In Gold Coast condo war, judge orders resident who sued board to pay $100,000
Steve Schmadeke Contact Reporter
05 August 2017
A retired public relations executive who sued his Gold Coast
condominium board over a $1,000 fine for alleged obnoxious behavior has
been hit with an even stiffer penalty—nearly $100,000—by the judge
handling the case.
Cook County judge presiding over the case ordered him and his attorney to cover the condo board's
$111,000 legal tab
In recent days, the Cook County judge presiding over the case
ultimately decided that Brian Connolly's lawsuit was "meritless" and
"frivolous" and only meant to "harass" and ordered him and his attorney
to cover the condo board's $111,000 legal tab.
The whopping judgment, which Connolly's attorney said sets a "dangerous
precedent," came days after the Tribune chronicled the dysfunction that
has plagued the building association's board in recent years. Things
seemingly spiraled starting in 2011, when a former board president
allegedly assaulted a former board member during a meeting at the
high-rise in the 100 block of East Chestnut Street. Authorities were
called and charges were filed, only for prosecutors to drop the
Connolly's grounds for suit
Connolly, who has twice been kicked off the condo association board,
sued in 2013 after he was fined $1,000 for "creating an uncomfortable
and hostile environment" over what he thought were violations of
building rules, including confronting a boy walking his bike through
the lobby, a woman walking her dog through the lobby and people using
glass containers by the pool, according to a violation letter from the
He sought punitive damages against the board members personally and
asked that the board be ordered to hire a pool attendant and to open
the building to an inspection of all construction done in the last
decade. Connolly paid the $1,000 fine after his lawsuit was filed; he
explained that he didn't want to incur an added penalty by the board if
he didn't pay, he said. He now faces a penalty 100 times greater.
who has been in disputes with his condo board, says he loves living in
the Gold Coast building, with its prime location and views, and that he
isn’t going anywhere. (Abel Uribe / Chicago Tribune)
Cook County Judge Kathleen Pantle, who tossed the lawsuit earlier this
year, wrote in a 10-page opinion awarding attorney's fees to the
association's legal counsel that Connolly's claims were "meritless" and
his lawsuit "should never have been brought in the first instance."
filed frivolous pleadings to harass (the) defendants
"Connolly did not come to the courthouse to achieve a peaceful
resolution for the disputes he had with the Association but instead
filed frivolous pleadings to harass (the) defendants," Pantle wrote.
She ordered Connolly and his attorney Norman Lerum to pay a total of
$111,000, with the bulk of the fees to be paid by Connolly.
Connolly and Lerum say they will appeal the ruling
Connolly and Lerum say they will appeal the ruling. Lerum, who has
practiced law for nearly 40 years, said he has never been sanctioned
before and said Pantle's decision sets a "dangerous precedent" for
those asserting their free speech rights.
"In all due respect to the court, Judge Pantle's ruling is incorrect as
a matter of law," he said in an email. "As a matter of public policy,
the courts are to be open and receptive to First Amendment issues, and
not punish those who raise them. This ruling is contrary to existing
law and sets a dangerous precedent."
Milazzo, president of the condo association at 111 E. Chestnut St. in
Chicago and owner of a condo there, also has a home in St. Charles. He
expects to have his first child this summer and plans to step down from
the association when his term ends next spring. (Stacey Wescott /
To Connolly, the fines were an attempt by the board to exact revenge
for his public criticism of their decisions, and the judge's ruling
only enhances the chilling effect on his free speech rights. He writes
a blog that has detailed some of the strife in the building.
The board previously settled a defamation lawsuit Connolly brought over a letter written by the board president
The board previously settled a defamation lawsuit Connolly brought over
a letter written by the board president, signed by three board members
and sent to residents that called Connolly "unfit to serve on our
"This case is about fundamental First Amendment rights and due
process," said Connolly, a retired PR executive. "The courts should be
open and protective of claims and arguments. Instead, Judge Pantle is
closing the courthouse door and punishing condominium unit owners who
dare disagree with bully boards that work to suppress contrary opinion."
He previously told the Tribune that he feared he would lose his one-bedroom condo if the judge agreed to sanction him.
But board president Tony Milazzo, who has frequently sparred with Connolly, cheered the judge's decision.
"It vindicates our position that those who initiate frivolous and
malicious litigation against others with the intent of harassing them
or extracting unjustified settlement money should be held accountable,"
he said in an email.
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