The yellow brick building at 6128 S. Kilpatrick in West Lawn contains two apartments and a basement recreation room. The roof over the entry porch has a slight tilt to it–a Prairie School touch perhaps. With its pine tree in the front yard and garage on the alley, the building resembles thousands of two-flats that dot Chicago’s working-class neighborhoods.
In December 1993 Georgia Speredakos, who’s now 60, rented the three-bedroom unit on the first floor to David and Bambi McMillion, a pair of small-time evangelists. By the following spring she’d embarked on a quest to evict them because they’d paid only one month’s rent–they wouldn’t pay another month’s rent for four and a half years.
The McMillions promptly charged Speredakos with being a bad landlord, and they eventually countersued, insisting that she owed them for their pain and suffering. As the case proceeded, they portrayed themselves as advocates for put-upon tenants. “We are standing up for the right of all people to have a legitimate landlord who obeys the law,” said David McMillion during the trial that finally began in December 1997.
Speredakos v. McMillion, which would involve five lawyers and three judges and innumerable court appearances before it was over, ranks as the longest-running eviction dispute in memory in Cook County–such disputes normally conclude quickly in the landlord’s favor. As the case dragged on, Michael Pensack, executive director of the Illinois Tenants Union, said, “This is a weird, freaky case.” Robert Gordon, who was briefly Speredakos’s lawyer, said, “It’s insanity.”
“I came to this country 40 years ago with no clothes to wear,” said Speredakos this past May. “My husband and I struggled so we could have something for our later years. Now these people owe me $27,825 in back rent, and if I lose, everything I own could be taken away from me. I don’t sleep much at night, and all day I’m in court with Bambi and David McMillion.”
Georgia Bisbikis emigrated to Chicago from Greece in 1958 to join her family, then living at 55th and Halsted. Her first job, as a seamstress for a dress company, paid $37 a week. She met John Speredakos in an evening English-language class, and they married in 1966. At first the couple lived with Speredakos’s two bachelor uncles, but they soon wanted a place of their own.
County records show that the two-flat on Kilpatrick, which is only blocks from Midway Airport, was built in 1965 and bought by a man named Eugene Sullivan. “He lived there with his wife and his son and daughter-in-law,” says Georgia. “But the mother and the daughter-in-law didn’t get along, and they decided to sell.” In November 1966 the Speredakoses purchased the two-flat for $47,000 through a land trust that named Georgia’s parents, John and Anastasia Bisbikis, as partners.
“It was a quiet neighborhood, except for the noise from the airplanes taking off in the afternoon,” says Georgia. She was then pregnant with the first of four children, and she and her husband took the first floor. Her parents lived upstairs, and everyone shared the rec room in the basement. Georgia says the building was always a break-even proposition, yet its value gradually rose as time passed. By 1979 the first-floor apartment was crowded with eight adults and children, including John’s sister and her son, so they all bought a house in the southwest suburb of Palos Park. The Speredakoses kept the two-flat; Georgia’s parents went on living upstairs, and the first floor was rented out.
At the time Georgia operated a beauty shop and John was a loader for Nabisco. He eventually also became owner of the Nevada restaurant at 68th and South Pulaski. In 1977 the restaurant was grossing $250,000 a month, though it went through leaner periods. In 1990 John suffered a debilitating stroke, and responsibility for managing the restaurant, renamed the New Nevada, fell to Georgia, her children, and some business partners. Late the following year the McMillions started to patronize the place.
You couldn’t miss them. David McMillion is a large, bearded man with shaggy brown hair and a southern twang. He has a cross tattooed on his right hand and sometimes walks with a cane. Bambi has lacquered bright blond hair and dresses girlishly in bright dresses, Mary Janes, and false eyelashes. The McMillions went to the New Nevada for lunch and supper. “Those barbecue ribs were just tremendous,” remembers David. Often they stayed till closing.
The pair told the short and stout Speredakos, who was often there as hostess, that they were Pentecostal preachers and had set up a tent in a lot on 87th Street near the Dan Ryan Expressway and were attracting a following. Slowly they became not just good customers but friends. When the McMillions told Speredakos that they were unhappy with the apartment they were renting on Archer Avenue, she told them she had a vacancy at 6128 S. Kilpatrick. Soon they negotiated a month-to-month lease that stated that the McMillions were to pay $525 a month in rent plus utilities. No security deposit was required. David signed the lease on November 30, 1993, and paid the first month’s rent.
The McMillions’ tenancy began pleasantly enough. Georgia Speredakos invited them out to her house in Palos Park for pizza, and they appeared to get along with Georgia’s elderly parents, who still lived upstairs. Speredakos even talked with Bambi about starting a flea market.
Speredakos says the relationship soured over the winter and spring of 1994, when the McMillions failed to deliver any more rent. We’re waiting for money to arrive from the south, she would later say they told her in January. Nothing came, and in March Speredakos asked for the money again. We’re waiting for some checks to clear, she says they told her.
The McMillions would later testify that they hadn’t paid the rent because the apartment had numerous problems–not enough heat, so much frost around the freezer door that it wouldn’t shut, no rubber seal around the oven door, low water pressure in the shower and kitchen sink, no smoke detector, a broken air conditioner, cracked windows, no deadbolt locks on the exterior door, and water bugs, centipedes, and mice.
The McMillions would also state that they were being forced to pay extra for gas and electricity for the building’s hallways, the basement rec room, and the utility room–they would later insist that the amount was more than $200 a month above what they thought they should be paying. And they would contend that Speredakos reneged on a promise to let them park their van in the garage behind the building. All these problems, they said, had exacerbated their medical problems: David had a heart condition, arthritis, and diabetes, and Bambi had Graves’ disease. The McMillions say they complained to Speredakos’s father, John Bisbikis, and to Speredakos herself. They contend she flat out refused to repair anything. “Mrs. Speredakos, you will never get rent out of us until you fix what’s broken,” David McMillion says he told her.
The McMillions say they put down their position in a series of letters, composed in Bambi’s bold longhand on ruled paper and mailed to Speredakos. (Bambi would testify that she’d kept copies of the letters.) In a letter dated December 27, 1993, that’s part of the court file, the McMillions write that they’re withholding rent until repairs are made. A letter dated January 10, 1994, reads, “It has become apparent to us that you are uninterested in doing the fair thing as our landlord….We thought you were our friend. You said we were your best customers at your restaurant. Is this how you repay your friends and best customers?”
Speredakos would testify that she never received the letters (she thought the copies the McMillions produced in court were fakes) and that the McMillions didn’t complain verbally to her or her father. She also said nothing was ever put in the lease about the use of the garage (there’s no note of it in the lease that’s in the court record). “But they were welcome to it. Is it my fault their van didn’t fit?”
Whatever their complaints, the McMillions contend that Speredakos never came to look at their apartment. She admits, “I called a couple of times, and they never called back.” She says she still has no idea whether the gas and electricity for the common areas of the building are hooked up to the first-floor apartment. And she admits to not knowing what the city code requires apartments to have. “I didn’t know an apartment needed deadbolt locks or peepholes,” she says. Asked if she’s a good landlord, Speredakos answers, “I’m a good person.”
In April 1994 Speredakos asked again for the rent, and when it didn’t materialize she wrote out a five-day notice–a standard form–demanding payment and threatening eviction, and sent it to the McMillions by registered mail. Speredakos had worked as a real estate agent in the suburbs, so she might have been expected to know what she was doing. But when she and the McMillions met in court at the Daley Center later that month, circuit court judge D. Adolphus Rivers threw out the notice because Speredakos had attached an expiration date and the McMillions had picked it up a week after that date.
By this time the New Nevada restaurant had gone bankrupt because sales taxes hadn’t been paid. Speredakos and her partners were feuding, and she hired a downtown lawyer, Barry Barnett, to help her. She told him about the McMillions, but he advised her not to move against the couple because the Cook County Sheriff’s Department said they were needed by the FBI as witnesses in another case.
A year later, in May 1995, Barnett filled out another five-day notice on Speredakos’s behalf and had it delivered to the McMillions. It too was tossed out on a technicality.
Then Barnett vanished on Speredakos. “He never returned my phone calls, either on the eviction or my restaurant bankruptcy,” she says. (Barnett is now facing charges of unprofessional conduct under a five-count complaint filed with the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission. One count relates to Speredakos, who alleges that he misused money she’d given him to pay creditors in the bankruptcy case. Barnett could not be reached for comment.)
Discouraged by this second failure and her losses, Speredakos let another year pass during which the McMillions paid no rent. In April 1996 she and her daughter Maria, a schoolteacher, filled out yet another five-day notice and posted it, along with a 30-day notice, on the McMillions’ door. This time Speredakos was sure she’d done it right. On June 11 the case came before Judge Rivers, and he instructed Speredakos and the McMillions–none of whom had a lawyer–to go into the jury room to try to work out a settlement. David McMillion recalls telling her, “Georgia, here’s my deal–we’ll pay you $7,000, and you give us until August to move out.” Speredakos doesn’t remember that he made a monetary offer, but she was in no mood to bargain–her 64-year-old husband, who’d already suffered several strokes, was in the hospital. She told the McMillions she wanted all the rent due her. That angered David McMillion, who says, “Here we’d offered money, and we were willing to stay two months and be gone. I told Georgia, ‘Now we’re going to the ropes. This is going into the “Swiss Book of World Records.” It’s only going to end when the last witness is heard.'” They went back into the courtroom, and Speredakos asked to be allowed to get a new attorney.
That night John Speredakos, who’d been discharged by the hospital and was waiting in a wheelchair by an elevator to go home, died of a heart attack.
David McMillion’s career high came early. He began preaching in earnest when he was seven and for the next few years led crusades across the country under the banner David McMillion’s International Flames of Revival Ministries. “I knew Billy Graham and Oral Roberts,” he says. “I was on 600 radio stations. I traveled to 39 countries.”
After serving in Vietnam, David entered the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri. He didn’t last long. Asked why, he says he flunked public speaking because he stood too far behind the podium. He says for a while he worked as a private investigator, then as a country-and-western singer. He claims to have opened for Ronnie Milsap and Eddie Rabbitt under the name Johnny Lee Diamond, but Rabbit’s former manager and Milsap say they don’t remember him. Then, he says, he became a magician, Jonathan Champagne. He says, “They put me in a steamer trunk, and an assistant set it on fire. Then a Mack truck came along and smashed the trunk to pieces. When the truck stopped, there I was inside the truck.” In 1985 he returned to a traveling ministry, preaching at “little churches to little-size crowds.”
Bambi recalls that as a girl she saw David preach in Toledo, Ohio. She never forgot the experience, though she later strayed far from her religion. “By the time I was 20 I was an alcoholic,” she says, “and by the next year I was dealing drugs.” For a while she was a go-go dancer in California. She remembers herself as a “materialistic hippie” who loved Cadillacs and designer jeans, who abandoned her given name (which she refuses to divulge) for Bambi Cherry, and who associated with “white-collar criminals.” Yet she says she had her limits. “I never got involved in sexual things. It wasn’t that my morals were so high–I just felt anybody who was going to pay for sex was either too old, too ugly, or too dangerous.”
Bambi says that when she was 30 or so she was the owner of the Red Eye Head Shop in south Knoxville and was selling cocaine, heroin, and marijuana to street dealers on the side. Then one day, after attending a rock concert, she got down on her knees in the Red Eye bathroom and asked God to take over her life. “When I came up off my knees my outlook had changed,” she says. “I’d found peace. Everything I’ve done since 1975 has been on the right side of the law.”
She converted the head shop to a jewelry store and in 1985 moved to Sevierville, Tennessee, to sell vacation time-shares. While there she traced David to Miami, and in 1987 she called him up. “Hello, this is Bambi,” she said. “Am I talking to Walt Disney’s deer?” David remembers replying. “She told me her story. We got together, did a couple of crusades together, and then we got married.” It was the fourth marriage for each of them.
In the early years of their marriage David and Bambi preached on the road, subsisting on offerings and living in motels. As Pentecostals, they believe that the Holy Ghost takes over worshipers during services and has them speak in tongues decipherable only by God. “We also believe that divine healings and miracles are for today,” says David. He claims his ministry has healed AIDS and cancer patients and made the lame rise from their wheelchairs.
In June 1991 the McMillions drove to Chicago and set up their tent on 87th Street. “There was a TV report on us, and we kept that tent full every night until October, when it got too cold,” says David. The McMillions then rented a storefront on Halsted in Park Manor and opened the Higher Ground Christian Center, which attracted a small, racially mixed congregation. That Christmas David was accused of pulling a gun on a fellow minister, whom he describes as his church organist, and of later assaulting the man outside a courthouse. He and Bambi were arrested. The McMillions denied the charges, and court records show that they were eventually dismissed.
The couple now conducts a Friday-evening Bible reading and a Sunday service at a recreation center in Highland, Indiana. David, who’s now 54, leads the modest affairs, and Bambi, who’s 53, is his backup. “We are born not to be sick, but the devil convinces us that as humans we will get sick,” he intoned on a Friday in June. “But we have dominion over sickness.” Speaking in tongues, David will lay his hands on people who are sick. The regulars say it works. Valparaiso insurance agent Marty Glennon has been attending services for a year. He cites someone whose back pain was eased and a 90-year-old woman with gangrene who was told she was going to die but is still living. “We ourselves were in debt because our eighth child had blood-pressure problems after birth,” says Glennon. “David laid his hands over my checkbook, and the next week a man we knew came by and gave us $5,000 to fix our septic sewer.”
David says that since 1971 he’s been affiliated with the United Christian Church Ministerial Association, a 17,000-member organization based in Cleveland, Tennessee. According to Margie Minton, the association’s general secretary, acceptance as a teacher-preacher in the organization requires only that two other ordained ministers vouch for the applicant. Association president H. Richard Hall says he doesn’t know the McMillions personally and that the association is reevaluating David’s affiliation because he’s lived in so many places–Florida, Tennessee, Michigan, and now Illinois–and because his contact with the group has been only intermittent.
The first six months the McMillions were in Chicago they roomed in a motel. Then they moved into a garden apartment on Archer. “The apartment got too small because my son joined us from North Carolina,” says David, “and we went looking for a new place.” However, court records show that the McMillions’ landlord, Maria Zehak, filed an eviction suit because they owed $2,475 in back rent. “Actually,” says Bambi. “we paid the rent, but she paid the rent back because we were going to be foster parents to a black child, a cocaine baby.” Zehak says she didn’t do that; she says the McMillions kept giving excuses for being behind on the rent–David was sick and couldn’t preach, money was late coming from an inheritance in Germany. “I just needed the rent, and they were always late.” In November 1993 a judge evicted the McMillions, though the judicial order shows that no back rent had to be paid.
In June 1996, two years after she’d tried to deliver the first five-day notice, Speredakos hired Mark Wetterquist as her second lawyer. The McMillions, who’d been representing themselves, signed on with the fiery Connie Fernandez, whom they’d encountered by chance one day in the hallway outside of court. But Fernandez had once confronted Judge Rivers, suggesting that he’d had a conflict of interest when he ruled against her. “Your honor, is that your judgment as a judge or as a landlord?” she’d asked. The judge had refused to hear any more of her cases, so Speredakos’s case was transferred to Judge Sheldon Garber.
When the case came before Garber that July he expressed some sympathy for Speredakos, but he threw out the five-day notice she and her daughter had posted on the McMillions’ door. Garber said they should have handed the papers to the McMillions in person, as is required by law.
“Good God–delivering a five-day notice isn’t rocket science,” says Michael Pensack of the Illinois Tenants Union, an aggressive champion of renters. “People with grade-school educations do this every day. How long does it take to get it right?” Later Fernandez would say, “The reason this kept going was that Georgia kept losing in court. Why should the McMillions do anything when they’re winning?”
Speredakos tried again. On the morning of August 10, a Saturday, the McMillions were in bed asleep when they heard someone knocking on their door. Bambi looked out to see Nick Zattair, an off-duty Chicago police officer who worked as a process server for El-Ko Investigations. She refused to open the door, but Speredakos, who was standing behind Zattair, unlocked the door with her key. The safety chain still blocked Zattair’s entrance, but according to Speredakos, he handed Bambi a new five-day notice. “She was yelling and screaming at Nick Zattair,” says Speredakos. “‘I’ll call the police,’ she said. ‘I am the police,’ he said.”
Bambi would insist in court that she never got served the notice because she slammed the door shut on Zattair before he could hand it to her. She also says he was abusive and never adequately identified himself. (Zattair didn’t return calls for this story.) The McMillions would later testify that when they went out they saw a piece of paper lying at the top of the stairs, and David would state that he thought it was a five-day notice. “But we didn’t see a name on it, so we let it be,” Bambi says. “When we returned, the piece of paper was gone.”
Yet within days the McMillions hand delivered a letter to Speredakos in Palos Park. “This letter is to respond to your request for rent to be paid received by us on or about August 10, 1996,” they wrote, but went on to inform Speredakos that even more had gone wrong with their apartment. The refrigerator had broken down, forcing them to buy ice to cool their food, and they were incensed that Speredakos had taken steps to turn off their gas. They stated that they didn’t owe her $15,750 in back rent, rather she owed them $5,261.30 in damages and fees. The letter wrapped up: “Please contact our attorney, Connie R. Fernandez, if you have any questions.”
Connie Fernandez handles some divorce and criminal cases, but her speciality is helping tenants who have complaints about landlords. “Whoever has a question about landlord-tenant issues, they call me,” she says. “My friends and clients think I’m a genius.” And indeed, even her detractors admit that she’s smart and knows landlord-tenant law.
“I’m one of the few women attorneys who are reputed to have balls,” says the 40-year-old Fernandez. “Oh yeah, brass ones. I’m aggressive. I fear God, but no one else.” Some judges haven’t been impressed. “Every case I’ve ever been involved in with her runs longer than it should–and it’s not due to her thoroughness,” says Sheldon Garber. “She’s not well organized. She’s very argumentative. Every ruling requires a long discussion of the law.”
A native of Fort Wayne, Indiana, Fernandez dropped out of high school to get married at age 17. She got a correspondence high school degree and later earned a law degree from Oregon’s Willamette University. She did workmen’s comp law in southern California, then five years ago moved to Chicago with her husband and started her own practice. Now twice divorced and a grandmother, she works out of a loft in East Garfield Park that she rents with an option to buy; she renovates on weekends.
Early on Fernandez got referrals through the Illinois Tenants Union, and if she won a case she’d take a contingency fee. “In the beginning I tangled with landlord attorneys, and with that came a level of persecution,” she says. “I got attacked all the time, personally and professionally.” Indeed, she says, the Chicago Property Owners’ Coalition, a now-defunct confederation of 200 landlords, wrote to the eviction court alleging that she’d misused the city’s Residential Landlords and Tenants Ordinance, a law passed in 1986 to protect tenants’ rights.
Asked to describe some of her significant ITU cases, Fernandez mentions a building in Rogers Park where she helped 11 tenants who were unhappy with the condition of their building stage a rent strike. The landlord ultimately lost the building to the bank, and all but one of the renters ended up with judgments against them. The case has gone through four judges and is still technically alive.
Fernandez’s handling of the case irritated Ken Ditkowsky, the landlord’s attorney. “Connie Fernandez doesn’t believe in the common courtesies that lawyers normally give each other,” he says. “She fights every single motion you make, and she asks for mounds of information. You can’t imagine how long it all takes. She attacked every judge we were before and every attorney, including me. It was a nightmare.”
“Ken Ditkowsky just doesn’t think I have rights as a litigant,” Fernandez responds. “I fight his motions because they aren’t well grounded in fact. I challenge judges–I don’t attack them.”
One day Fernandez tried to fax Ditkowsky 80 pages of violations she’d allegedly found in the building. “We’re talking 2,000 items, mostly little things like the stair railings being too low or the stair treads being a millimeter off,” says Ditkowsky. The fax machine in his office broke down after 25 pages. In response he wrote Fernandez a letter that became part of the court record: “You are the first attorney that we have ever dealt with who has ever resorted to the tactic of sending page after page of unintelligible gibberish to a brother attorney’s office with what appears to be the express purpose of overwhelming the FAX machine.”
Around the same time Ditkowsky wrote another letter, also in the court records, accusing Fernandez of using “voluminous pleadings and outrageous demands for discovery” to win against “‘little people’ who have invested their hard earned money in a building to seek and obtain a small return on their investment. Because of their small capitalization and weak financial condition they are prime targets for the nefarious conduct that is attributed to you.”
“I don’t target small landlords,” replies Fernandez. “Bit landlord, small landlord–I treat everybody the same.” Fernandez’s relationship with the ITU lasted only a year, says Pensack, in part because he believed her behavior had deeply offended a judge handling the Rogers Park case. “You can’t win by being confrontational with a judge,” Pensack says. “He’s got the power.” Fernandez also appealed a circuit court judge’s ruling that severely limited judgments against landlords who fail to pay interest on security deposits. “We told her not to appeal, that if she lost it would set a precedent,” says Pensack. “But she said, ‘I’m going to win.'” (Fernandez says Pensack never cautioned her against appealing.) In April 1996 the Illinois Appellate Court ruled for the landlord, saying that as a penalty a wronged tenant can collect only double the security deposit for one year, no matter how long the tenant has been in the apartment (tenants had been able to collect double for every year they were in an apartment). Fernandez’s only regret is that her client backed off, preventing her from taking the case to the Illinois Supreme Court.
Then last August the state Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission filed a 21-count complaint against Fernandez, charging her with, among other things, failing to follow client instructions and “conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.”
One of the cases the ARDC complaint detailed involved roommates Kurt Engleman and Matt Cravets, two pharmaceutical-company statisticians who went to Fernandez to recover their security deposit from the Northbrook landlord in 1995. The following July everyone agreed to a settlement, and nine months later Fernandez received a check for her fee and Engleman’s and Cravets’s deposits of $650 apiece, all of which she deposited in a client trust account. The complaint alleges that neither man ever received his cut. “She assured us it would be a short turnaround in receiving our share,” says Engleman, who now works in Maryland, “but we never heard a word. We called after two and a half months, and she wouldn’t take our phone calls.”
The ARDC complaint has since been amended and now includes a total of 31 counts. ARDC chief counsel James Grogan says that the number of accusations is unusually high. If a three-person panel of hearing officers finds them credible, Fernandez could face a number of penalties, including disbarment. “She gives us other advocates a bad name,” says Richard Wheelock, housing supervisory attorney for the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago.
Contesting ARDC charges isn’t easy, but Fernandez vows to fight. She does say, “I haven’t taken care of business properly. A lot of people owed me a lot of money.” She adds that she’d also had a couple of miscarriages and had been depressed and had had her laptop computer stolen out of her car. She insists she’ll pay her clients once the people who owe her money reimburse her. But then she says, “The whole judicial system is going to be put on trial.” She’s already filed a list of 60 potential witnesses with the ARDC–attorneys, judges, former clients, opposing parties (including Speredakos), plus “God, Heaven,” and “Jesus Christ, c/o God in Heaven.”
Fernandez’s relationship with God and his son has been strengthened by her association with the McMillions–she functions as both their attorney and their devoted acolyte. “I was raised as an evangelical, a Methodist, and a Mennonite, and then I had a falling out with the church and became an agnostic,” she says. “But I got a message that it was time to return.” In February 1997 Fernandez started accompanying the McMillions to services. “Now I follow God’s direction and that of Jesus Christ,” she says. (Last October, she says, God directed her to fast on hot tea and water and lemon juice, and she lost 40 pounds in 40 days.) Bambi says, “You know, Connie is very smart, and we have sat her down and said, ‘You know the law, but we know the Bible.’ She respects our knowledge in religion. We have become like spiritual parents to her.” The three of them regularly dine out together, and Fernandez says she’s given money to the McMillions’ ministry.
“A lot of people put Connie down and portray her as a nut,” says attorney Dan Starr, who often represents tenants and is a grudging fan of Fernandez. “She pisses off lots of judges and doesn’t know when to settle. But she’s a zealous attorney who isn’t afraid to litigate.”
Some 43,000 eviction cases, including public-housing cases, were filed in Cook County in 1997. Judging by what happened in previous years, most of them ended very quickly and in the landlord’s favor. A 1996 study by the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing found that landlords are victorious over mostly poor, minority tenants–few of whom have a lawyer–in 95 percent of eviction cases heard at the Daley Center. “Tenants may show up and try to assert their rights–they did pay rent or their apartment was maintained in a substandard fashion–but judges tend to dismiss tenants because by and large they aren’t represented by counsel,” says Julie Ansell, executive director of LCBH. The five eviction judges who hear matters at the Daley Center take three minutes to dispose of the average case, the LCBH study reports–less time, notes Ansell, than traffic-court cases take.
Occasionally a case will go further, but the dispute is still resolved relatively quickly, with negotiations between the two sides taking place in the jury room or out in the hallway. “You’ll take a haircut on the rent, and you’ll give the tenant a certain amount of time to vacate,” says Ron Roman, Speredakos’s current lawyer. “Everybody feels a little shafted, but the numbers work out and it’s over.”
Speredakos v. McMillion proved far more complicated. When the McMillions didn’t pay any rent after the five-day notice was delivered on August 10, 1996, Mark Wetterquist filed an eviction suit against them and on the second try got a court summons delivered. But that December Wetterquist signed off as Speredakos’s lawyer. “The judge [Raymond Funderburk, who’d been assigned the case in October] doesn’t like me,” Wetterquist told her. “With me you’re going to lose.”
Speredakos then hired another lawyer, Robert Gordon, and in January 1997 everyone from both sides gathered in the conference room off the courtroom to consider a settlement. Fernandez says she made an offer–the McMillions would owe no rent but would vacate the apartment within 90 days, and Speredakos would pay Fernandez’s $2,500 fee. Bambi would later testify that Speredakos was so irritated that she told her own father, “Shut up, pa,” slapped him on the arm, and screamed at Fernandez. They never came close to a settlement.
Burdened by debt after the New Nevada folded, Speredakos had recently filed for personal bankruptcy, and the bankruptcy trustee, Andrew Maxwell, now fired Gordon. “I would have settled this thing,” says Gordon, “but [Maxwell] wanted his own guy in there.” His guy was 45-year-old Ron Roman–Speredakos’s fourth lawyer. A veteran in tenant-landlord cases, Roman doesn’t care to name his clients, though he does say that he once represented two of Chicago’s most notorious landlords, Lou Wolf and Ken Goldberg.
The next round of negotiations occurred that May, when Fernandez put a new offer on the table. According to Fernandez, Speredakos would get no rent and would pay the McMillions $5,000 for aggravating their medical problems. “Plus Bambi had fallen down the stairs because the building didn’t have handrails,” Fernandez says. In addition, the McMillions would have at least three months to get out, and Fernandez would be paid $9,500. Roman thought it made sense to accept the offer, if only to get rid of Fernandez. But Maxwell didn’t like the agreement. “First of all, Mrs. Speredakos didn’t want to accept the deal,” he explains. “It was expensive, and it left the McMillions in the property. What if they decided not to move? We’d have been back where we started.”
The case went back before Judge Funderburk. Now in his mid-50s, Funderburk had driven a CTA bus to get through junior college. He graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago at 30, then went on to earn his law degree at the university’s law school in Champaign. He was a staff attorney for the Cook County Legal Assistance Foundation, becoming an expert in eviction cases through defending tenants. For a time he managed the Harvey office of the foundation, then sat on its board after leaving to join Earl Neal & Associates. “He was always very professional and conscientious,” says Ellen Johnson, executive director of the foundation.
Appointed to the circuit court in 1993, Funderburk was elected to a six-year term the next year with sound ratings from the Chicago Bar Association and the Chicago Council of Lawyers. He served in traffic and domestic violence court before moving to eviction court. He maintains a somber and proper air, refers to himself constantly as “the court,” and seldom gets into discussions with lawyers, emerging from his chambers only when a session is about to start. “Funderburk is a straight-laced, even puritanical person with high morals,” says Pensack, “though he’s not as protenant as we thought he’d be.”
At the time of the McMillions’ trial Funderburk was presiding in room 1406 of the Daley Center. He referred tenants without lawyers to legal-clinic attorneys, though few took the option. He often framed his decisions in legal language that tenants couldn’t comprehend. “Judgment for plaintiff,” he would say. “Order for possession. Writ of execution stayed for 14 days. Do you understand this?” If the tenant said no, the judge tended to repeat what he said in the same words. He often told tenants to take their hands out of their pockets when they approached the bench and shushed them whenever they addressed him directly. Landlords and their lawyers tolerated his cold demeanor, but less-sophisticated tenants often seemed undone by it.
In April a woman who was six months behind in her rent after being laid off was summoned before Funderburk. The woman had just been hired by a cable television firm, though she wouldn’t start for several weeks. “I was hoping I could come before you and make a payment arrangement,” she told Funderburk. He replied sharply, “This court doesn’t get involved in settlement arrangements. I have determined that you have not raised a meritorious defense.”
The woman had no idea what a “meritorious defense” might be. “I do have a daughter, sir,” she said. Funderburk looked down at her from the bench. “I’m certainly happy to hear that you have a daughter, but that is not a meritorious defense.” He gave her 21 days–longer than usual–to get out. “There’s a judgment against you, ma’am. Have a seat, ma’am, and wait for a copy of the order. Good luck to you, ma’am.” When she stepped into the hallway she was in tears.
“He’s forgotten that all people don’t have his verbal and legal skills,” said one attorney who frequently appeared before Funderburk. “He’s forgotten where he came from.” But tenant lawyer Dan Starr said, “He is sensitive to issues from the tenants’ side. I tell my clients when they go before Funderburk that it will seem like he doesn’t like you. ‘Grin and bear it,’ I say, ‘and treat the judge with respect. Because when the landlord’s side gets up, he’ll treat them worse.'”
Last July Funderburk ordered the McMillions to place $20,000 in an escrow account pending disposition of the case. They said they couldn’t. “We didn’t have $20,000, to be honest with you,” says David McMillion. In 1996 he and Bambi had filed a pauper’s petition so that they could have their court costs waived; it stated that they were unemployed, had a yearly income of $5,650 from SSI, and had personal property valued at less than $1,000. The McMillions then demanded a jury trial, but Funderburk, as one of the sanctions for failing to put the money in escrow, denied the request, saying he would hear the matter himself.
That summer Fernandez was irritated with Funderburk. When he demanded the escrow money, she recalls, “I was so outraged that I could have reached up and hit that judge.” According to a court transcript, she told Funderburk on July 22, “I do not trust you.” Funderburk replied, “Counsel, I suggest that you be very careful in the selection of your words because you may well be exhibiting conduct which this court finds extremely offensive.”
Fernandez then claimed that the judge’s clerk–whom she said was friendly to Speredakos–had refused to process some of Fernandez’s paperwork and had instead brought the judge some grapes.
They weren’t grapes but plums, Funderburk fired back. “As far as this clerk–the clerk of this court providing and giving this court plums–yes, the clerk provided this court with plums. And this court graciously accepted those plums and ate them with all the succulent plums that were given to this court, counsel, and was quite filled after eating same.” He advised Fernandez to raise her objections formally if she wanted to.
On October 20 Funderburk held Fernandez in contempt of court when she went down the hall to take care of some business in another courtroom. “He was very mad,” says Fernandez, “but when I got back he vacated his order.”
The Residential Landlords and Tenants Ordinance is a powerful tool in cases against landlords, because it enables tenants to withhold rent or terminate a lease if the condition of their apartment becomes intolerable. But the ordinance exempts buildings with fewer than six units if the owner lives in the building. Fernandez argued in court that the ordinance applied because Speredakos, the landlord of record, didn’t live in the building. Roman insisted that the law didn’t apply because the Bisbikises, who were partners in the land trust and therefore part owners–had lived upstairs when the McMillions moved in. Fernandez countered that the Bisbikises had moved out in October 1995, before the off-duty cop delivered the last five-day notice.
But Fernandez also had other arguments, ones commonly heard in eviction court. Spring v. Little, decided by the Illinois Supreme Court in 1972, lays out a doctrine called the “implied warranty of habitability”–which means that a lease automatically obliges a landlord to keep up an apartment; if the landlord doesn’t, a tenant can claim that the warranty has been broken and there’s no return obligation to pay rent. The state Rental Property Utility Service Act also states that it’s unlawful for a landlord to pass on utility fees for common areas of a building unless a renter knows about the arrangement in advance. The city building code also bars landlords from operating buildings without adequate heat or hot water, or without smoke detectors, peepholes, or deadbolt locks.
Roman conceded outside the courtroom during the trial that the McMillions could conceivably have justified withholding some rent from Speredakos because of problems in the building, but he quickly added that they hadn’t paid a dime since December 1993 and they had never deposited any of the rent in an escrow account. “The law doesn’t give you the ability to occupy somebody else’s property without limitation of term and without any payment of rent,” he said. “Even if a place is bad, that doesn’t mean you can stay there forever for free. I suppose a place could be so bad it has no value, but if it has some value–any value–then you owe rent. The law doesn’t permit a life estate on 6128 S. Kilpatrick. And if the place is so bad, what are they still doing there? They have, with the exception of one month, basically not paid rent for four and one half years. To me it’s a free lunch.”
On December 12, 1997, the McMillions’ trial before Judge Funderburk began. It had been scheduled to last three days, sandwiched between other cases–all the time Ron Roman figured it would take.
Roman summoned Nick Zattair, the off-duty cop who’d delivered the five-day notice, Speredakos, the McMillions, and the court reporter who’d taken depositions in Roman’s office the prior October. That took only a day or two.
But then Fernandez began her cross-examination. She brought Zattair back for a whole day on the stand. “That’s something we’d never experienced,” says Francis McCarthy, co-owner of El-Ko Investigations, which employs Zattair. Fernandez also questioned the court reporter intensively. Speredakos had to answer questions for 12 and a half days. When Fernandez presented the defendants’ case, she kept Speredakos in the witness box for another 15 days.
It was already April when Speredakos testified that the McMillions had never complained to her or to her father about the condition of the building. The only gripe she knew of was in the letter the couple had hand delivered to her on August 15, 1996, which she said she’d passed on to her first lawyer, Barry Barnett. “I was never aware of anything,” she said. “They never complained to me.” But then she admitted that she’d seen two notes left for her father in the basement; one stated that the washing machine was broken, and the second, dated November 16, 1995, scolded him for tampering with the boiler pump. Speredakos testified that she’d given both notes to Barnett.
Fernandez attacked Speredakos for asserting that the McMillions had used a phone jack in the basement to make personal calls on her father’s line, including one that lasted more than four hours. “But when you previously testified that there were calls longer than three hours, you were lying, weren’t you, Mrs. Speredakos?” Fernandez asked. Speredakos responded that she would need a calculator to figure out the hours.
Most of the questioning concerned minutiae. On the afternoon of May 8, for instance, Fernandez explored the condition of the back door at Kilpatrick, which Speredakos called a screen door.
“There is no screen door on the premises, is there, Mrs. Speredakos?” Fernandez asked.
“It’s a screen door, whether it has glass on it or not,” replied Speredakos. “It has glass on it.”
“Mrs. Speredakos, you have previously testified that the door was fiberglass,” said Fernandez. “You consider glass to be fiberglass?”
“It’s under the same family.”
But there’s no screen, Fernandez pointed out.
“I call it a screen door,” said Speredakos.
“That’s really a storm door, isn’t it, Mrs. Speredakos?”
“You can call it a storm door.”
Speredakos testified that the lower panel of the door was cracked but that she’d repaired it after a city building inspector told her to. She also said that somehow it had broken again.
“So, now do you consider the exterior door on the building to be in good working condition, Mrs. Speredakos?” Fernandez said.
“Did you take into account the building code, Mrs. Speredakos?”
“What section of the code?”
“If it opens and closes, that’s good working condition,” replied Speredakos. “If it’s missing glass or a nail, it’s still in good working condition.”
“So, Mrs. Speredakos,” said Fernandez, “it’s your testimony that the door is in good working condition and complies with the building code?”
“Specifically, Mrs. Speredakos, with respect to the door, isn’t there a requirement in the building code that every window has to be free of open cracks and holes?”
“I don’t know,” said Speredakos. “What I consider good working condition, like I said, is when a door opens and closes. If a crack is there, I don’t consider that to be bad working condition. As far as the code you just mentioned, the building inspector was there, and he said to call the police. I have placed a police report, and I’m waiting for the insurance company to come and estimate.”
Speredakos’s testimony took even longer because she frequently told Fernandez she didn’t understand even the simplest question. “Will you rephrase and reask the question?” Funderburk, who took meticulous notes throughout the trial, would say. Fernandez would make another stab, though one morning she got so frustrated that she said, “Mrs. Speredakos, do you need a Greek interpreter?” Speredakos just looked at her coldly.
Relations between Fernandez and Roman also grew strained as the trial progressed. On April 29 she accused him of prompting Speredakos’s responses with his body language when he stood up. “She doesn’t answer a question unless she looks at her attorney,” Fernandez told the judge. “I’m standing next to the witness, and I can see her every movement.” Roman then told the judge, “Your honor, it’s easier on my back if I can stand.” The judge allowed Roman to stand, but not before Fernandez advised Funderburk to watch him carefully.
Whenever it was Roman’s turn to examine a witness, Fernandez would raise innumerable objections. Once, just before the lunch break, Roman attempted to question Speredakos about conversations she’d had with her parents about the McMillions. Fernandez objected 15 times in 15 minutes–“That’s hearsay, your honor,” “That calls for speculation.” Finally Roman sullenly slumped into his seat, and Funderburk adjourned the session. When Fernandez again had the floor Roman began interrupting her with objections.
In court on May 15 Roman moved to quash a subpoena Fernandez had filed asking Mark Wetterquist, Speredakos’s second attorney, to testify, and Fernandez asked the judge to disqualify Roman because he was acting in opposition to his client’s interests. “I have to listen to this crap coming out of her mouth,” said Roman, springing from his seat. Funderburk said, “Crap? I’m not sure of the definition of the term, but I certainly think it’s inappropriate to misuse the term.”
Roman is ordinarily carefully spoken, but he said outside court, “I just want to grab Connie by the throat and punch her.” Fernandez later countered, “I’m very angry with Ron Roman because he lies.” She claimed that Roman had said he hadn’t received documents that he had, that he’d prompted Speredakos on the stand then denied it, and that he’d once said he’d arrived at court at 10:30 when he’d shown up at 10:45.
All spring the McMillions remained in the Kilpatrick apartment without paying rent. (The electric bill wasn’t paid either, and in May Commonwealth Edison would turn off the electricity.) In April the place seemed comfortable enough. The front room contained sofas, a couple of televisions, pictures of cupids and angels. Drapes covered the large picture window overlooking the street, and a frieze of fake pink roses ran across the top. “If she [Speredakos] wasn’t such an appalling woman we wouldn’t still be here,” Bambi insisted. Then she conducted a tour of the apartment, pointing out the peeling paint, the lack of a seal around the oven, the tap that dribbled water, the lights that were out in a hallway.
On court days David tended to stay home–the proceedings got him too angry, he said. Bambi always showed up and took careful notes on a pink legal pad. Speredakos also showed up daily and would knit during every break. The two women rarely spoke. Bambi said, “I feel sorry for her because she’s in a lot of trouble with God. When someone goes after somebody else with lies and maliciousness, God takes care of them.”
Meanwhile Roman was growing increasingly worried about his wife, who was having a difficult first pregnancy. Bambi had begun praying for the baby at an October deposition session in Roman’s office. “Ron said his wife was doing bad that day, and there was a chance the baby might not make it,” recalls Bambi. “David and I and Connie all prayed for that baby.” In late May the baby was in danger again, and a distraught Roman fled the courtroom one day to be with his wife. Bambi wasn’t sure it was proper, but she chased after him, stopped him in the hallway, and offered to pray for the baby. She says he took the offer kindly.
But most of the time ill feeling prevailed. After the session on Good Friday ended, both sides trooped from Funderburk’s courtroom to the seventh floor to get copies of an order made. On the way down Bambi tore into Roman: “I hate you for what you are doing, but we’re going to win.” Speredakos says that Roman didn’t respond, but once they arrived at the copy machine she couldn’t restrain herself. “Pay me before you make any other documents,” she said. Bambi threw a quarter Roman’s way. “Well, Miss Christian,” said Speredakos. Bambi shot back, “Well, Miss Orthodox.” Speredakos is Greek Orthodox. Bambi remembers that Speredakos then said, “What kind of God do you serve?” Bambi uncorked a lecture about the God of the Old Testament. She says Speredakos said something in Greek that Bambi figured was a curse. “I reverse that curse that you tried to send,” she told Speredakos, “and I decree it work 100 times worse than you decreed on me.”
Bambi McMillion sat down to testify on May 11. She said that the Kilpatrick apartment was run-down and that Speredakos had billed her and David for common utility costs, deprived them of the use of the garage and the basement, tried to shut off their electricity and gas, and failed to fix a broken washing machine. She said Speredakos had told her, “This is Chicago. Landlords do it all the time. Nobody is going to believe you. You can go to court and do anything you want, and nothing is going to happen.” Bambi also said she’d been horrified that Speredakos had once asked about hiring her as a cashier at the New Nevada and suggested that she not record some sales so the restaurant could avoid paying taxes on them. Speredakos later denied saying anything of the sort.
When Bambi spoke from the stand, her voice slowed to a snail’s pace and she included every detail. On May 15, for instance, she described how she’d sent a letter to Speredakos: “I folded the letter in thirds. I placed it in a business envelope. On the business-size envelope I placed Mrs. Speredakos’s address…and then I moistened the inside flap of the envelope and sealed the envelope. Then I placed one or more stamps on the envelope. Then I placed the envelope in a mailbox, or where they pick up the mail.” Days later Fernandez had Bambi drone on for hours describing some of the 127 photographs the lawyer had taken of 6128 S. Kilpatrick; the high point was the description of how a string through a wall-mounted toothbrush holder held open the stopper in the McMillions’s bathroom sink.
Fernandez seemed to know nearly all of the facts surrounding the case; to fill in lapses she consulted papers stuffed in the worn briefcase she toted to court each day. During questioning she referred to scores of exhibits.
Funderburk’s irritation with Fernandez often showed. On May 13, in the middle of questioning Bambi, she accused Roman of ignoring a document she’d left for him in court and asked the judge to rule against him. The judge refused, but Fernandez repeated her demand. “Counsel, if you continue to do that, I’m going to end your direct examination,” Funderburk said. Fernandez responded, “Your honor, I’d like to be heard.” Funderburk’s voice rose sharply. “We’re not going to take any more time with innuendos.” But Fernandez pressed on, complaining about “Mr. Roman’s false statements.” The judge looked toward his bailiff. “Mr. Sheriff, stand by. If I hold counsel in contempt of court, take her into custody.” Fernandez eyed the judge and said, “Then maybe I’ll be heard.” Funderburk said nothing, and Fernandez quickly went back to questioning Bambi.
On May 28 Funderburk happened to call her “Mrs.” Fernandez, to which she responded, “Your honor, it’s not Mrs. Fernandez. It’s Ms. Fernandez. I’m not married.” Funderburk could barely control his disdain. “The court stands corrected. It’s Ms. Fernandez.”
“I’d like not to scream at him,” Fernandez later said, “but he has an obligation to listen to what I have to say. When he’s rude to me–as he sometimes is–he gets a response that’s equal to the rudeness he’s shown me.”
“With any other judge, her ass would be in the lockup,” Roman later said in his office. “For whatever reason, he lets her get away with it.” Michael Pensack thought Funderburk was simply protecting himself. “He’s bending over backward to let her present her case because she’ll take the case on appeal to a higher court, and he doesn’t want to be overturned.” But an attorney familiar with the case said, “Funderburk could limit her in terms of scope and time. He could say, ‘You have 15 minutes–wrap it up.’ The judge is not malicious–he’s trying to be fair. But in the process he’s not being realistic. With any other judge, this would have been over in an hour or two. What could this be costing the taxpayers?”
By mid-June Speredakos had been in court long enough to knit five afghans–off and on for 40 days, 200 hours or more. Court staff are expensive. Funderburk’s annual salary is $112,491. A court clerk makes up to $34,000 a year, as does a bailiff (or sheriff’s deputy, the formal title); a court reporter draws up to $50,000. And then there are the the costs of heating and cooling and cleaning and record keeping.
The judge had taken limited steps to curtail the trial. In May he requested and was assigned a spare courtroom so that he could hear the Speredakos case all day long for a week. He also ruled that Fernandez couldn’t make the Rental Property Utility Service Act part of her defense.
Funderburk refuses to comment on the Speredakos case or his approach to judging. But on May 5, when Speredakos chided Fernandez for repeatedly asking her the same question, “wasting my time and money and the taxpayers’,” he interrupted to say, “As far as safeguarding the taxpayers’ interest, the court is charged with that responsibility and will take that seriously.”
On April 28 Roman had begged Funderburk to curtail the trial. “It’s incumbent on the court to control the cadence to these proceedings,” he said. “This is turning into a filibuster.” June 3 marked the 39th day of the trial, and Roman’s baby was due two days later. When Funderburk moved to set aside more days for testimony, Roman said, “I do question the unlimited amount of days. This is set for an open-ended trial. This will continue, continue, continue. I plead with this court to put a time limit on this case. It is done every day, and in cases more complicated than the one involving 6128 S. Kilpatrick.”
“I’m very reluctant to do that,” replied Funderburk, though he did say he would strike testimony on “irrelevant matters” or items that had already been explored. The legislature, he noted, intended Illinois trials to be conducted “expeditiously.” But he added, “The defense is entitled to present its case in chief. The matter will not go into the millennium, but I’m not sure when it will end.” (Earlier Fernandez had insisted that her clients had the right to have their case presented in full, no matter how long it took.)
A few days later Sheldon Garber, the supervising judge in eviction court, said, “I’m incredulous that this could drag on for as long as it has,” adding that Fernandez’s tactics were partly to blame. But, he pointed out, he had no right to intervene. “We have the right to get into the administration of court calls, but a judge’s own courtroom is his sovereignty.” Asked whether Funderburk should move the proceedings along faster, Garber said, “I’d rather not comment. But it’s part of the function of a judge to expedite the disposition of cases.” Asked if this trial had become terribly wasteful, he replied, “Correct.”
On June 16 Funderburk at last put his foot down. Garber had once again arranged to give him an empty courtroom where he could hear the case all day, but that morning Fernandez said that Bambi was sick and couldn’t testify. Get me another witness, Funderburk told her, then adjourned the session until 2 PM.
With no regular witness to put on, Fernandez herself prepared to take the stand to describe the 127 photos she’d taken of 6128 S. Kilpatrick. But Funderburk said it would violate professional ethics for her to appear as both a witness and a lawyer in a contested case, and he cautioned her several times that if she proceeded he would toss her out as the McMillions’ attorney. She sat down in the witness box, and he abruptly disqualified her. She then started describing the photos from the witness box, and Funderburk told her to step down. “Then the judge gave me some minutes to make some points, and I got loud and nasty,” says Fernandez, who did step down.
The judge turned to Roman and asked, any rebuttal? When Roman put Speredakos back on, Fernandez raised objection after objection. Funderburk admonished her to stop, and when she didn’t he directed her to leave the courtroom. Fernandez yelled at Funderburk, and the judge instructed the bailiff to escort her out. “Let’s go, Connie,” said the bailiff. But Fernandez insisted she had a right to be in a public place. Soon a half dozen bailiffs had handcuffed her and were hauling her kicking and screaming into the hallway. Her muffled cries could be heard as Roman gave a short summation and rested his case.
Fernandez was charged with breaching the peace, a minor city infraction. Booked at police headquarters at 11th and State, she was released on her own recognizance. She was back in court, though only as a spectator, on June 23 as Funderburk got set to issue his final ruling. The McMillions were absent–car trouble, they later explained–but Speredakos sat at the plaintiff’s table, and Roman stood in front of the bench. Funderburk spoke in measured tones. He said the last five-day notice had been delivered properly. He summarized the McMillions’ litany of complaints, noting that they’d failed to provide evidence for some of them–they hadn’t, for example, brought in their utility bills to prove they’d paid for power in the common areas. He said they’d also failed to present outside expert witnesses to bolster their claims, and he threw out the goofy ramblings of a follower of the McMillions who’d testified about the condition of the apartment because he’d discussed his testimony with the McMillions in advance.
Funderburk said the McMillions had to vacate the unit on Kilpatrick and David, whose name was on the lease, owed the back rent–less 40 percent because of the condition of the apartment. He awarded the McMillions a $20 credit for helping to fix the washing machine in 1995, then slapped them with a $16,990 judgment, plus court costs. “Counsel,” he told Roman, “if there’s nothing further, prepare the order for possession.”
So ended the 42-day trial and the four-and-a-half-year standoff.
“I feel real bad,” said Speredakos afterward. “What’s right is right–I should have gotten full rent. The judge was wrong. It’s an injustice what he did.” The McMillions still claimed they were destitute, and she doubted she’d see a penny of the settlement (she hasn’t yet). Roman could go after the McMillions in court, but, he says, “You can’t bleed blood from a turnip. The bottom line for Georgia? No money, honey.”
Speredakos also worried about what the trial had cost her. Roman’s in-court fee was more than $20,000–and she’d already paid $5,000 to her prior attorneys. Moreover, she’d lost four and a half years of rent. And she was still facing another court battle–the counterclaim the McMillions had filed in 1996, asserting that Speredakos owed them as much as $100,000 in damages, attorney fees, and court costs. “This isn’t going to come cheap,” Speredakos said.
Andrew Maxwell, the bankruptcy trustee, has sold off a piece of property Speredakos owned in suburban Lemont for $200,000, but given all she already owes, her financial state remains precarious. “With Roman’s fees yet to come in, we might have to sell something else,” says Maxwell. Dominating Speredakos’s current portfolio are her $200,000 house, where she lives with three of her grown children, and the building on Kilpatrick, last assessed at $124,000. Speredakos, who contends the trial prevented her from finding work, could end up broke or nearly broke.
The McMillions showed up after Funderburk had left. Bambi scoffed at his ruling, saying, “It’s just a piece of paper.” David sounded a little smug. “We got our point across that this town won’t put up with dishonest landlords,” he said. Both McMillions said they had no idea where they’d go, though they were moving out. They apparently broke a pane of glass in the front door when they carried out a couch, and Bambi apologized to Roman. “Apologize to your client for me,” she told him, then congratulated him on the birth of his son. The couple is now living with a friend in Indiana.
Meanwhile the case had become the talk of the courthouse. “Oh, the megatrial,” said Dan Starr when asked if he knew about it. Tenants’ rights groups worried about its implications. “This could become a poster case for how tenant demands are unrealistic in that they drive good landlords out of business,” said Julie Ansell of the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing.
Roman now says, “The amount that was spent here was astronomical–and for what?”
Fernandez, who will be on trial in October for breaching the peace, still insists the McMillions were justified in their actions. “Georgia Speredakos did things wrong, and rather than own up to them, she says, ‘I did nothing wrong.’ I’ll fight to the death.” Fernandez has already appealed the case to the Illinois Appellate Court–she’s also appealing Funderburk’s move to disqualify her as the McMillions’ lawyer. “This whole thing is going to come back for a retrial because the judge made so many errors,” she insists. She says she’s always figured that her skills and God will ensure that she and the McMillions will ultimately be paid what they’re owed. “Judge Funderburk wants to be in control, but God is ultimately in control,” she says. “No judge is bigger than God.” o
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): cover photo David McMillion, Connie Fernandez, Bambi McMillion photo by Kathy Richland; 6128 S. Kilpatrick photo by Kathy Richland; Ron Roman photo by Kathy Richland;.