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Cook County taxpayers will be billed $645,000 for ACLU’s eavesdropping suit

Updated: April 17, 2013 6:11AM

Cook County taxpayers will be on the hook for a $645,549 legal bill tied to a court fight between the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and the county’s top prosecutor over the highly contentious — and now essentially dead — ban on people recording police officers on the job.

The Cook County board will take up the matter on Wednesday.

In 2010, the ACLU of Illinois sued Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez to halt prosecution of ACLU staff members recording police officers working their beats in public places.

While the case was initially thrown out in federal court in Chicago, the ACLU of Illinois and state’s attorney fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In November, justices upheld a lower court ruling that said the Illinois’ eavesdropping law violates free speech rights when it comes to audio recording police officer working the beat on a city street, park or any other public space.

The case was effectively tossed back to the federal court in Chicago and in December U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman issued a permanent injunction, barring Alvarez from prosecuting cases where ACLU staffers are recording officers in a public space.

At the time, the ACLU of Illinois in a news release said, “While this ruling is limited to the work of the ACLU of Illinois in monitoring police activity, we believe that it will have a ripple effect throughout the entire state.”

One of the most high-profile cases was that of the late Christopher Drew, a Chicago artist who was charged with felony eavesdropping after he recorded his Dec. 2, 2009, arrest on State Street by Chicago Police. Drew was selling art patches for $1 at 103 N. State when he was arrested for not having a peddler’s license.

Police found a tape recorder in his poncho that recorded the conversation between Drew and the arresting officer on the street.

He was charged with a Class 1 felony, which carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.

Last year, a Cook County judge presiding on that case ruled the state’s eavesdropping law was unconstitutional.

In 2011, an Indiana woman was acquitted of eavesdropping in Cook County.

Tiawanda Moore said she had only recorded two Chicago Police Internal Affairs investigators while filing a sexual harassment complaint against another officer because the investigators were trying to get her to drop the complaint.

Meanwhile, earlier this month, Judge Johnson Coleman ordered the county to pay the ACLU of Illinois’s legal fees in the case. The county board is expected to take up the matter in the finance committee with final approval at the county board meeting on Wednesday.

A spokesman for the ACLU declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office also declined to comment.

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