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Jones v. Brown-Marino

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, First Division

April 10, 2017

SHERMAN C. JONES, in His Capacity as President of the Village of Broadview, Plaintiff-Appellant,
JUDY BROWN-MARINO, DIANE LITTLE, TARA BREWER, and JOHN EALEY, in Their Capacity as Trustees of the Village of Broadview, Defendants-Appellees.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 15 CH 8862 Honorable Thomas R. Allen, Judge Presiding

         JUSTICE SIMON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Connors and Justice Harris concurred in the judgment and opinion



         ¶ 1 Following an election, plaintiff's party lost majority control of the board of trustees. The new majority party began to take actions adverse to plaintiff's interests, and plaintiff is trying to stop them. The board of trustees passed an ordinance allowing trustees to hire outside counsel to assist with drafting legislation and other legislative services. Plaintiff filed this case seeking a declaration that the ordinance was legally invalid. Plaintiff also moved the court to disqualify the law firm that defendants had hired to provide legislative services. The trial court denied plaintiff's motion to disqualify counsel and subsequently dismissed the case. The trial court committed no error, and we affirm.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 Plaintiff Sherman C. Jones filed this case in his capacity as president of the Village of Broadview. After the 2015 election, Jones's party lost the majority of village trustees who are charged with passing legislation. The new majority party, the Better Broadview Party, counts defendants Judy Brown-Marino, Diane Little, Tara Brewer, and John Ealey as members. After being sworn in as trustees, to the dismay of Kevin McGrier and Gwenevere Turner the now-minority trustees, defendants began to assert their newfound control of the legislative process in the village.

         ¶ 4 Defendants passed the "Legislative Counsel Ordinance." The ordinance allows village trustees to enlist outside counsel to provide services like assistance with drafting ordinances and contracts and basically anything else that comes within the trustees' purview. Plaintiff, as the village president, does not like the legislative counsel ordinance, particularly because the appointed village attorney is loyal to him while outside counsel is predictably hostile. So plaintiff filed a complaint asking the court to invalidate the legislative counsel ordinance. He then moved to have the particular outside counsel hired, Ancel, Glink, Diamond, Bush, DiCianni & Krafthefer, P.C. (Ancel Glink), disqualified from representing the trustees. Plaintiff, among other arguments, maintained that the ordinance eroded his executive branch powers because hiring outside counsel transferred responsibilities from the village attorney to another attorney.

         ¶ 5 The appeal is principally directed at the disqualification issue. Plaintiff argues that Ancel Glink should be disqualified because it has a conflict of interest under Rule 1.7 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (eff. Jan. 1, 2010). Rule 1.7 says that lawyers should not represent a client if the lawyer has a concurrent conflict of interest. "A concurrent conflict of interest exists if: (1) the representation of one client will be directly adverse to another client; or (2) there is a significant risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by the lawyer's responsibilities to another client, a former client or a third person or by a personal interest of the lawyer." Ill. R. Prof'l Conduct (2010) 1.7(a) (eff. Jan. 1, 2010).

         ¶ 6 Ancel Glink has represented defendants in past litigation and was supposedly representing them in two matters associated with village business at the time the ordinance was passed. Plaintiff maintains that Ancel Glink's simultaneous representation of defendants in litigation, combined with the firm being hired as outside legislative counsel for the trustees, is prohibited. Plaintiff basically maintains that trustees McGrier and Turner, the minority party members, are being forced to be represented by Ancel Glink despite the fact that they oppose parties in ongoing legislation that are represented by Ancel Glink. According to plaintiff, because of the firm's preexisting adversarial relationship with McGrier and Turner, those trustees "can never get the attention and allegiance they deserve from Ancel Glink in legislative drafting and other endeavors."

         ¶ 7 The trial court denied plaintiff's motion to disqualify Ancel Glink. The case then turned to plaintiff's various arguments as to why the ordinance should be invalidated. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, and the trial court granted it. Plaintiff appeals.

         ¶ 8 ANALYSIS

         ¶ 9 I. Disqualification of Ancel Glink

         ¶ 10 The appeal in this case is relatively odd in that no one is seeking an order to disqualify an attorney in this specific case. Instead, plaintiff seeks an order that Ancel Glink cannot represent defendants in their unrelated legislative endeavors.

         ¶ 11 Generally, we review a circuit court's ruling on a motion to disqualify an attorney for an abuse of the court's discretion. Schwartz v. Cortelloni, 177 Ill.2d 166, 176 (1997). However, insofar as this case concerns the interpretation of an ordinance, our review is ...

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