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Chicago spent $30.1 million last year alone on civil rights defense lawyers

Thursday, Sep 12, 2019

* Plenty of folks have criticized the city for settling too many police misconduct cases. But, as the Tribune’s Dan Hinkel shows us, defending these cases ain’t cheap, either

When a man cleared of murder after 21 years in prison sued the Chicago police officers who put him away, the city’s Law Department brought on private lawyers and fought back.

Three firms billed the city for more than 21,200 hours of legal work over six years, and at least 17 outside attorneys represented the city or cops in federal court. […]

Those expenses represent a rarely discussed but significant cost of police misconduct in Chicago. Over the last 15 years, fees and costs for private attorneys in civil rights cases totaled $213 million, the Tribune found by analyzing city data obtained through an open records request. Last year alone, the city spent $30.1 million — that’s more than twice what it spent on the agency that investigates police misconduct. […]

Since 2004, the city has spent $757 million on settlements, losses at trial and other payouts in police cases. That includes civil rights cases, as well as car crash claims, racial discrimination complaints and sexual harassment suits, among other types of legal matters.

By the way, jurors awarded the above-mentioned man cleared of murder $17 million. Defending against his suit cost the city an additional $5.8 million.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Downstate - Thursday, Sep 12, 19 @ 11:04 am:

    By my calculation, that’s $5 million per month for the last 15 years in settlement and legal expenses. Incredible.

  2. - Steve - Thursday, Sep 12, 19 @ 11:09 am:

    Why have a Corporation Counsel office? Anyway, that’s an awful lot of money Alderman Ed Burke has been handing out to certain law firms.

  3. - Just Another Anon - Thursday, Sep 12, 19 @ 11:14 am:

    The City is in a no-win situation.

    Can’t staff the law department up to what they would need to because of the hiring freeze and the prohibitive cost of adding an extra 30 or so attorneys plus supervisors. Can’t hire outside counsel because it is too expensive. Can’t outright settle every case because of inflated demands and because its not in the taxpayers best interest. Can’t take every case to trial because its not in the taxpayers best interest and juries are unreliable in Cook County.

    Any way you slice it, the Plaintiff’s bar gets paid for cases they shouldn’t, which emboldens them to inflate demands on cases which could otherwise be reasonably settled, which leads to more trial costs.

    Best part is the union contracts which make discipline for the underlying employees virtually impossible. If the employment is at will and a termination occurs, congrats, you now have an employment lawsuit to defend in addition to the civil rights case.

    The City lacks the tools to solve the problem. When they take action to solve the problem, the problems multiply. When they settle the cases, they get heat. When they try the cases, they get heat. Even when they win, they get heat for outside counsel spending. May as well get tossed into a pond to see if you were a witch. If you float you get burned at the stake. If you don’t you drowned, but congrats on not being a witch.

  4. - Anon E Moose - Thursday, Sep 12, 19 @ 11:18 am:

    I agree with everything that Just Another Anon wrote.

  5. - Downstate - Thursday, Sep 12, 19 @ 11:21 am:

    “Best part is the union contracts which make discipline for the underlying employees virtually impossible.”

    I thought one of the selling points for a union is that their workers are better trained and more qualified? /s/

  6. - Lester Holt’s Mustache - Thursday, Sep 12, 19 @ 11:23 am:

    This is the main problem I have with police unions and the blue lives matter crowd on the right. Anyone who criticizes police actions in any way is met with a wall of sound from knee-jerk reactionaries who just want to wave their black, blue and white flags. They refuse to acknowledge the fact that this is a not-insignificant part of the “waste” in their complaints about “waste, fraud and abuse”

  7. - @misterjayem - Thursday, Sep 12, 19 @ 11:31 am:

    Bad apples are expensive.

    – MrJM

  8. - 17% Solution - Thursday, Sep 12, 19 @ 11:35 am:

    21 years in prison for a police mistake? What was everyone else doing? The prosecution, the judge, even the jury?

  9. - JS Mill - Thursday, Sep 12, 19 @ 11:44 am:

    =“Best part is the union contracts which make discipline for the underlying employees virtually impossible.”

    I thought one of the selling points for a union is that their workers are better trained and more qualified? /s/+

    Yeah, this is a union problem, they created. Right. (Banned word).

  10. - Froganon - Thursday, Sep 12, 19 @ 11:54 am:

    Research based training to reduce police violence against the public is a start. Funding for community based violence prevention is a proven tactic to reduce violence and need for police response. Officers with consistent records of overreacting/violence against residents must be removed from the CPD. Police officers should have to help for the settlements from their pay. That may encourage them to “police” the rogue elements.

  11. - revvedup - Thursday, Sep 12, 19 @ 12:02 pm:

    Perhaps the City’s lawyers are playing too many procedural games (motions to dismiss sure to fail, endless discovery, depositions, etc. driving up costs when unwarranted by the immediately-available evidence, etc.) when settling obviously indefendable suits) would still be cheaper.

    Also, to Froganon’s post, officers are indemnified by their employing municipality to ensure they’re not constantly forced to spend their own money defending against suits (else nobody would be dumb enough to take the job only to lose everything
    to somebody claiming to be harmed; still costs big bucks for lawyers even when you’re innocent).

  12. - Invisible hand - Thursday, Sep 12, 19 @ 12:24 pm:

    A solution that’s been proposed a number of times to curb bad cops without punishing the good ones is to make each cop take out his or her own insurance policy for defense in cases of abuse of their authority, criminal misdeeds, and other such events and practices. Their premiums rise or fall depending on their behavior, track record, and adherence to professional standards. This makes it economically unviable for a bad cop to remain on the force, and makes all the rest live up to their oaths of office.

  13. - correction - Thursday, Sep 12, 19 @ 12:26 pm:

    ==- @misterjayem - Thursday, Sep 12, 19 @ 11:31 am:

    Bad apples are expensive. ==

    Is that you, Mr. Speaker? I imagine he says this to himself when slicing the daily lunch.

  14. - lakeside - Thursday, Sep 12, 19 @ 12:35 pm:

    I am a lover of unions, but when a represented group’s ‘bad apples’ cost a city 3/4 of a billion dollars over 15 years, you need that union to have skin in the game.

    Make Chicago’s FOP pay out 25% of settlement costs, and see if those bad apples don’t just… absolutely get it together overnight.

  15. - Glenn - Thursday, Sep 12, 19 @ 12:42 pm:

    I agree,Invisible hand.

    Make the police responsible for their illegalities.

    Maybe individual police officers could get personal liability insurance through their union.

    That way the union and fellow police officers would be able to assert their influence on the bad actors in the name of reducing insurance costs.

    Police officers could complain to those who cause their insurance deductions to increase.

  16. - pc - Thursday, Sep 12, 19 @ 12:57 pm:

    imagine the reaction if we learned the Chicago Fire Department had set fires causing a half-billion in damages over the past decade

  17. - DIstant watcher - Thursday, Sep 12, 19 @ 1:24 pm:

    Of course the FOP will howl, that’s their job, to look out for their members. But CPD needs an overhaul, and one of Lori’s strengths is that she seems very determined to do everything she can to get that overhaul.

  18. - ktkat - Thursday, Sep 12, 19 @ 1:39 pm:

    In the $17 million case, the city has chosen to appeal the verdict so those legal fees are still accumulating… How much do they think they are going to save by appealing and racking up even more legal fees?

  19. - Invisible foot - Thursday, Sep 12, 19 @ 3:37 pm:

    1. What insurance company offers police insurance for police officers?
    2. How much are the premiums?

    Answer #1 - there are none - no private company would underwrite.
    Answer #2 - See answer #1.

  20. - Da Big Bad Wolf - Thursday, Sep 12, 19 @ 5:56 pm:

    ==What insurance company offers police insurance for police officers?==
    I don’t know if there is such a thing as “police insurance “ but individuals can get an umbrella plan and for a million dollar policy is only a couple of hundred a year.
    The FOP can get insurance for its members and probably already has some type of indemnity insurance in place.

  21. - Three Dimensional Checkers - Thursday, Sep 12, 19 @ 9:33 pm:

    Good reporting, but if you read the whole story, there is one detail Hinkel really should have omitted.

  22. - Dr Harry J Maue - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 2:27 pm:

    If the City of Chicago wants to really get serious about controlling these legal fees well my company founded the legal auditing industry in 1985 and were located in Saint Louis and our services can greatly benefit the city in reviewing fees already incurred and assisting in fees and expenses on an on going basis as we provide our services to many states and cities and US government agencies and were well prepared to start helping our neighbors in Chicago..respectfully, Dr. Harry J. Maue

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