RETRACTION: 

On Feb. 19, the Landmark incorrectly reported that District 96 school board member Jennifer Leimberer
said that school board members had asked Ames School principal Colleen Lieggi whether she had a
personal relationship with attorney Justin Petrarca. That was incorrect. The Landmark also reported that
Leimberer said “I can’t say” when asked what Lieggi’s answer was. That is also incorrect.

Leimberer did say “I can’t say” when she was asked by the Landmark whether the school board
members had asked Lieggi whether she had a personal relationship with Petrarca. She did not confirm that the question had been asked.

The Landmark apologizes for the error and retracts the statements.

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At a District 96 school board meeting in January, a Riverside resident suggested that an attorney for the school district might have a conflict of interest as a result of a personal relationship with a District 96 employee.

The comments were made in connection with ongoing questions regarding the district’s handling of the resignation of a part-time Ames School teacher in the fall of 2011.

Since that time, the Landmark has learned that one of the law firm’s attorneys provided personal assistance to Ames Principal Colleen Lieggi in obtaining police records related to criminal accusations against the former teacher and others. The school board was not told of the criminal investigation prior to the teacher’s resignation.

The school district’s law firm also represented Lieggi on an unrelated personal matter earlier in 2011. 

At the Jan. 15 school board meeting the issue was raised, without mentioning any names, in a public comment made by Chris Robling, who has publicly called for Lieggi to be removed from her position as principal of Ames School and has criticized the school board for its lack of action.

“I was referring to common knowledge in the community that there has been a personal relationship between one of the attorneys and one of the D96 staffers and that relationship might cause conflicts of interest to arise in the service of the attorney to the district,” Robling told the Landmark last week.

Robling declined to say which District 96 staffer and which attorney he was referring to.

Petrarca did not respond to questions from the Landmark asking whether he and Lieggi have or had a personal relationship. Lieggi referred all questions to her lawyer, Terence Moran, a partner in the Chicago law firm Hughes, Socal, Piers, Resnick & Dym.

“Neither I nor my client will be commenting on any part of her private life,” Moran said in an email to the Landmark. “Colleen’s privacy, as well as that of her children, have been invaded far too much already, and we will be taking action to address that.”

Petrarca and Lieggi went together to the Riverside police station on Dec. 14, 2011, the day after the District 96 Board of Education approved the separation agreement with the former teacher.

Petrarca helped Lieggi file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests in Lieggi’s name asking for the Riverside police report detailing its investigation into allegations that Lieggi’s children had been sexually abused by the teacher, a Riverside family and Lieggi’s former husband. The investigation cleared everyone accused.

“Do I believe that our lawyer went as a friend to Colleen Lieggi with her to the police department at one point?,” said District 96 board member Jennifer Leimberer. “Yes, but they were not there representing the school board. They were there as a friend.”

Petrarca did not bill the district for his time at the police station with Lieggi, suggesting that he had a personal interest in helping her and was not acting in his capacity as a lawyer representing District 96. School district officials have maintained that the filing of a police report was a private matter for Lieggi.

The multiple FOIAs submitted by Lieggi on Dec. 14, 2011 were printed neatly and superseded a FOIA request from Lieggi that was submitted on Dec. 8, 2011. That FOIA was in different handwriting and was marked “cancelled request” by the police.

The Dec. 14 FOIAs asked to see more than just the police report. The FOIAs also wanted to know who else had seen the police report. In addition to the request to obtain the police report, Lieggi filed additional FOIA requests to see who else had asked to see the police report as well as filing a FOIA request to see any subpoenas that had been filed demanding the report.

At last month’s District 96 school board meeting, Petrarca said that he had filed FOIAs with Riverside Police Department to see who else had filed requests to see the police report.

That appears to be a misstatement. When the Landmark filed a FOIA to see who else had requested the police report, there was no record of any FOIA requests filed by Petrarca in his own name.

Julie Lewis, a lawyer for Scariano, Himes and Petrarca who has worked with Petrarca on District 96 matters, told the Landmark that what Petrarca meant to say was that he had helped Lieggi file FOIA requests, not that he filed FOIA requests in his own name.

“I think Justin was with her when she did that request,” Lewis said.

The late Tony Scariano, a longtime law partner of Petrarca’s, represented District 96 in its dealings with the teacher, Susan Battersby, who ultimately resigned after the district first tried to fire her. According to Battersby’s father, Scariano was very aggressive in his dealings with Susan Battersby.

“It was totally unnecessary the way he acted,” Stephen Battersby said.

Scariano and Lieggi met with Battersby and Ames School union representative Danielle Munson at District 96 headquarters on Sept. 29, 2011. At that time, Battersby was abruptly suspended without pay.

According to school board members, throughout 2011Scariano never told them that Battersby had been accused of sexually abusing one of Lieggi’s daughters, even though emails indicate that he was aware of the allegations.

When they approved the separation agreement with Battersby on Dec. 13, 2011, school board members said they still did not know about the police report or that Battersby had even been accused, much less cleared, of abusing Lieggi’s daughter.

Leimberer said that she believes that Scariano, Himes and Petrarca acted with the interests of the school district in mind in its handling of the Battersby situation.

“I do believe they have acted on the school board’s behalf,” Leimberer said.

Scariano, Himes and Petrarca had represented Lieggi on a personal legal matter earlier in 2011.

On Jan. 3, 2011 Adam Dauksas, a young attorney at Scariano, Himes and Petrarca wrote a letter on Lieggi’s behalf demanding that a man Lieggi had gone out on two dates with stop contacting her and leave her alone. The Landmark obtained a copy of Dauksas’ letter as part of FOIA request to the Riverside Police Department, which had been sent a copy of the letter.

In his letter, Dauksas told the man that criminal charges would be brought against him if he continued to try to contact Lieggi. Copies of the letter were sent to Petrarca, Riverside Village Attorney Lance Malina and Riverside Police Chief Tom Weitzel.

The Landmark recently contacted Dauksas and asked him how he got the assignment to write the letter.

“Off the top of my head I don’t recall,” Dauksas said.

Dauksas said he would look into it and get back to the Landmark, but the Landmark didn’t hear from him again. Dauksas did not reply to a voice message left for him at his office Friday from the Landmark.

Petrarca didn’t respond to questions asking whether he had assigned Dauksas to write the letter or whether Lieggi had paid any legal fees to Scariano, Himes and Petrarca as a client of the law firm.

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