CROWN POINT | A Lake County judge Thursday urged warring St. John town officials to resolve their differences before taxpayers get a big legal bill.
"There's obviously a controversy here," Lake Superior Court Judge John Pera commented in the midst of a status hearing Thursday in connection with a lawsuit filed Nov. 12 by St. John Clerk-Treasurer Sherry Sury.
The 36-page, eight-count complaint filed against the St. John Town Council and the town's information technology director alleges town officials are infringing on Sury's state-mandated duties to produce official town records and minutes.
Among the issues are the council refusing to pay expenses incurred by a contracted worker assisting Sury while hiring and paying a recording secretary of the council's own choosing.
The complaint also cites the council for conduct alleged to be retaliatory toward Sury.
"This kind of litigation can involve enormous expense," Pera told the sparring attorneys. The Town Council and IT director are represented by town attorneys David Austgen and Michael Jasaitis. Sury is represented by attorney Jeffrey Gunning.
What may be political differences are typically solved at the ballot box, Pera said in urging the attorneys to resolve the issues "short of a knock-down, drag-out fight in front of me."
Pera indicated he preferred the case be resolved through mediation by a neutral party "in the interest of good government."
"Don't be throwing gasoline on this fire," Pera said. "In the end, it's the public that's going to pay."
Until Pera can make a determination on mediation, he ordered Austgen to file the town's response to the complaint by Dec. 20, allowing Austgen time to gather information. Town attorneys in addition indicated an intention to file a motion to dismiss parts of the suit.
Gunning was told to file whatever motions he felt necessary. He indicated he might pursue a preliminary injunction against town officials.
"It's clear the Town Council has one interpretation, and we have another," Gunning said in arguing the bulk of the issues involve matters of law.