Judge: Simms’ lawyer has no conflict

February 26, 2019

KANKAKEE — Former Kankakee official Richard Simms can keep his lawyer, despite the city’s objections.

The city alleged the attorney, Chris Bohlen, had a conflict of interest, but a local judge disagreed.

Simms, the city’s longtime utilities superintendent, filed his lawsuit against the city Oct. 23 for $46,000 that he said he should have been paid.

In the lawsuit, Simms alleged he was owed the money because the city, through Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong, agreed in early May 2017 to have Simms continue providing services to the city for at least one more year. The city later agreed to have him work through Aug. 31, 2018, according to the lawsuit.

His lawsuit included no documentation of the agreements.

In response to the lawsuit, city attorney Mike McGrath tried to get Bohlen disqualified as Simms’ lawyer. In court documents, he noted Bohlen’s role as a city attorney from 1993 to 2017. Bohlen was in that capacity when the city “allegedly” entered an agreement with Simms for software services, which was what the $46,000 was for, McGrath said.

McGrath pointed to Bohlen’s website, where he said the lawyer “boasts” about his history working for the city.

Bohlen responded that his work for the city was not with the utilities department. He said he wasn’t even aware of Simms’ software project.

Bohlen said his only contact with the utilities department was his handling of negotiations with utilities’ workers unions. Another city attorney, Patrick Powers, took care of utilities issues, Bohlen said.

Judge Ronald Gerts sided with Bohlen earlier this month, saying there was no evidence Bohlen was “personally and substantially” involved as the city’s lawyer in the city’s agreements with Simms.

Bohlen signed an affidavit saying he was not involved. The judge noted the city didn’t provide an affidavit countering Bohlen’s.

Bohlen is in a similar dispute with the Kankakee River Metropolitan Agency, which runs the regional sewage treatment plant. Bohlen had represented Simms in that situation, but he withdrew after KRMA’s lawyer said he had a conflict of interest.

Bohlen’s law firm, Barmann, Bohlen & Scott, long represented the agency.

Simms retired last April, apparently on good terms. In the months afterward, officials started asking questions behind the scenes.

In an interview last week, Mayor Wells-Armstrong said she was concerned about why Simms Engineering was getting regular raises.

“It was troublesome to me why there were increases,” she said. “I’m trying to find out what was going on. I walked into this 21 months ago.”