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Council panel OKs $12 million to end Iraq War protest suit

Anti-War Protesters march down Monroe State Streets toward Lake Shore Drive Chicago Illinois. They blocked Lake Shore Drive bringing traffic

Anti-War Protesters march down Monroe and State Streets toward Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois. They blocked Lake Shore Drive bringing traffic to a dead stop, March 20, 2003. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 7, 2012 8:31AM

A City Council committee agreed Monday to spend more than $12 million to close the book on claims from as many as 900 Iraq War protesters arrested or detained after a 2003 demonstration that shut down Lake Shore Drive.

The $6.2 million settlement had been previously disclosed. What was not known is that the cost of paying attorneys for the plaintiffs will add $4.8 million to the tab paid by Chicago taxpayers.

Another $1.13 million settlement with 16 plaintiffs with, what Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton described as the “most compelling” cases includes $855,000 in attorneys’ fees.

When the city’s own legal fees of roughly $3.8 million are factored in, the total pricetag is expected to approach $16 million.

“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,” said Joey Mogul, an attorney for the largest group of plaintiffs, whose fees are pegged at $4.8 million.

“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.”

Patton told the Finance Committee the city had little choice but to settle.

“The city’s ability to successfully defend these cases was severely undermined last year when the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals … issued a decision which was … extremely critical of the way these arrests were handled and the way these detentions were handled,” Patton said.

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 have 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 Monday will cover individual awards ranging from: $500 apiece 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 people who were shopping on Michigan Avenue when they got swept up in the demonstration, Patton said.

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