Wait, when did they do away with the First Amendment???

Saw a VERY interesting article by Patrick M. O’Connell in the Chicago Tribune the other day about some wacky behavior in Park Ridge.

400 West Talcott, LLC [“Talcott”]is a Chicago-based real estate developer. Talcott wanted to put a four story condominium building in Park Ridge. The project had to be approved by the Park Ridge Planning and Zoning Commission. The Commission had hearings in May and September. Residents showed up at both hearings and objected to the project. The residents voiced perfectly legitimate concerns about parking and traffic. Additionally some residents questioned whether the project was simply too big for the site.

John O’Flaherty, the owner of Talcott disagreed. He felt the development would fit nicely in the neighborhood and that it complied with the relevant zoning ordinances. Ultimately, the Commission decided not to approve the project. Then, things get interesting…

Talcott sued the the Commission in the Circuit Court of Cook County for improperly denying approval for the project. AND Talcott sued approximately 20 of the residents who showed up at the hearings and voiced their displeasure with the project. When questioned about the decision to sue the residents[who did nothing more than show up at public hearing and exercise their First Amendment Rights] O’Flaherty denied any attempt to intimidate the residents.

“Oh gosh, no.” O’Flaherty was quoted as saying. “This was certainly not a tactic for any particular reason, just following the letter of the law and how this needs to be filed. First Amendment rights, everybody has them and they should be able to exercise them.” Right. Precisely what case law or statute requires that you sue residents for voicing opinions at a public hearing? I am not familiar with that one. And if any such statute actually existed, seems like it would be in direct violation of the right to freedom of speech. But I am sure Talcott and its lawyers will clear that all up when they have to respond to all those Motions to Dismiss from the residents. Those should be interesting arguments….

Judge: “Counsel, can you provide me with any authority as to why the statements of the residents are not protected free speech under the First Amendment?”

Talcott attorney: “Ummm……”

The story also quoted Andrew Koppelman at Northwestern University Law School. Koppelman didn’t mince words. He said naming the residents appeared to be “pure harassment” – because the residents have no ability to approve or deny the plan.

“On the face of it, it looks like clumsy lawyering,” Koppelman continued. “These people are not public officials…I do not understand why they have been named as parties.”

The local alderman, Marty Maloney was even more direct. “I just think it’s a terrible approach by the developer,” he said. “It’s bullying people into staying quiet in regards to what’s happening in their neighborhood, and I feel like that’s sort of unforgivable.”

Some residents have expressed concern about incurring legal costs while others have vowed to continue expressing their opinions.

Tom Maheras is one of the residents named in the lawsuit. He indicated he would bring other family members to future hearings on the project. “I would get my wife and my children to go in addition to myself,” he said. “This his how you deal with people like this – you double down.”

Talcott’s attorneys will likely voluntarily dismiss all the residents who were improperly named as parties – and they will do so quickly. If they don’t, those Motions to Dismiss will start flying and the residents will be properly looking to recover their attorney fees – from Talcott.

I can understand challenging the Commission if there was some irregularity it the process. But suing the folks who take the time to attend these hearings and voice their opinions? Wow. To quoteAlderman Maloney, unforgivable.