Burr Oak Cemetery cases back in court

August 26, 2009 (CHICAGO) At issue is the money needed to reopen Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip and who is responsible for paying it.

The hope was that Burr Oak would reopen earlier this month. That didn't happen. The cemetery's court-appointed receiver had to let go remaining cemetery workers because he had no money to pay them. Wednesday, he got permission to access $50,000 to bring the employees back, but he needs 10 times that amount to reopen a cemetery with many problems.

The front gate to Burr Oak cemetery remains closed. It wears a padlock and chain.

"Families are troubled. They want to get in and see the gravesites where they believe their relatives are buried," said Aron Robinson, attorney for families.

The lawyers are troubled too. They were back in court Wednesday but can't agree on how to free up money that's needed to restore Burr Oak as a functional cemetery. The cemetery's court-appointed receiver believes it will take in the neighborhood of $500,000.

"Let's say, unless we get a substantial fund, somewhere in that range, the cemetery will not be able to reopen because there are just projects that have to be done before it can reopen," said James Geoly, attorney for receiver.

Here is the problem: The state has a cemetery care fund, and Burr Oak's share of that fund is $1.4 million.

So the money is there to fix things up. But the trustee of that fund, Bank of America, says No to withdrawing money from that account until and unless the cemetery owner agrees to repay it as a condition of any sale of the cemetery. Burr Oak owner, Perpetua Inc., says No to that, arguing that the law already provides for repayment of money taken from the care fund, and that adding a $500,000 lien would make a sale of Burr Oak much more difficult.

The cemetery's attorneys won't say if they wish to sell. In fact, they say because of litigation, they can't say much of anything.

Attorneys who are suing Burr Oak say Perpetua has a number of corporate partners who do have money.

"Even if the connection is tenuous, we have a horrible tragedy here, and nobody's stepping up to the plate, and I don't understand that," said Blake Horowitz, attorney for families.

Meanwhile, in criminal court Wednesday, the arraignment of the four indicted cemetery workers was rescheduled for next month. Maurice Dailey, the only one of the four who is out on bond, refused to answer any questions.

As for when the cemetery might reopen, that most definitely will not happen before September 22. That's when the lawyers return to court to see if they can find some common ground on how to free money to fix Burr Oak.

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