Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser took the stand earlier this month to face a contempt charge, and his memory failed him.
In more than 10 instances during that Jan. 10 hearing at the Lake County Courthouse, the road commissioner fielded questions of the labor lawyer cross-examining him with responses like this:
“I don’t remember.”
“I can’t remember.”
“I honestly can’t remember.”
On one occasion, according to a transcript of the hearing, the road commissioner even amended his answer to reflect a similar response.
International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 attorney Bryan Diemer asked Gasser if it was true that the road commissioner expected to receive a list of arbitrators from Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to begin the process of selecting one to address union grievances.
“No,” Gasser said, “it is not.”
“OK,” Diemer said.
“Actually, Judge,” Gasser said, “can I reanswer that?”
“There’s no question pending,” Lake County Circuit Judge Daniel L. Jasica said.
But Gasser later got a chance to change his stance. “So you just told us that you were not expecting panels from the FMCS when you filed the initial pleadings?” Diemer asked.
“No,” Gasser said. “Actually what I wanted to say is I don’t remember.”
The transcript of the case offered a rare glimpse of Gasser – who stopped attending monthly township meetings last year amid conflict with the board about his mounting legal bills – articulating his understanding of a labor case dismissed multiple times that is now in the appellate court.
Gasser was on the stand to face a contempt charge for allegedly defying a court order to begin the arbitration process to sort through the many grievances tied to his firing of three union employees within minutes after taking office.
On Sept. 20, Judge Jasica granted a request from Local 150 to compel arbitration after the dismissal of a lawsuit Gasser launched in an attempt to invalidate a union contract his predecessor signed.
Local 150’s counsel reached out to the highway department to begin that arbitration process, but they received no response.
The contempt portion of the hearing began with a cross-examination from Gasser’s Woodstock-based attorney, Robert Hanlon.
Hanlon asked Gasser to state his name and spell it. He asked if Gasser is the road commissioner and how long he has held the position.
“When you received a copy of the Court’s order compelling arbitration, what did you believe that your obligation was with respect to that order?” Hanlon asked.
“When I read the order, it just said that – it didn’t have any dates or any times or when we were to start any process, start anything like that,” Gasser said.
Later, Hanlon asked: “So did you believe you had an obligation to do anything at that point in time?”
“No I did not,” Gasser said.
“OK,” Hanlon said. “And as you sit here today, do you understand any clear order of the Court of what it is that you’re supposed to do?”
“No, sir,” Gasser said.
“No other questions, Judge,” Hanlon said.
During Diemer’s cross-examination, the labor lawyer tried to get a general sense of Gasser’s understanding of the case and details about the road commissioner’s working relationship with Hanlon.
“Upon taking office,” Diemer said, “you immediately fired three employees?”
“That’s correct,” Gasser said.
“And you immediately notified Local 150 that you were repudiating the [collective bargaining agreement] entered into previously by Local 150 and the Road District, is that correct?” Diemer said.
“Objection,” Hanlon said. “This isn’t a discovery deposition for some subsequent proceeding and arbitration. We’re here on whether or not Mr. Gasser – ”
“All right,” Jasica said. “The objection, a one-word objection would be?”
“Overly broad and irrelevant,” Hanlon said.
The judge asked the labor lawyer why the questioning was relevant to whether Gasser willfully violated a court order.
“I’m trying to get to his understanding of the case generally, the issues that are before the Court,” Diemer said. “I think the case law says that when you’re interpreting an ambiguous order, which Mr. Gasser believes it is, it’s appropriate to take into consideration the pleadings and the context of the case.”
“All right,” Jasica said. “Objection will be overruled.”
Diemer later asked if anyone told Gasser about the court’s order to compel arbitration in the labor case.
“Objection,” Hanlon said, “calls for hearsay.”
“Overruled,” Jasica said.
“I can’t remember,” Gasser said.
“You don’t?” Diemer asked.
“No,” Gasser said, “I don’t.”
Later, Gasser addressed the judge.
“Your Honor, I’m a 20-year Air Force officer, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned over this 20 years is that I know how to follow orders when I understand them,” Gasser said. “... Never during this entire process have I willfully or gone out of my way to say I’m not going to comply with something legally. I am very respectful of our judicial system. It’s something that I fought for for 20 years.”
And the judge denied the union’s request to hold Gasser in contempt.