‘It’s not over’: Lawsuit filed against RI County in hopes of halting courthouse demolition

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Preservation groups are joining forces in hopes of saving the Rock Island County Courthouse.

It’s the latest in the on-going battle surrounding the historic building.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Landmarks Illinois preservation group announced that they issued a lawsuit against the Rock Island County Board and the Rock Island Public Building Commission.

There are six plaintiffs in total listed in the suit. In addition to Landmarks Illinois, the Rock Island Preservation Society, the Moline Preservation Society, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Broadway Historic District Association and a bondholder with the Justice Center Annex project, Frank Shaw, are listed as co-plantiffs. 

In a lengthy 364 pages, the complaint outlines why they claim the county broke the law, and why the courthouse should stay put.

Bonnie McDonald, President of Landmarks Illinois, said in the press conference that they wanted the defendants to be held accountable for violating state preservation laws, violating state law under the public building commission, and violating the terms of publicly funded bonds issued to construct the county’s new Justice Center Annex. 

On Thursday, Diane Oestreich, a spokesperson for the Rock Island Preservation Society, said the suit outlines everything they’ve been saying from the start. 

“It says what we have been trying to tell the county board and the public building commission all along,” said Oestreich. “They are doing illegal things.”

The lawsuit comes less than two weeks after Walter Braud, the Chief Circuit Court Judge of Rock Island County, issued a court order calling for the immediate demolition of the historic courthouse. 

But preservationists are firing back.

“We never give up. We are optimistic, always optimistic,” said Oestreich. “It is a preservation issue. It is ‘lets abide by the laws and lets make sure everything is done correctly.'” 

Oestreich is one of the many determined to save the 122-year-old building because she says it’s irreplacable. 

“It’s a major part of our history,” she said. “It’s still a very beautiful building. And the interior is extremely beautiful.”

And she says this drawn out debate has brought a community together. 

“It’s wonderful. Battles like this make a community more preservation oriented.”

For now, the waiting game continues because the preservations aren’t going anywhere, and they say neither is the courthouse.

“Oh it’s not over yet at all,” said Oestreich. 

The plaintiffs are being represented by Chicago law firm Jenner & Block, LLP.

In an e-mail they tell Local 4 News the suit was filed with the  Rock Island County division of the 14th Circuit Court, which is where Braud is Chief Circuit Judge. A lawyer with the firm tells Local 4 News the court is in the process of seeking to transfer the suit to a different circuit due to conflicts.

Local 4 News reached out to Judge Braud for comment, but he declined. 

At the time a court date has not been set. 

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