McGrath, P.C., as special representative; the court granted that motion on July 19.

The petition reasserts the ethics board’s investigation “is plainly authorized by the county code,” said the revised subpoena “is a reasonable request for readily available documents that are highly relevant” and that the board “has made every reasonable effort to resolve the differences with Power Rogers.”

In the Aug. 23 filing, the ethics board asked the court to give Power Rogers 14 days to fully comply with its most recent subpoena, impose a $1,000 per-day fine for every day of noncompliance and levy court costs against the firm.

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Cook County Board of Ethics Cook County Board of Review Power Rogers & Smith

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