The Board of Education is expected as early as Tuesday to consider hiring a new lead attorney for the district who apparently has no public sector experience and has donated nearly $30,000 to past campaigns of the current CEO.
Sources have told the Sun-Times that Ronald Marmer has been selected to succeed James Bebley as CPS general counsel. As with all department heads, his employment needs approval from the Board of Education and is expected to be discussed in closed executive session, but Marmer’s expected appointment is not on the agenda for the scheduled board meeting Tuesday.
A resolution to honor Bebley upon his recent resignation from the district, however, is on the public agenda.
CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey would not confirm or deny the appointment, saying in a statement that “Chicago Public Schools does not comment on personnel decisions unless and until employees have been approved by the Board of Education or have started their employment.”
State law permits but does not require public bodies to keep discussions involving employees private.
Marmer, a securities litigator with years of experience in financial matters, started his own law firm, Marmer Law Offices, in 2014, according to his LinkedIn profile. Before that, he was a partner at Jenner and Block in Chicago, according to that firm’s website.
“Ron’s practice focuses on complex and commercial litigation involving a wide variety of substantive areas of law, including complex financial disputes, gaming, internal investigations, and securities and derivatives litigation,” a biography on the Marmer website reads. “He has represented businesses, directors and officers, and attorneys in judicial proceedings, arbitrations, and before the Securities and Exchange Commission.”
His clients have included Northfield Laboratories, Boston Chicken and a court-appointed examiner in the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers Holdings.
Marmer doesn’t list any school district experience on his site or on his LinkedIn profile but touts as public service time he’s spent on boards of the American Bar Association Section of Litigation and the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago. He wrote that he focuses on “protecting children’s rights, promoting diversity and inclusion within the legal profession, access to legal services for the underserved, litigation resources for men and women serving in the military, and ways to reduce mass incarceration.”
Since 2003, he has donated a total of $29,200 to campaigns for Forrest Claypool, a former Cook County commissioner who also ran for Cook County Board president in 2005-06. In 2010 when Claypool made a run for Cook County assessor, Marmer made a single $10,000 contribution to that campaign.
Claypool lost that election and hasn’t run for public office since. Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed him to run the Chicago Transit Authority in 2011, to serve as his own chief of staff in April and then as CPS CEO in July.
Marmer also donated $5,000 to Emanuel’s first mayoral campaign in 2011.
Marmer did not return emails and phone messages Tuesday seeking comment.
The Chicago Teachers Union said Marmer’s appointment “is of significant concern to us.”
“Not only does he hold zero experience in handling public education issues or representing a school district like ours, he has been a significant contributor to CEO Claypool’s political campaigns, as well as donating $5,000 to Mayor Emanuel’s campaign for mayor,” said Karen Lewis, president of the CTU. “This smells like patronage and pay-to-play politics again.”
“Given Marmer’s ties to banking institutions and hedge funds, we implore him to go after the more than $200 million in toxic swap deals with Bank of America, and to restore the public’s trust in the school district by advising his client to do what is right and just for our city’s school children,” Lewis said.