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Metra Board waives lawyer-client privilege for state probe

Former MetrCEO Alex Clifford right receives advice from his attorney Michael Shakman while he testifies before Regional Transit Authority board

Former Metra CEO Alex Clifford, right, receives advice from his attorney Michael Shakman while he testifies before the Regional Transit Authority board in Chicago, (AP File Photo/Scott Eisen)

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Updated: October 22, 2013 6:10AM

Metra Board members Friday agreed to waive their attorney-client privilege and try to give a state inspector general what he needs to “get to the bottom” of the Metra mess.

The board, including two new members, voted to give Metra acting general counsel Sue-Ann Rosen the authority to decide which normally-privileged audio tapes of closed-door board sessions, investigative work files of a former board attorney and other documents should be released to the state executive inspector general.

“Anything fair and reasonable they want, we ought to provide — and let the chips fall where they may,’’ said board member Jack Schaffer.

Chimed in Acting Metra Chairman Jack Partelow: “Amen.’’

Metra attorneys revealed that the inspector general had subpoenaed the law firm of Hinshaw & Culbertson, seeking the investigative files of Hinshaw attorney Rodger Heaton, who had been hired by the board to look into an explosive April 3 memo by then-CEO Alex Clifford about alleged patronage and contract pressure.

Normally, attorney work files on behalf of a client are privileged, so to consider releasing any part of them and other normally privileged documents is “extraordinary,’’ Rosen told reporters. Heaton’s file includes “work product” and “personal thoughts that never saw the light of day,’’ according to Hinshaw attorney Ed Gower.

“I’ve been an attorney here 25 years,’’ Rosen said. “I’ve never seen a situation where any board has given us the authority to waive attorney-client privilege. This is a remarkable thing.’’

Rosen said the move was an “effort to get to the bottom of whatever the [state inspector general] thinks is important.’’

In the April 3 memo, Clifford charged that then-Metra Chairman Brad O’Halloran and another board member were conspiring to oust him because he would not play ball on patronage and contract requests.

That memo and other communications from Clifford set the stage for a possible whistle-blower suit, which O’Halloran said persuaded board members to instead grant Clifford an up to 26-month, $871,000 buyout. Under it, Clifford agreed to leave eight months early, to not sue, and to keep mum about the deal — except to investigative agencies.

O’Halloran has called Clifford’s allegations “a whole lot of hooey” and has said publicly that he was told that Heaton, a former Downstate U.S. attorney, found no wrongdoing. However, outside auditors in August blasted the board for failing to receive any written report from Heaton, despite paying him more than $52,000 for his work.

Schaffer, the sole Metra Board member to vote “hell no” against Clifford’s June 21 severance package, has characterized the deal as largely “hush money.’’

On Friday, Schaffer said inspector generals “generally ask for the earth, the moon and the sun and we’re trying to give them as much as we can give them.’’

Metra Board members discussed what to disclose to the inspector general during a 2 ½ hour closed-door session Friday. The discussion gave two new board members— John Zediker of DuPage and former bankruptcy court judge Manuel Barbosa of Kane County — an inside view of a months-long controversy during their first session as board members.

Meanwhile, during an earlier, open session, Cook County suburban board member William Widmer III revealed that “if all goes according to plan,” he will be replaced by the next Metra board meeting.

Watching from the audience Friday was former Chicago Ald. Martin Oberman, who is waiting for the City Council to approve his appointment to the Metra board by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Oberman’s confirmation would bring the board’s membership to nine. In the wake of Clifford’s allegations, it had fallen to as low as only six of what would normally be 11.


Twitter @rosalindrossi

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