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Cook County to pay $645,000 to cover fees in ACLU case

Updated: March 20, 2013 12:53PM

Cook County will pay $645,000 in taxpayer money to the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which prevailed in a lawsuit against the county’s top prosecutor over the highly contentious ban on people recording police officers on the job.

On Wednesday, the Cook County board approved the payment to cover the ACLU’s legal fees and other costs.

The payment stems from a 2010 lawsuit the ACLU filed against Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez. The civil liberties group was seeking to halt the 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 the case 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 officers 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 U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman in December 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 said in a news release, “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.”

Earlier this month, Judge Johnson Coleman ordered the county to pay the ACLU of Illinois’ 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.

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