McHenry County pursues tobacco suit
The McHenry County Board Thursday night voted to continue on with a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the tobacco industry, despite some members' concerns about how it was filed last week without a vote or their knowledge.
The board voted 12-6 in favor of the suit after meeting behind closed doors with attorney Kevin Conway to hear an explanation of why he filed suit against tobacco companies Thursday.
After meeting privately with the board, Conway said he usually does not represent elected officials and filed the suit without meeting with the board members or fully considering the political consequences.
"In a normal client's case, we would take an action and advise the client," Conway said. "They have significant sensibilities that a normal client does not have."
There is an ongoing lawsuit against the state of Illinois claiming it is not right for its settlement with the tobacco industry to encompass all of the state's local governments and hospital's districts.
The board voted last year, however, to not be a part of the suit against the state primarily because the wording argued the Illinois attorney general's office acted illegally or improperly, board member Don Larson said.
If a judge rules against the state in that case, it opens the door for McHenry County, Boone County and nine hospital districts named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed Thursday against the tobacco industry.
Conway said he filed the suit against tobacco companies to save time in anticipation of the judge's ruling against the state.
Some McHenry County board members have questioned whether it was a valid lawsuit without a vote from the board. McHenry County State's Attorney Gary Pack, however, said it is his opinion a vote was not needed.
Conway said he has had ongoing talks with some people in the county government about the case but not immediately before he filed the suit Thursday.
"It's become a big political issue," board member Ersel Schuster, who voted against suing tobacco, said of the maneuvering behind the suit.
Aside from being opposed to the idea of the suit in general, board member Leslie Root said she also was not satisfied with Conway's explanation.
"I don't have confidence in the competence of our representation," Root said. "This thing has turned into an embarrassment for the county."
Larson, who voted in favor of pursuing the suit, said there will be improved communication in the future.
"We still want to recover (expenses)," Larson said. "The county has spent money with people at Valley Hi (Nursing Home) with illnesses involved with tobacco."