Settlement's legal costs pegged at $300,000

Although a federal judge sealed settlement terms Feb. 28 in the city's housing discrimination suit against Baird & Warner Inc., the city received $450,000 the same day.

"The $450,000 has been deposited into the general fund," said city finance director Bob Shonk.

Considered general revenue, as are fines, taxes and licenses, the money will help pay for general services such as fire and police, he said.

According to the office of Herbert Hill, the city's first corporate counsel, legal fees paid to the Chicago firm of Keck, Mahin & Cate to wage the three-year lawsuit-- amounted to $300,000.

Baird & Warner is one of five real estate agencies charged in February 1989 with violating Evanston's fair housing laws. The city pursued two of those cases, settling with Century 21 Shoreline in 1990 for $200,000.

At the Evanston Neighborhood Conference Saturday a Chicago open housing advocate questioned the 30-month seal on the lawsuit settlement terms, to which the city agreed.

"I am very curious as to how it was resolved, said Kale Williams, executive director of the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities. "I think it was a mistake that the
settlement was sealed."

In a telephone conversation Monday, Williams explained that the settlement is one of the largest amounts in housing bias suits, probably the largest made to a municipality.

"It would be in the top ten in size of settlements of fair housing around the country," said Williams, who spoke to Evanstonians Saturday about the need for affirmative regional marketing of housing for minorities.

"I think where a public body is involved, it is inappropriate for it not to be public  information," Williams said.

The three-year suit arose from a testing audit by the Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs, not from the direct complaint of a prospective renter/home buyer.

Owen Thomas, executive director of Evanston's Human Relations Commission, which enforces the fair housing ordinance, would not comment directly on the sealed terms.

"People should have the right to know, but the judge ruled on it and that's that," Thomas said. "It's a done deal."

Before the case was closed, Thomas noted a nationwide problem of "treating minorities as second-class citizens."

"I'm talking about job discrimination arid housing discrimination," he said.

"Race relations in Evanston need to be improved." But discrimination, he said, is not always "all black and white."

Calling for "greater sensitivity," Thomas said discrimination encompasses Hispanic and other ethnic groups.

"I think the beauty about our situation in Evanston is that historically, we have always had the wherewithal to address these issues."

The court seal was lifted later. The city said, "the Evanston Human Relations Commission is vigilant in its efforts to protect and enforce the rights of all individuals to equal housing opportunities. The Evanston Fair Housing Ordinance reflects the commitment of Evanston's citizens and City Council to maintain open housing throughout our community".