Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Fees piling up in Fiske suit

The city of Evanston has already spent $5,300 in legal fees in a lawsuit filed by defeated First Ward aldermanic candidate Judy Fiske, city attorney Elke Tober-Purze said.

After losing the April aldermanic election to Ald. Cheryl Wollin (1st), Fiske sued to overturn the results, saying Northwestern bought students’ votes. Parts of downtown Evanston and all of the NU dorms west of Sheridan Road, except for Jones Residential College and 1835 Hinman, are in the First Ward.

The suit is divided into a federal court case seeking damages from NU and a petition asking Evanston City Council to overturn the First Ward election results. Last week, Fiske and her lawyer, Richard Means, added Wollin as a defendant in the case, saying Wollin and NU “corrupted and manipulated municipal elections.”

Evanston is not one of the defendants in the lawsuit, but as of January 2005 the city was facing $28 million in pending legal liabilities and workers compensation.

The money for the mock-court system Evanston City Council uses to hear petitions comes from the city’s general fund.

“I don’t think we ever contemplated having to deal with this kind of a lawsuit,” Ald. Steven Bernstein (4th) said. “It’s money we could have spent on something else.”

Vice President for University Relations Al Cubbage declined to say how much the university has spent on legal fees in the suit. But Wollin’s campaign committee’s Legal Defense Fund already has spent $10,135, Wollin said.

“And God knows how much that will be once the federal case gets going,” she said, adding that there are non-fiscal costs as well. “I’m trying very hard to do my job as alderman. This is a distraction from my focus.”

Wollin said in July that she will not vote on the petition if the council hears it. If the council votes to dismiss the petition, Means said Fiske plans to take the case to the Cook County Circuit Court. If the council rules in favor of Fiske, 217 votes – 202 of which went to Wollin – will be thrown out, and Fiske will become First Ward alderman.

Fiske accused NU of bribing students to vote with offers of housing points and a party. An amended complaint submitted last week said the Associated Student Government allowed Wollin to campaign on NU’s campus and barred Fiske. But Wollin said she never campaigned on campus, except during two on-campus debates with Fiske.

Fiske and Means have asked aldermen to view evidence first before the council dismisses the case.

Means said interviews and information from NU and ASG make him believe NU documents will form a “paper trail” supporting Fiske’s case. Although Means would not say where he got this information, he said if he didn’t think it was legitimate he would not be filing a case.

“Obviously, if we were blowing steam, our whole case will collapse,” he said. “We believe there is evidence there and that is why NU and Wollin are trying to keep it from us. There are a couple of legal hurdles we have to get over before we can get to the evidence.”

Until evidence is exchanged during the discovery portion of the federal court case or after the City Council decides whether to dismiss the case, Means cannot access any documents required to confirm what his sources told him.

NU continues to believe the case is unfounded, Cubbage said.

But Means said the case will set a precedent for voting bribery lawsuits. Previous cases involving allegations of vote buying were complicated by other charges but not like this, he said.

“This case kind of breaks new grounds in Illinois,” he said. “When this is all over it won’t happen again.”

Reach Elizabeth Gibson at [email protected].

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Fees piling up in Fiske suit