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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Appeals court dismisses order to reveal cops' names

Appeals court dismisses order to reveal cops' names by David Heinzmann - November 10, 2009

A two-year legal battle to open up disciplinary records of Chicago police officers suffered a setback today when a panel of federal judges decided to keep the files secret -- denying an attempt by a journalist and 28 aldermen to open thousands of documents to public scrutiny. The fight over the files has unfolded amid a broader public debate about police oversight in the city, with some critics suggesting the files would reveal evidence of police department leaders ignoring rogue cops for years. But the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals decision came down to a simpler legal matter. The files had been exchanged as discovery evidence between parties in a federal misconduct lawsuit against eight police officers. But the files had never been formally placed in the case file. The three-judge panel ruled that legal precedents favoring public disclosure of court records do not apply to records not in the case file. A South Side woman, Diane Bond, had sued the police department in 2004, alleging repeated abuse by officers. Her lawyer, University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman, had demanded the disciplinary files in order to show a pattern of police misconduct condoned by department officials. Futterman's analysis of the records showed that fewer than 1 percent of misconduct allegations were sustained by the department's internal investigations, a far lower rate than the national average. Just before the city settled Bond's lawsuit in 2007, independent journalist and community activist Jamie Kalven filed a motion to intervene and lift a protective order that had sealed the police records. U.S. District Court Judge Joan H. Lefkow decided to lift the protective order, but the city appealed the decision. While the appeal was pending, a group of 28 aldermen signed onto the case with Kalven, saying they too wanted access to the files. At the time, aldermen were dealing with police-oversight reforms in the wake of several police scandals, including allegations ofd misconduct by officers in the department's Special Operations Section.

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