CAMPTON HILLS – Campton Hills officials approved a settlement last week that ended a 19-month legal battle with Brian Larsen – of the Larsen’s Christmas Lights Show fame – in which they agreed to drop the village’s lawsuit over zoning violations and pay him $5,000.
The vote Sept. 19 in favor of settlement was 4-2, with one present and Village President Barbara Wojnicki voting yes.
Trustees were unanimous, however, to end the at-will employment of executive assistant Dorothea Stipetic and village administrator Denise Burchard, “effective immediately.”
All actions were taken without comment and Wojnicki declined to say anything, citing personnel and legal issues.
Stipetic and Burchard did not answer voicemail messages seeking comment.
In April, the village’s then-attorney offered a settlement to Larsen for 10 zoning violations dating to 2008 covering 29,634 days: $8,136,750. It apparently was a bargain, considering the $22,225,500 in fines it could have assessed him, according to the proposed agreement at the time.
“I’ve been dealing with this for 10 years,” Larsen said. “This is dirty politics. They didn’t want the light show because it didn’t get known as Larsen’s Light Show Campton Hills, so they started making things up in the lawsuit.”
Larsen has since moved the light show to Goebbert’s Farm in Pingree Grove, where it is known as Goebbert’s Light Show.
The eight-page settlement ends the village’s civil action, requires that Larsen remove gravel fill from the western-most driveway on his property and remedy the former parking lot area.
Larsen will donate the $5,000 from the village to the Chicago Blackhawks Foundation, its children’s charity, in the next season.
The settlement states that all the village’s actions against Larsen are dismissed and that Larsen will release all village officials, former and current, and all their agents in their official and unofficial capacities who were connected to the civil action.
That is, all except one: Michael Tyrell, a former trustee and former village president who lost his seat to Wojnicki in November.
“Former village president and former Trustee Mike Tyrrell, in his official capacity only, and not in his individual capacity,” according to the settlement.
The settlement leaves Tyrrell open to being sued because he was not indemnified as the rest of the officials, former officials and employees were.
‘Limited fee of $1′
If Tyrrell is sued and seeks support from the village or its insurer to defend him, Larsen’s attorney James Newman offered “to appear and defend the village as special counsel … for the limited fee of $1, plus all reasonable costs and expenses,” according to the settlement.
The settlement also requires statements from the village and Larsen about the lawsuit be in the next newsletter and recited aloud at its next meeting.
In its statement, the village acknowledged that it could “do better and will do better.”
“Campton Hills is a small village, run by volunteer neighbors, and the village realizes that a handshake is always better than a hammer,” according to the settlement.
Larsen’s statement acknowledged that the village has the right to enforce its codes and rules, “but that always has to be tempered with good judgment. … I am happy to put this all behind me.”
Settlement was inevitable
Newman said the village’s lawsuit against Larsen never should have been filed.
Newman said when the village first filed its complaint, he filed a motion to dismiss.
Instead of answering his motion, the village filed an amended complaint to which Newman said he presented evidence that the allegations “were mostly false and they were not able to demonstrate any truth.”
One example was citing Larsen for not having a permit to put in a pool, when the village told him three times in person and in writing that he didn’t need a permit leading to the settlement, Newman said.
“Despite that, they filed suit anyway,” Newman said. “They were fining him like $800 a day for pool fines. … That’s why it came to be settled. The new village president and the new village board determined there was not any merit to this lawsuit. I give kudos to the new board.”
In the April election, three new trustees were elected – Timothy Morgan, Nicolas Boatner and Janet Burson – unseating three incumbents.
Newman criticized trustees Mike Millette, Jim McKelvie and Ed Muncie who were on the board when the lawsuit was filed against Larsen. Millette voted present while McKelvie and Muncie voted no on the settlement.
“They get no credit,” Newman said. “They get an F.”
In particular, Newman criticized Tyrrell.
“In my opinion, this was nothing more than a personal vendetta pursuing Brian from the former village president,” Newman said.
Tyrrell said he had not seen the settlement and could not comment.
Millette, McKelvie and Muncie did not respond to voicemail messages seeking comment.