Proceedings in an 18 years-long court battle between the city of Gary and a local auto parts business were further drawn out by a change of judge earlier this month.
The city first brought a nuisance complaint against Andy’s Truck and Equipment Co. in 2005, during the mayoral administration of Rudy Clay. It claimed that the company’s salvage yard on West 11th Avenue violated local ordinances and constituted a public nuisance. Andy Young, a resident of Wadsworth, Illinois, owns and operates the business, and uses the property to store vehicles and vehicle parts. The site was, and remains, zoned for limited manufacturing, not junkyard use, and Young did not receive a city-issued business license to operate at the West 11th Avenue site.
In July of 2007, Lake Superior Court Judge Calvin D. Hawkins issued an order instructing Young to cease operating the business and storing vehicle parts at the site. Litigation until 2009, after which point the case lay dormant for over a decade.
According to Gary city attorney Rodney Pol, the city legal department seemed to have lost track of the court order during the transition between Clay’s administration and that of his successor, Karen Freeman Wilson, who took office in 2012. Before learning about Hawkins’ order, Pol had already brought a series of complaints against Young and his businesses within Gary. He said that he learned about the order while conducting research on past litigation involving Young, at which point he reached out to the former city attorney who had previously handled the case.
In September of 2022, the city reignited the litigation when it filed a motion asking that the court enforce the 15-year-old order.
During an April 21 court hearing in the Andy’s Truck and Equipment Co. case, Judge Hawkins, a Gary resident, repeatedly intimated that he took Young’s failure to comply with the court order to be a personal affront.
“The thing that I’m concerned about, the city, which means me, my taxes have to pay to get his stuff to move and he gets, he goes scot-free and laughing over in Illinois,” Hawkins said of Young, according to a court transcript.
In another instance, Hawkins referred to Young as a “carpetbagger.” Young took offense to the judge’s remarks.
“I mean, I’ve been down in Gary for 20 some years,” Young told the Post-Tribune. “I care more about that town than I think most any elected official that I can think of.”
During the proceedings, Hawkins seemed to acknowledge that his comments might be cause for Young to seek to move the trial.
“I better calm down, Mr. Longer, or you’ll all be asking for a change of judge,” Hawkins told Young’s attorney, William Longer, “because I just can’t be just tranquil when I just see my city just torn apart.”
The parties agreed to a monthly series of meetings to discuss the progress on Young’s compliance with the order, the first of which would take place on May 23.
On May 17, a large group of city employees descended on the 11th Avenue site. Gary police took drone photos of vehicles while staff from the city’s law, code enforcement, fire and environmental affairs departments inspected the property for ordinance violations, finding “potentially dozens” according to a city news release. Gary Mayor Jerome Prince, who has led a series of publicized cleanup efforts while in office, framed the enforcement action as making good on a campaign promise.
“Even before I took office, I knew cleaning up our City would be critical to making Gary safer for our families and businesses,” he wrote in the news release. “We are committed to holding people responsible for their negative behavior in our City.”
Young, who has been a vocal critic of Prince’s administration, said he believes that the city’s renewed bid to enforce the court order is personally motivated.
“This is a coordinated attack,” he said. “This is all part of their whole game plan.”
On May 22, a day before Young’s next scheduled court date, Longer filed a motion asking for a change of judge. He claimed that Young’s company would not be able to receive a fair trial in Hawkins’ courtroom, citing the courtroom comments made by Hawkins during the May 21 hearing.
Hawkins granted the request for a change of judge, leading to the cancellation of the May 23 court date. The parties did not agree on a new judge before the May 29 deadline to do so. Pol told the Post-Tribune that he plans to file a motion to appoint a new judge “so we can move this as quickly as possible.”
“Really he could be held in contempt and thrown in jail right now,” Pol said of Young, “for not doing what the court ordered years ago,” He stressed, however that that is not the city’s goal. He and the city administration, he said, simply want to see the site cleaned up.
Young, for his part, said that he and his employees are in the process of complying with the order.
“We’ve been getting rid of all sorts of scrap metal. We’ve been just cleaning in general,” he said. “We don’t have a huge group but everybody’s tasked with cleaning the place up and they’re making it pretty good progress.”
The city of Gary has additional litigation pending against Young. On May 16, Gary Corporation Counsel Angela Lockett filed two separate nuisance complaints against Young and two other auto salvage businesses that he owns, 840 Broadway LLC and Surplus Management Systems, LLC. Both complaints concern the improper storage of vehicles and vehicle parts in violation of city zoning ordinances.