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City Hall’s tab for private lawyers nearly $22 million last year

Thaddeus Jimenez (left) his mother Victoriafter he was cleared 2009 murder he'd been accused 13.  |  Brian Jackson~Chicago

Thaddeus Jimenez (left) and his mother Victoria after he was cleared in 2009 of a murder he'd been accused of at 13. | Brian Jackson~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: May 9, 2013 6:02AM

City Hall paid private attorneys $21.9 million last year — about $420,000 a week — to handle disputes ranging from police brutality lawsuits to an alderman’s fight over a hot dog stand’s name.

More than half of those legal bills went toward defending the Chicago Police Department, city records show.

The city’s tab for outside lawyers has risen sharply since 1998, when it came to a then-record $7.2 million.

A law firm headed by a one-time colleague of Mayor Richard M. Daley’s corporation counsel Mara Georges — Andrew M. Hale & Associates — had the biggest tab last year, billing Chicago taxpayers more than $3.5 million for defending the city and the police department in 14 cases involving wrongful convictions and police brutality.

In one of those cases, City Hall paid $972,879 last year to have Hale and another law firm, Dykema Gossett, fight a federal lawsuit filed by Thaddeus Jimenez, who was 13 years old when the police arrested him 20 years ago for a murder it was later shown he did not commit. After 16 years in prison, Jimenez won his freedom in 2009 and sued the city. Last year, a federal jury ordered taxpayers to pay $25 million to Jimenez, believed to be the youngest person in U.S. history to be wrongfully convicted and later exonerated.

Among the other legal bills that Chicago taxpayers had to pick up last year:

$240,723 for Shefsky & Froelich, the law firm City Hall hired to settle a class-action lawsuit filed by people who claimed their rights to free speech were violated on March 20, 2003, when they were arrested or detained by Chicago Police during a protest over the war in Iraq. Shefsky took over the case from Freeborn & Peters, a law firm that previously had charged City Hall $3.5 million to fight the protesters in federal court. The Emanuel administration settled the case last year, shortly after President Barack Obama withdrew American soldiers from Iraq. The city agreed to pay $6.2 million to 585 protesters and $4.8 million to the attorneys for the protesters. The total cost to taxpayers: $14.7 million.

$1.5 million to Shefsky & Froelich and another attorney, Naomi Avendano, for battling a lawsuit filed by African-American job applicants over the 1995 firefighters test. A federal judge has ordered the city to settle with about 6,000 applicants who wanted to be firefighters — which is expected to cost the city $78.4 million — and hire 111 of them.

$271,871 for two law firms — Scharf Banks Marmor of Chicago and McInnis Erickson Law of Ann Arbor, Mich. — to defend a lawsuit filed by the parents of Christina Eilman, a California college student with bipolar disorder. Eilman was arrested at Midway Airport in May 2006, held overnight in a police lockup, then released in a high-crime neighborhood where she was abducted and sexually assaulted. She suffered permanent injuries when she fell or was pushed from a seventh-floor window in a Chicago Housing Authority high-rise project. The city recently agreed to pay her family $22.5 million.

$43,011 for two law firms — Schuyler Roche & Crisham, and K&L Gates — to fight Felony Franks after the Near West Side hot dog stand’s application for a sign permit was blocked by Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd), who didn’t like the name of the business, which employed ex-cons. The city settled the case for $50,000, while spending $84,491 to represent Fioretti.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the city’s corporation counsel Steve Patton have pledged to lower the city’s legal bills by increasing the city’s in-house legal staff.

When Emanuel took office in 2011, he found that the Daley administration had budgeted $29.5 million for outside lawyers that year, according to spokesman Roderick Drew. The Emanuel administration cut that by $3 million.

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