By Zarka Khalid - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34222786

A Chicago federal judge has refused to toss a suit by suburban Tinley Park against a former village development director, which alleged the ex-director's misrepresentations caused the village to come under federal investigation and pay $2.5 million to settle a suit brought by the would-be developer of a dormant low-income housing project.

U.S. District Judge Sara Ellis favored Tinley Park on Nov. 28 in its action against Amy Connolly, who was the village's director of development from 2007 to 2016, when she left for a similar job in Racine, Wis. At the time of her departure, Connolly had been placed on leave by Tinley Park.

Tinley Park sued Connolly in May 2017, alleging she misled village officials into allowing development of a three-story housing project in the village's downtown, which the village alleged Connolly falsely said would comply with the zoning requirement the ground floor had to contain commercial space. Connolly further told officials the village board did not have to vote to approve the project, according to the suit.

Connolly also allegedly manipulated the board into changing the zoning ordinance to permit, rather than require, such housing projects in the business district include commercial space. A group of Tinley Park residents later went to court to force officials to rescind this change, which officials did in May 2016.

The village alleged Connolly pushed through the housing proposal, because she had a poor track record  in bringing development, and was “desperate” to prove her value.

Opposition to the project grew among residents, with the village board sending the proposal back to the village planning department for further review; the proposal has been tabled since. The developers then sued the village, with the village agreeing in April 2017 to pay $2.5 million to settle the litigation.

In the meantime, the U.S. Justice Department sued the village in late 2016, claiming village officials caved in to alleged community racism and killed off the project, because it was perceived most of the proposed housing units would be occupied by blacks.

Tinley Park's suit against Connolly blames her for the litigation that arose against the village, with the village wanting Connolly to pay at least $75,000 in damages.

Connolly denied wrongdoing and filed a motion contending that at any rate, she is immune to liability, because of the Illinois legislative immunity doctrine.

Judge Ellis noted legislative immunity unquestionably covers members of a municipal council in their legislative role, but previous state rulings on the subject do not support extending the immunity to municipal employees who take part in the legislative process. As a consequence, Ellis rejected Connolly's motion.

Ellis pointed out Illinois' public official immunity doctrine is in place to protect non-legislators.

“Because the Illinois Supreme Court counsels narrow application of immunities generally, it has typically taken a narrow view of legislative immunity, and there is already an established common-law immunity covering public officials in Illinois, the Court declines to extend common-law legislative immunity to non-legislative actors,” Ellis said.

Tinley Park has its own motion pending before Ellis, which seeks to bar Chicago lawyer John B. Murphey from continuing to defend Connolly.

The village said municipal officials conferred a couple of times in late 2016 with Murphey, who had represented the village in other matters, about him possibly handling the federal suit against the village. During these conversations, village officials shared with Murphey information about the housing project fiasco, according to court papers. Then in June 2017, Connolly hired Murphey to defend her against the village's suit.

The village said Murphey should not defend Connolly, because the village information shared with Murphey was confidential and is at the “core” of the village's suit against Connolly.

The motion to bar Murphey will be addressed Feb. 8.

The village failed to have the federal action dismissed last summer; the next hearing in that case is Dec. 13.

Tinley Park is represented by the Chicago firm of Kozacky Weitzel McGrath PC.

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