The city of Chicago will not shield Oak Park from paying a portion of the cost for the National Rifle Association's lawyers, despite the village board passing a resolution two years ago that said otherwise.
But Oak Park was careful to limit any potential damage while being sued by the NRA over the past three years, says the village attorney, and he expects the final bill to be minimal.
"We earnestly worked to keep that at a minimum," said Village Attorney Ray Heise.
In a dispute that date backs years, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on June 2 that the NRA has the right to recover its attorney fees from Oak Park and Chicago. One year ago, the Supreme Court struck down Oak Park and Chicago's bans on handguns, after the NRA had filed suit in 2008, looking to kill such restrictions in several Illinois communities. Chicago and Oak Park were the only municipalities that chose to fight the NRA in court, and the two municipalities ended up losing last summer.
Part of the reason that Oak Park chose to fight was because the law firm of Mayer Brown agreed to represent the village free of charge. And in March 2009, the village board passed a resolution, accepting Chicago's offer of "limited indemnification" against paying legal fees in the event that the NRA won in court.
But Heise told Wednesday Journal on Monday that Chicago's corporation counsel ultimately did not agree to indemnification. Rather, the two communities worked out an "agreement on contribution" that has Oak Park and Chicago splitting the NRA's legal fees, based on which of the gun group's legal expenses were specifically applied to fighting each town's two separate ordinances.
Oak Park's pro bono lawyers were careful in trying to defend parts of the village's handgun ban that were parallel to elements of the city's gun ordinance for that specific reason. But Heise said it will be up to the district court to figure out which of the NRA's attorney fees are "uniquely" the village's responsibilities.
"It's going to be a tedious process," Heise said, estimating that it would take at least a month. He was uncertain what the NRA's total legal bills might be, but said they're likely "substantial," as the case went before the Supreme Court.
Heise said the village has a "self-insured retention fund" that covers any lawsuit settlements up to $2 million. Oak Park also has umbrella insurance for any "catastrophic" coverage that's needed, between $2 million and $10 million, but Heise didn't expect the costs to reach that height.
Village President David Pope said the village will wait to see what the district court decides on legal fees, declining to comment further, since the case is ongoing.
"The village has done its best to limit the prospects for liability arising out of this lawsuit," he said.
An NRA spokeswoman could not provide an estimated amount of legal fees that the gun group incurred during the lawsuit, but said she doesn't expect it to be a large sum. The NRA, she said, believes the village is still too restrictive in regulating guns, but declined to say whether the NRA is considering further lawsuits.
"Even though they've repealed their handgun ban, they're still making it nearly impossible for lawful people to exercise their Second Amendment freedom, as it was intended by the Constitution," said NRA spokeswoman Rachel Parsons. "We will continue to fight those efforts by whatever means possible."