An attempt by the village of North Riverside to force one of its police officers to settle a federal lawsuit appears to have failed, and now the matter may head to trial.

On July 5, Magistrate Judge Mary M. Rowland recommended denial of North Riverside’s motion to enforce a settlement that had been agreed to by the former attorney of Sgt. Frank Schmalz, but not by Schmalz. 

A police officer in the community for 31 years, Schmalz in 2013 sued past and present members of the village board and Police Chief Lane Niemann, alleging he’d been retaliated against after backing Rocco DeSantis for mayor against the VIP slate that year. 

A federal judge in 2015 dismissed the charges against former and present trustees, but let stand allegations against former Mayor Kenneth Krochmal, Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. and Police Chief Lane Niemann.

Schmalz claims he was passed over for promotion and stripped of his positions on two regional police task forces for supporting DeSantis’ bid for mayor against Hermanek. He also accuses Krochmal of defamation for comments made in public prior to the 2013 village election.

 In March, both sides met to discuss settling the case, but court documents reveal that the two sides were far apart in what they wanted. 

Schmalz had presented the village with two options. The first would settle the federal lawsuit alone. The second would settle the federal lawsuit and all other grievances Schmalz had with the village. An arbitrator for the Illinois Labor Relations Board is also handling a grievance Schmalz has filed against the village.

To settle the federal lawsuit, Schmalz wanted a promotion to commander effective July 1, 2013 and the resulting pay differential (about $25,000) since that time; a payout of all vacation, comp time, sick time and personal days at the commander’s salary rate (the number of hours would be determined by an arbitrator); attorneys costs; a return of his gold WEDGE star and MCAT star, which are police task forces Schmalz was pulled from in 2013; and a commander’s retirement star.

To settle all matters with the village, Schmalz wanted an additional $28,000 in back pay to settle union grievances he filed against the village and specified that 2,268 hours of vacation, personal, comp time and sick time be paid to him at the commander’s salary rate.

The village offered to settle the federal lawsuit simply by paying Schmalz $25,000 and his attorneys $35,000.

In early March, Schmalz’s attorney notified the village and the court that the village’s settlement offer was acceptable. But emails between Schmalz and his attorney, Amanda Clark, showed that he didn’t like the terms and didn’t agree to accept them. 

In an email dated March 28 that is part of the court record, Schmalz tells Clark, “I can’t think of one objective accomplished in this nearly three-year process by agreeing to this settlement.”

In her recommendation on the village’s motion to enforce the settlement, Judge Rowland ruled that North Riverside had “not met their burden to demonstrate that [Schmalz’s] counsel had the authority to accept the court’s settlement recommendation on [Schmalz’s] behalf.”

In the wake of Schmalz balking at the settlement to which his attorney had agreed, the firm defending Schmalz withdrew from the case. Schmalz is defending himself at this point.

The village of North Riverside has until July 19 to file objections to Judge Rowland’s recommendation, which eventually land on the desk of Judge John W. Darrah, who is handling the case.

No date has been set for a ruling on the magistrate judge’s recommendation.