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Sunday, July 13, 2008

The winners in city scandals? The lawyers

The winners in city scandals? The lawyers

City of Chicago has paid criminal attorneys more than $625,000 since Hired Truck - July 10, 2008 


As City Hall's scandals mount, so do the legal bills for taxpayers.

Since January 2004, Mayor Daley's administration has spent more than $625,000 on outside lawyers to represent city employees in federal criminal investigations, records show. That's when the Chicago Sun-Times exposed widespread waste and corruption in the city's Hired Truck Program, sparking a federal investigation that expanded into a rigged hiring system that testimony -- and guilty verdicts -- showed had rewarded patronage workers with government jobs and raises. "The city pays for legal representation for individuals who are confirmed witnesses [rather than targets or subjects] in a criminal investigation because of their job duties or position as city employees," says Jennifer Hoyle, a spokesman for the city Law Department. "Therefore, the costs . . . refer to providing legal representation for the city or city employees who are witnesses in an ongoing federal investigation[s].''

City Hall has hired nine law firms to work on those federal investigations. Most of the legal fees have gone to Mayer Brown, a law firm that has employed three Daley family members over the years. The city has paid Mayer Brown more than $225,000. Another law firm, Michael W. Coffield & Associates, has been paid more than $170,000. These legal bills -- part of the cost of corruption -- are just a fraction of the $49.5 million in legal fees the city has paid to private law firms since 2004. Most of those fees were related to police corruption cases, including lawsuits filed by four men who said they were tortured by officers working under former police Cmdr. Jon Burge. The city settled those cases earlier this year, agreeing to pay the men a total of $19.8 million. The city paid $7.1 million to private lawyers to fight those cases, records show.

Here are a few of the nearly 300 cases in which the city hired private attorneys:

•Harston-Schwendener, the contractor originally hired to build Millennium Park, which sued the city after the company was fired before the signature downtown park was completed. The city paid the Winston & Strawn law firm nearly $4.5 million to fight the lawsuit, which the city recently settled by paying the company $11 million.

•Shakman, the decades-old anti-patronage case that the city has repeatedly violated by using politics to fill some of City Hall's most basic jobs, such as truck drivers and laborers. The mayor's former patronage director, Robert Sorich, and three others were convicted last summer of fixing the city's hiring system to steer such jobs to patronage workers. Since 2004, the city has paid two law firms -- Mayer Brown and Laner, Muchin, Dombrow -- more than $500,000 to battle the federal Shakman decree. The city recently agreed to pay $12 million to 1,443 people who lost jobs or promotions because of rigged hiring.

•State Rep. Edward Acevedo, a Chicago Police officer, who sued a fellow cop, Dennis Canterbury, over a scuffle that broke out when an allegedly drunken Acevedo tried to retrieve an aide's towed car from an auto pound seven years ago. The city paid the Stellato & Schwartz law firm $132,363 to fight Acevedo, whose suit was thrown out by a judge, reinstated by the appeals court, then rejected by a federal jury last fall.

•Mayor Daley's cousin Mark Gyrion. He sued the city after he was fired from his high-ranking job in the city Water Management Department because he never told City Hall that his mother-in-law was providing three trucks to the water agency through the Hired Truck Program. The city paid the Dykema Gossett law firm $58,976 to fight the lawsuit, which was thrown out by a federal judge two years ago.

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