Brookfield sues to recover award to former employee

? Michele Catanzaro, formerly the assistant to the village manager, is accused of breaching settlement agreement.

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By BOB UPHUES

In November 2003, the Village of Brookfield quietly finalized a severance settlement with Michele Catanzaro, awarding her $15,000 after she resigned amid unclear circumstances on Aug. 22 of that year.

Now the village is suing to get its $15,000 back from Catanzaro, charging in a lawsuit filed last month that she breached the terms of the settlement.

According to the lawsuit, which was filed in the Cook County Circuit Court's 5th District, Catanzaro violated the confidentiality clause and a "non-disparagement" clause contained in the settlement. The suit claims that she violated the confidentiality clause in remarks to "a local newspaper in June of 2004" and that "information contained in that article pertained to the terms of the agreement which were only known by Catanzaro and members of the village board."

On June 9, 2004, the Landmark quoted Catanzaro in connection with a secret loan deal which she was instrumental in uncovering. Catanzaro had informed Village Trustee Kit Ketchmark that Village President Bill Russ had told her in March of 2002 to cut a $14,754 check to pay back taxes for a private property owner. The property in question was later sold to the CVS pharmacy chain in October of 2002.

The village board never voted in public to authorize the tax payment, and it didn't appear on the village's list of bills until November of 2002.

In addition, the article also mentioned that Catanzaro had received a $15,000 settlement from the village as the result of her termination from village employment. That payment turned up in the village's list of bills on Nov. 10, 2003, listed as a "contingency."

That check was voted on separately from the rest of the bills, with the board voting 4-2 to authorize the payment to Catanzaro.

The settlement agreement contained a non-disparagement clause which forbade Catanzaro from making "any statements, or engaging in any conduct which may reasonably be expected to have the effect of disparaging the village, its elected and appointed officers, agents or employees."

Specific details about Catanzaro's alleged disparaging remarks do not appear in the lawsuit, only that she "has breached the non-disparagement clause of the agreement by making disparaging statements about the village, its elected and appointed officers, agents or employees."

In its quest to recover $15,000 paid to a former employee, the Village of Brookfield has subpoenaed Landmark managing editor Bob Uphues to give a statement on Tuesday, March 22 at the offices of the village's law firm, Odelson & Sterk in Evergreen Park. The subpoena references the village's lawsuit against Michele Catanzaro, former assistant to the village manager, as its basis.

The subpoena was referred to the law firm of Donald M. Craven P.C., which is representing Wednesday Journal, Inc., the company that publishes the Landmark.

In response to the subpoena, attorney Scott Sievers wrote: "Mr. Uphues asserts and claims his rights as a reporter against compelled testimony under the Reporter's Privilege as provided under Illinois and federal constitutional, statutory, and common law ... as well as the Special Witness Doctrine enunciated by the Appellate Court of Illinois ... in respectfully declining to appear and to testify as stated in the aforementioned subpoena."

Dan Haley, publisher of the Landmark added, "The role of The Landmark is to report thoroughly and fairly on local issues. We've done that on the story regarding the Village of Brookfield and its efforts to secure a CVS Pharmacy. It is not our role to become embroiled in the internecine fighting between village leaders and former employees. We have reported what we know in our newspaper. That's our job. We will always resist subpoenas which attempt to involve the press in someone else's legal battle."

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