A judge has reportedly ordered a group of Multiple Listing Service of Northern Illinois shareholders — who last year were absent from a vote to consider a consolidation with a rival Chicago-area MLS — to participate in another vote that will be scheduled within 30 days.

While brokers in several markets have pushed MLSs to pursue consolidations or regional data-sharing agreements with other MLSs, the MLSNI-MAP effort has so far not been a shining example of success.

Five local Realtor associations and boards, representing five of 10 MLSNI shareholders, filed a lawsuit last year charging that a vote approving the consolidation of MLSNI with broker-owned MAP MLS was invalid because there was not a quorum of shareholders. At that vote, the five shareholders attending the meeting voted 3-1 in favor of the consolidation plan, with one shareholder abstaining. The consolidation is favored by a majority of MLSNI board members, and the MAP MLS board has already voted to approve the deal.

Jim Nelson Jr., MLSNI president and a broker at RE/MAX Suburban, said the judge agreed that there was not a quorum at that meeting and called for a new vote. The judge also ordered the dissenting shareholders to attend that meeting, Nelson said.

Herbert Steinmetz Jr., a lawyer who is representing the five Realtor groups opposing the consolidation plan, did not respond to Inman News requests for comment. Bud Fogel, director and CEO for MAP MLS, which has about 14,000 members, could not be reached for comment. The five shareholders represent the McHenry County Association of Realtors, Realtor Association of Fox Valley, the Aurora Tri-County Association of Realtors, the Oak Park Board of Realtors and the West Towns Board of Realtors.

Representatives for the five associations did not immediately respond to Inman News requests for comment today.

Association representatives have charged that the consolidation lacks benefit for MLSNI members, as that MLS already is dominant in the Chicago area and most MAP members are already members of MLSNI. Also, they have questioned whether there are conflicts of interest among brokers who are members of both MAP and MLSNI, and whether brokers will realize financial gain from the consolidation deal.

The shareholders opposing the consolidation had set up a Web site last year called SaveOurMLS.info to promote their cause, and that site was countered by a statement by other MLSNI shareholders called “Truth and Lies behind ‘Save Our MLS.’

The lawsuit has been costly, and those costs will be passed down to MLSNI subscribers, said Stephen W. Baird, an MLSNI director and fifth-generation president and CEO for Baird & Warner, the largest independent real estate brokerage company in Illinois.

“There has been a huge cost — not only from the lawsuit but from the whole discussion,” Baird said. “Ultimately it is going to be born by the agents — the people using the system. It is never a good thing in an organization when members sue each other. The organization loses in that particular case.”

The process to consider the consolidation plan has so far taken about three years, he said, adding that he hopes there will not be an appeal to the judge’s decision. “I’m hopeful that we can mend our fences and move forward and all work together to make this thing work and have a great MLS. This thing has been dragged through the mud for a long time and I hope that (opponents) will finally realize that this is going to go forward.”

He also said, “We’re very pleased with the decision. We’re delighted that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Baird said most of the documents for the consolidation plan have already been completed. If the vote is successful to approve the consolidation, he said he expects that the plan could be implemented within the year.

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Martin S. Agran ordered the parties in the shareholder lawsuit to return to court for a status hearing on June 6. The full transcripts of the judge’s ruling were not publicly available today.

Nelson said Agran found that the dissenting shareholders violated their voting agreement in failing to attend a shareholder vote on the consolidation plan in November 2006, and a meeting will likely be scheduled within the next 25 days.

“We anticipate the merger being approved at that time,” he said. MLSNI directors representing about 90 percent of the agents and voting power “have indicated their desire to see this (consolidation) go through. I think the judge really ruled correctly on all counts,” Nelson also said.

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