Judge in OPC lawsuit vows to ‘micromanage’ discovery

Protect Our Parks’ attorneys, former Ald. Bob Fioretti (left) and Mark Roth, leave court after the Feb. 27 hearing on discovery. (Photo by Aaron Gettinger)

Staff Writer

DIRKSEN FEDERAL COURTHOUSE — After lawyers for both sides of Protect Our Parks v. Chicago Park District went back-and-forth over items of discovery, Judge John Robert Blakey announced that he would “micromanage” the discovery process.

Blakey said he would meet with the plaintiffs and defendants on March 7 at 11 a.m. to discuss the requested documents pertaining to the suit over whether the Obama Presidential Center can be built in Jackson Park. The judge said fact discovery will close on April 19. A motion for summary judgment is due on May 3, a response and a reply are due on May 17 and May 24 and he set a hearing for May 30.

On the topic of documents and depositions from the Park District, city and Obama Foundation related to the choice of Jackson Park as home to the OPC, the defendants’ attorneys argued that “subjectiveness cannot add to the analysis” and that the ordinances City Council passed speak for themselves.

Blakey said he would not allow a deposition of the mayor, and he precluded inquiry into the motivations of aldermen who voted to allow the OPC to be built in Jackson Park.

On discovery related to traffic studies and planned road closures in Jackson Park, Blakey ordered that more documents related to finances involving the project be produced if they exist, as requested by the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs also requested more information related to the use agreement governing the OPC, which lays out that the Obama Foundation will build the campus and operate it for 99 years for a fee of $10, though the site will remain owned by the city and subject to restrictions on its use.

The defendants’ attorneys said that the city and Park District are getting their investment in infrastructure improvements back in the form of the OPC, which they said is being built for them for hundreds of millions of dollars paid for by the Obama Foundation. While the defendants asked for an appraisal of the site’s value, it came out that none exists, so Blakey said “that covers” it.

Blakey said that that any documents from the University of Chicago’s environmental contamination study ought to be released, as should any maps of interest that address the issue of whether the OPC site was once under water.

The city declined comment over the day’s events, citing ongoing litigation. The Herald has requested comment from the Park District.

The Herald was unable to reach Protect Our Parks’ attorney, Mark Roth, for comment. Protect Our Parks president Herb Caplan said that the hearing went as expected and that his organization always planned to seek summary judgment.

“We also anticipate, unless Defendants should decide to discuss an amicable settlement to simply relocate the Obama Center, that this case will end up in the U.S. Supreme Court for a final judgment and a significant ruling on the limits of local government powers,” he said.