Ronald Kafka was feeling pretty good when he walked out of Room 2302 at the Daley Center late Monday afternoon. Judge William Maki had just dismissed 14 of 21 counts that the Illinois Attorney General’s office had brought against the Riverside resident.
The Illinois Attorney General is trying to put the longtime home remodeler out of business. The state filed the suit in 2006.
After the state had presented its case in the civil trial Kafka’s attorney, Robert Egan made a motion asking for a directed verdict for Kafka in the bench trial and spent about two hours Monday arguing that the state’s case charging consumer fraud and deceptive practices was so weak that there was no need to put on a defense.
Maki agreed, but only in part. The judge let stand seven counts that mostly center on the allegation that Riverside-based Father & Sons Contractors Inc., which Kafka denies having any ownership interest in, routinely left out start and completion dates in its contracts with homeowners. Maki ruled that the state had failed to prove that Kafka had violated any provisions of Illinois Home Repair and Remodeling Act but let stand some charges based on the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act.
Kafka seemed happy on Monday leaving court.
“I feel great,” said the 74-year-old Kafka, who looked dapper in his double breasted blue suit. “Ninety percent of the case was knocked out.”
Kafka defended his business practices and claimed that that Assistant Attorney General Charles Fergus has been out to get him for 25 years.
“Mr. Fergus doesn’t like me,” Kafka said. “We have no intention to cheat or hurt anybody. You don’t do this type of work for 60 years based on what Mr. Fergus said.”
Fergus, who has brought other cases against Kafka, had a different view of the judge’s ruling.
“I thought we had a strong case based on the Home Repair and Remodeling Act,” Fergus said Monday. “I was surprised the court ruled the way it did. I’m pleased part of the Consumer Fraud Act case continues. My impression is that we have some strong parts of the case that survived this motion.”
The state is seeking an injunction to stop Kafka and Father and Sons from doing business and is also seeking civil penalties.
Judge Maki issued his brief ruling from the bench after nearly four hours of argument by Egan and Fergus on Monday.
Maki said he found some of state’s witnesses not credible. He ruled that the state did not have enough evidence to support the counts that were dismissed.
The state charged that Kafka routinely pressured homeowners to sign vague and general contracts and then his company did hurried and sometimes shoddy work that left home owners dissatisfied and deceived.
“It’s a rush job by the defendants to come in and try to sign up the consumers as fast as they can,” Fergus said in his argument to the judge. “Consumers are signed to vague contracts, without start and stop dates. Consumers are trapped in these contracts. People don’t know really what they signed up to. Confusion and misunderstanding abounds.”
The state called 34 witnesses in the trial that began on Oct. 13.
But Egan methodically attacked those witnesses in his argument for acquittal.
“This has been nothing more than a bitch session by several people who have had problems with Father & Sons Contractors,” Egan said in court. “There was no fraud in regard to these particular projects.”
Egan argued that the witnesses had no paperwork to support their claims and said they were just trying to get out of valid contracts that they had signed.
“Each and every one of these consumers entered into a valid contract,” Egan told the judge. “Not one of these witnesses who have testified about problems with Father & Sons Contractors has brought documents to corroborate their testimony. You heard ambiguous testimony that has not been corroborated.”
Egan charged that it was the customers who were trying to take advantage of Kafka.
“It was Father & Sons who performed the duties [of the contracts],” Egan said. “It’s the consumers who were the real villains.”
Egan said that Father & Sons was always ready and willing to live up to the terms of the contracts and in some cases granted refunds.
“In each and every incident Father & Sons was ready, willing and able to perform under the contract,” Egan said.
The case will resume on Jan. 20 when the defense will call witnesses to try to rebut the remaining portion of the state’s case in the civil trial.
“We’ll come back in January, and hopefully we’ll be victorious,” Kafka said.