Council approves $12M for Iraq War protesters — including $5.7M for attorneys
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org June 6, 2012 11:50AM
Updated: January 25, 2013 10:16PM
Chicago taxpayers will spend more than $12 million to compensate up to 900 Iraq War protesters arrested or detained after a 2003 demonstration that shut down Lake Shore Drive.
The City Council approved a pair of settlements Wednesday that set aside nearly $5.7 million of the overall tab for attorneys who represented the plaintiffs. Individual plaintiffs will get between $500 and $17,500 each.
When the city’s own legal fees of roughly $3.8 million are factored in, the total pricetag is expected to approach $16 million.
Joey Mogul, an attorney who represented the biggest group of plaintiffs, made no apologies for her portion of the fees — $4.8 million — after the marathon legal battle.
“The city chose to defend the indefensible for nine years and they paid millions of dollars to an outside law firm to do so. So under the law, we are entitled to our legal fees,” Mogul said this week.
“We wish the city would have acknowledged its mistake years earlier. It would have saved taxpayers millions of dollars. But when you violate peoples’ constitutional rights, it’s costly. And when you try to escape liability, it becomes even costlier.”
Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton said Mayor Rahm Emanuel inherited the case from former Mayor Richard M. Daley and had little choice but to settle after a sharply-worded federal appeals court ruling last year.
“The city’s ability to successfully defend these cases was severely undermined,” Patton told aldermen earlier this week. He noted that the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals was “extremely critical of the way these arrests were handled and the way these detentions were handled.”
The corporation counsel insisted once again that the city “learned a number of” lessons from the 2003 fiasco that it used to handle both Occupy Chicago and NATO summit protesters. Only 91 arrests were made during the NATO summit, triggering fewer than a dozen complaints to the Independent Police Review Authority.
“Folks in both of those events were arrested — only after they received extensive notice … and an opportunity to leave and avoid arrest if they chose to do so,” Patton said.
“We’re also much better prepared to handle arrests — to process people promptly, to hold them in circumstances where there wasn’t overcrowding [and] lengthy delays like the 54-hour delays we had back in 2003.”
Plaintiffs attorneys accused the Chicago Police Department of changing the rules in the middle of the game.
They allowed an anti-war demonstration without a permit to shut down the Drive during the height of the evening rush, then trapped demonstrators at Chicago and Michigan and arrested or detained nearly 900 of them without giving them a notice to disperse or an opportunity to leave.
“The city can’t allow you to march, then after the fact claim you have no permit and use that as justification to falsely arrest and detain people,” Mogul said.
“They entrapped peaceful demonstrators without giving them any orders to disperse and opportunities to leave. They should have provided people with an opportunity to leave or allowed the demonstration to continue.”
The two settlements approved Wednesday will cover individual awards ranging from: $500 each for roughly 200 people detained on the street for up to three hours but not arrested; $8,750 for 220 people arrested, taken to a police station and held for 10 to 30 hours, but not charged; $15,000 for 300 people arrested, charged, held for up to 54 hours and forced to attend multiple court appearances.
Another 16 individual plaintiffs will receive $17,500. They include, what Patton has called “compelling” cases of people who were shopping on Michigan Avenue when they got swept up in the demonstration.
Ald. Jim Balcer (11th), the Vietnam War hero who serves as the City Council’s champion on veterans issues, cast the only vote against the settlements.
Balcer pointed to the fact that he has participated in numerous rallies to support the troops and press the case for soldiers missing in action and held as prisoners of war.
“We obeyed the law. No one was arrested,” Balcer said.
“I disagree with this [settlement]. I know there were people who were wrongly arrested and charged. I think it’s wrong. However, speaking for myself and only myself, I obey the law along with my friends who held rallies during the war. That’s why I am not voting for this.”
Finance Committee Chairman Edward M. Burke (14th) said Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton made a clear and convincing case for settling the Iraq War cases.
“We’ve learned a great deal over the passage of time. The proof is in the pudding. It was amply demonstrated in the NATO summit activities,” which minimized arrests and gave demonstrators ample opportunity to disperse.