Representing People Charged with Ordinance Violations or Misdemeanor Offenses in the City of Chicago

NLG Presentation

Updated 2012, 2015 and June 2020

By: Emmanuel Andre, Janine Hoft and Melinda Power

Introduction

The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by police officers touched off unprecedented global protests against police brutality, anti-Blackness and white supremacy. His murder was immediately preceded by the murders of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Aumaud Arbery. The spark recently ignited by these murders follows the smoldering of the inability to enact fundamental change as previously demanded in response to the outrage expressed after the police murders of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; Laquan McDonald and Rekia Boyd in Chicago and so many other victims of racist and brutal murders at the hands of police and white supremacists. Thousands came out into the streets of Chicago to take part in this momentous moment to say “enough is enough.” Chicago Police reacted by arresting an estimated 2000 people, mainly charging arrestees with ordinance violations and misdemeanors. We come together today because we have all volunteered to support those arrested and together defend them to our utmost collective ability against these charges.

The National Lawyers Guild, through its Mass Defense Committee, has represented activists arrested at demonstrations promoting issues of justice for many years. From supporting solidarity with Central America, healthcare and dignity for people living with AIDS, LGBTQ, disabled activists, anti-NATO and Occupy, the NLG has organized lawyers to provide legal defense and representation. The NLG is proud to come forward in this moment to be a part of and support those opposing anti-Blackness and white supremacy. This training focuses on preparing attorneys with little criminal defense experience or those desiring a refresher to feel more comfortable representing clients who are charged with ordinance violations or misdemeanors

This is an unprecedented time both because of the historic scope and reach of the Black Lives Matter protests as well as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has caused court procedures and proceedings to be held remotely and for procedures to be subject to change quickly and unpredictably. Accordingly, these procedures outlined are subject to change as COVID-19 recommendations and policies change.

Representing Political Clients

Those arrested during these recent demonstrations and uprisings are entitled to vigorous, creative and supportive representation, recognizing the particular political context and import of their arrests and prosecutions.  Political clients need the same information as to their available options as any other criminal defendants but some may view their involvement in the so-called criminal justice system in a different way than an individual arrested in another context. Some may not want to raise technical defenses and others may have qualms about expressing “guilt.” Others may want to creatively and collectively challenge the issues in the form of unique motions or trial defenses. It is important for attorneys to assist the political client in navigating the system while identifying and respecting an individual client’s unique concerns and goals.

Assignment of Lawyers to Clients

The Mass Defense Committee of the NLG has compiled a list of all arrestees desiring representation and will try to appropriately  match them with available attorneys. The Mass Defense Committee will try toassign attorneys to a particular court date, time and location and provide attorneys in advance of the court date with the names of potential clients appearing, any available contact information and an identification of the particular charges faced by the client. First Steps

  • Attorneys should contact clients in advance to introduce themselves, verify information, review the actual charging document or bond slip and discuss a client’s understanding of the process and their expectations.  
  • We also strongly encourage attorneys to discuss, in person when possible, remotely online, or by telephone, the case with the prospective client.

Get the client’s version of events and get names and contact information of witnesses. t would be helpful to have an idea in advance of the court date whether a client wants to enter into plea negotiations in an effort t to quickly resolve their case, is willing to pay a fine or do community service as part of a plea agreement, or whether the client will only accept a dismissal or wants to fight the charge and proceed to trial.

In taking these initial steps and meeting with the client, it is important to consider and reflect on the racial, social, and economic biases that may be at play in the case. Furthermore, the racial and political nature of these cases make it important for attorneys to also assess their own personal biases and potentially adjust their own actions accordingly to best represent their clients. Recognition of those differences and biases is an important first step and continued communication with the client and other attorneys in this collective endeavor is imperative.

Representation of Clients Charged with Offenses

Although many minor charges are dismissed on the first court date, the attorney should be aware of the options available in defending a client. Prosecutors in other cities have announced in advance that they will not pursue the prosecution of lesser charges but the Chicago authorities have been silent thus far.  Representation of a client charged with an offense can be a unique challenge much like unraveling a mystery. An evaluation of each case includes reviewing the specifics of the charge and identifying the police version of events compared with a client’s version. You probably won’t have access to the charging document or the arrest reports until you get to court. 

Here are some questions that you will want to address. Can the prosecutor meet its burden to prove each and every element of the crime charged? Are there technical defenses to the charge, including did the police identify the wrong offense or fail to adequately prepare the charging documents? Is there a factual defense to the charge or can facts be presented that deny the stated offense? Will a bench or jury trial be an appropriate and desirable method to raise issues or present defenses?  Are there witnesses, videos, documents (i.e. medical reports) which corroborate what your client says happened?  Is there BWC (body worn camera) from the police? Unmanned aerial devices or drones? Social media monitoring?

Most of the charges from the recent uprising are being prosecuted in the misdemeanor courthouses rather than the municipal courthouse on Superior Street. Charges may include disorderly conduct as a misdemeanor or a city ordinance violation, curfew violations, criminal trespass or reckless conduct. An arrestee has a right to a jury trial only if the charge carries the potential for jail time and if not a jury trial must be purchased for $250 by paying the Clerk of the Court.  The case will then be transferred to Room 303 at 555 W. Harrison. A trial will not take place on an initial court appearance as generally judges provide each side with one continuance and therefore the defense attorney will have an opportunity to obtain police reports and other documents, visuals, evidence or witnesses necessary for a trial. Knowledge about the judge who will hear the case is indispensable information. Information can be obtained from other attorneys who have experience with the judge and the public defenders in the judge’s courtroom. Prior to the initial court appearance, attorneys will want to review the statutory elements of the charge and may want to prepare certain documents as discussed below.  The Mass Defense Committee has tried to gather information from arrestees as to what they are charged with as well their contact information. 

Potential Charges Generally Anticipated in a Demonstration Context

People arrested in Chicago for what the police consider minor offenses are usually either given a City of Chicago ordinance violation citation or charged with a misdemeanor. Common applicable ordinance violations include parading without a permit, disorderly conduct and pedestrian traffic offenses. There is also an ordinance violation for resisting arrest.[1] In the instant moment, generally folks are charged with disorderly conduct, criminal trespass or curfew violations that are being prosecuted in the state misdemeanor courts. In misdemeanor or Branch courts, there is a state’s attorney who prosecutes misdemeanor violations of state law and a corporation counsel responsible for prosecuting city ordinance violations. 

I.        Representing Client Charged with an Ordinance Violation

With regard to the most recent arrests, ordinance violations are indicated through the code numbers indicated in the charge box on the bond slip arrestees received upon being released from custody. The bond slip also indicates the date, time and location of the first required court appearance. However, due to Covid-19 some court buildings remain closed and initial court dates should be confirmed and verified through the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County’s web site. (Cookcountyclerkofcourt.org) Attorneys may register to access a portal on the website that provides information.

 An ordinance violation may be issued by the Chicago Police Department for a violation of the City of Chicago Municipal Code in the form of  a “ticket” that looks somewhat like a traffic ticket if they are  charged with an ordinance violation.

The ticket will provide the following information:

Step 1 is in the middle section of the ticket.  On the left hand side of the ticket are pre-printed numbers facing vertically which represent a client’s ticket or case number.  When an attorney files an appearance, this number is put on the right side of the appearance form.

– On the left side of Step 1 are the charge and the Municipal Code violation number.  The Municipal Code number identifies the chapter and subsection of the violation and defines the elements of the offense.  The Code can be viewed by downloading the “Municipal Code of Chicago”. A copy of the Chicago Municipal Code is available on line at http://www.amlegal.com/library/il/chicago.shtml and through the city clerk at www.chicityclerk.com. (See, e.g., Exhibit 1, copy of text of ordinance violation: 8-4-010 Disorderly Conduct).  

Step 2 section lists the alleged action done by the client which formed the basis for the arrest.

The bottom of the ticket states the date and time of the court appearance.

Court Location and Filing Attorney Appearance

Municipal Administrative Hearings are held at 400 W. Superior just west and north of the Chicago Loop. [Note, meter parking is available on Chicago Avenue and nearby cross streets.] Sometimes in mass arrest situations, an attorney can contact the city prosecutor in advance in an attempt to resolve cases prior to the first court appearance. Unlike in misdemeanor court, the ticket or charging document is prima facie evidence of the offense and a complainant police officer is not required to be present in order for the city to prosecute the case. Arrestees may also negotiate the resolution of a case through an attorney and avoid a personal appearance.  

When arriving at 400 W. Superior, everyone, including attorneys, must go through a metal detector.  The courtrooms are located to the left and the particular courtroom number will be identified on the client’s ticket.  In the hallway outside the courtrooms sits a clerk at a desk who can provide attorney appearance forms that must be completed and returned to the clerk.   A copy of the appearance should then be brought into the courtroom.

Courtroom Proceedings

In the courtroom there will be an office right off the courtroom where the Corporation Counsels are located.  Check in with them first. Sometimes they come in and make an announcement and collect a copy of everyone’s ticket and attorneys provide their appearance forms with a client’s ticket to the Corporation Counsel. Ask theCorporation Counsel ifthey plan to proceed with the client’s case.  If they don’t, the case will be called and they will let the administrative law judge know and a printed order will be generated indicating the case is dismissed.

If the City plans to proceed, they will make an offer to resolve the case.  Generally, the offer is a monetary fine up to around $100.00.  Alternatively, a client can do community service through the City but there is an additional administrative cost.  The defense attorney may know in advance whether the client wishes to resolve the case by a plea and if so is able to pay a fine or do community service through the City. If the Corporation Counsel wishes to proceed with the case, ask what is being offered in exchange for a plea and then you can communicatethe offer to the client and a decision made about whether the offer is acceptable to the client.  Unlike Cook County courts that allow community service to be completed at any not for profit organization, the community service must be done through the City.

If the client wishes to contest the charge, they have a right to a trial or may request a continuance. The trial will take place in the hearing room and the burden is “a preponderance of the evidence.”  The Hearing Officers are practicing attorneys and not full time judges.  They are appointed by the City and generally are unfamiliar about protest type cases.  The City can proceed by the sworn allegations on the ticket and need not present a live witness.  The defense can present live witnesses, visuals and documentary evidence to overcome the preponderance of the evidence standard.

Spectators can be in the courtroom.  At the conclusion of the trial, the Hearing Officer will make a finding and generate a printed order. If the finding is guilty, the hearing officer generally will assess a fine and court costs.   An attorney can try to negotiate with the corporation counsel about the penalty, either by negotiating a reduction of the fine or requesting community service. If the client is found guilty, and is ordered to pay a fine or fee, it can be paid by credit card at a machine located further north of the metal detectors at the entrance of the building. An attorney may be able to negotiate a time period within which the fine and costs must be paid.

An attorney may also try to negotiate a resolution of the case before court by contacting the Corporation Counsel’s office at 400 W. Superior if the client indicates in advance they are willing to enter into a plea. A continuance may be requested, without the client’s appearance, if the client is unable to attend court. An arrangement may be worked out in advance and possibly obviate the need for the client to appear.  The attorney would still go to court, file an appearance and tell the Corporation Counsel that an agreement was reached in advance.  A printed order will be generated as discussed above identifying the agreement that was reached to pay a fine and/or complete community service.

II.      Representing Client Charged with Misdemeanor Offenses

          A misdemeanor offense is a violation of state law for which the maximum penalty upon conviction is no longer than 364 daysin jail. Misdemeanors are classified according to the maximum penalty with a Class C misdemeanor carrying a maximum 30 days in jail and $1500 fine, Class B misdemeanor carrying a maximum 6 months in jailand $1500 fine and Class A misdemeanor carrying a maximum of 364 days in jailand a $2500 fine.  Fines are generally not imposed in misdemeanor cases. Periods of deferred prosecution, supervision or probation  may be available dispositions of misdemeanor cases except for certain identified offenses, including a charge of resisting arrest. If supervision is an available disposition then the charge is technically dismissed after a period of time and may be expunged from your arrest history. 

          Ordinance violations prosecuted in state court generally follow similar procedures although the potential penalties are less and the prosecutor is a corporation counsel and not a state’s attorney,   

Preparing for Initial Court Appearance

The bond slip given to a client when released after their arrest contains helpful information. The following information may be found on the bond slip (see attached Exhibit 2):

On the upper right hand, the bond will have either the letter D or I.  A D bond indicates that money, usually $100.00, has been paid to be released from custody.  An I bond means that the arrestee is released on his/her own recognizance and no money has been paid for her/his release

In the middle of the bond slip is a section entitled Court Appearance.  It will identify the address of the court, the branch number of the court and the date and time for the court hearing. 

Right above that is a box which contains the charge.  It will refer to the State of Illinois criminal code and begin with the chapter number 720 followed by numbers which refer to the specific charge. A review of the annotated statute identifying the criminal charge and related case law yields a wealth of information.

Note, when a person is on bond, they are not permitted to leave the northern district of Illinois.  If a client is planning on travelling somewhere, they may inform you of that.  There is a procedure by which a person can file a motion to advance the court date and get a written order “enlarging” the bond or permitting a person to leave the jurisdiction of the court.  It is time consuming and of questionable necessity.  If the client wants to do that, we suggest you let them know they can go to room 1006 of the Daley Center, prepare and file a motion to advance their case for a date convenient to them, and go to their assigned court that day and get an order expanding the bond. 

Initial Court Appearance and Court Location Information

An attorney who shows their bar card and Cook County identification card at the misdemeanor courthouse will not need to go through the metal detector or be searched.  The attorney will want to find out if the client is present, and then file an appearance form with the clerk in the courtroom. (See attached Exhibit 3).  Appearance forms are found in the area of the clerk’s desk or may be located by asking a public defender or sheriff in the courtroom if the clerk is not around. An attorney may also prepare his or her own version of the appearance form in advance. The court case number may be found on a call sheet which is either in front of the clerk’s area, posted outside the courtroom or can be obtained by asking the sheriffs or the public defenders for the call sheet.

 There are advantages to arriving 10-15 minutes before the scheduled court call.  An attorney who arrives prior to the time of the court call may request to see the court file before the case is called.  The file should contain the Complaint, or formal charge and the attorney is entitled to a copy, but at the very least it is important to carefully review the complaint to determine the specific conduct the charge alleges your client engaged in.  You need to ask the clerk for a copy of the charge.  If there is more than the original of the charge in the file, the clerk will generally give you a copy of the charge.  However, if there is only the original, you have to ask if either the clerk will make you a copy or let you take the original and make a copy in the clerk’s office.  Also, the arrest report should be in the file which will include a narrative of the police version of what happened and the basis of the charge, which you will also want to review. Often the PD has the arrest report, so you can check with the PD in the courtroom to see if he/she has your client’s paperwork.   An attorney must file an appearance and tell the clerk that the case is ready in order to have it called.

Another advantage to arriving early is that as soon as you tell the clerk that you are ready to have your case called, it will be put in the pile of cases to be called.  Private attorneys’ cases are generally called first, so the sooner you tell the clerk you are ready, the sooner your case should be called. 

On the Arrest Report in the upper right hand corner are the following #s which are useful to obtain subpoenaed material or to get the Office of Emergency Management Communication[2] recordings and the body worn camera videos (BWC).

They are:

The CB(Central Booking) # and the IR (Individual Record) # may be used to obtain the criminal history of your client generally for purposes of expunging a client’s record, the RD (Records Division)# and Event # may be used to get reports, O.E.M.C. recordings and subpoenaed material.

We suggest you ask the state’s attorney if they plan to proceed with the case or argue why the charge should be dismissed.  They may know whether they plan to proceed or they may say they will see if an officer checks in or what the officer says about your client. Generally, if the police officer is not present in court and hasn’t notified the state’s attorney with a good reason for his/her absence, the court will dismiss the case. If the case is dismissed or “stricken on leave to reinstate” (SOL-ed) an attorney should file a written trial demand. (See attached Exhibit 4) When the case is first called, the judge generally looks to the state first and if the state wishes to proceed they will ask the judge to pass the case in order to “pre-try” the case with defense counsel. The state should then tell you what the offer is and you can negotiate and argue with them for a resolution more beneficial to your client, if your client is interested in resolving the case by way of a plea on the first court appearance.  

Possible Offers from State’s Attorney to Resolve Charge

Deferred Prosecution which is the best alternative to an outright dismissal or a victory at trial.  It’s given for first time offenders, and the client doesn’t have to admit or stipulate to any facts.  Community service at a not-for-profit may be required.

Community service at any not-for-profit in exchange for dismissal.  Upon completion of the community service, the client will need to get a letter from the not-for-profit verifying that he/she completed the required number of hours.  The client will need to bring this letter to court. The case will not be dismissed until the letter is presented to the court. Judges have allowed clients to present the letters without their attorney’s presence and have waived the client’s presence if the attorney presents the letter.

Supervision which lasts from one to twelve months.  During that time, the client is not supposed to break the law.  If the client successfully completes the supervision, two years from the termination of the supervision, the arrest can be expunged.  Supervision does not count as a conviction under Illinois state law but a supervision finding will have immigration consequences for an undocumented client. Supervision may be used in subsequent sentencing determinations within the two years and pursuant to federal sentencing guidelines.

required. 

          –Conditional Discharge for one to twelve months.  Unlike Supervision, upon completion of the conditional discharge your client may never expunge their arrest and a conviction is identified on their record. Client does not need to report to any agency during the term of the Conditional Discharge.

-Probation or Jail Time generally is not an appropriate or acceptable plea agreement for a misdemeanor charge.

An arrestee who is charged with most misdemeanor offenses as a result of political expression or activity generally can get supervision  or deferred prosecution unless they have a significant criminal background.

Creative Motion Practice

Prior to trial, a criminal defendant may bring a motion to dismiss. Depending upon the facts of the case, such a motion may be appropriate to avoid a trial. In the Occupy cases, a motion to dismiss the park district ordinance violations based on the First Amendment was successful in avoiding trials. See, e.g. 725 ILCS 5/114-1.

Trial of Misdemeanors

If a client wishes to proceed to trial, it is important to file a discovery motion. (See attached Exhibit 5). [3]  The client can request a bench trial, which is a trial with a judge at the branch court where the case is first held.  The trial is generally continued for another date so that both sides can get needed discovery. Alternatively, a jury trial can be requested.  If a jury trial is requested, the case will be sent to room 304 at 555 W. Harrison.  A court date within a week or more will be given.  The client will need to understand that it may be several months before the trial is actually held due to obtaining discovery and court back log and may require multiple court appearances before a trial actually commences. Additional plea negotiations may take place during these interim appearances. An attorney should be prepared to subpoena records and evidence for a trial. A subpoena can be prepared for additional documents that the police maintain but do not place in the court file. (See Exhibit 6, copy of subpoena for documents in a misdemeanor case). A subpoena, in addition to uncovering additional information, can send a message to the prosecutor that the defense of the case will leave no stone unturned and will require the expenditure of the state’s resources. It is essential to serve the subpoena as soon as possible but in any casewithin 30 days of the event prompting the client’s arrest to assure that all available documents and evidence will be preserved. Additionally, a court order to preserve and turn over any 911 calls or O.E.M.C. can be entered on the first court date and then served on O.E.M.C, within 30 daysof the date of arrest to preserve any audio communications regarding the case. (O.E.M.C. order, Exhibit 7).

Trials may be consolidated with other related cases and more experienced criminal defense attorneys are available for consultation about, preparation for and conducting a trial. NLG attorneys will work together with you if you have questions and to help you defend clients and create trial strategies.

The State must prove each and every element of the offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt to sustain a conviction.[4] Carefully consider whether the State can technically prevail on each element and creatively argue that the burden has not been met on each element. Any element including language such as “unreasonable” or “without authorization” should be analyzed in the context of the facts of each case. Many times police arrest individuals although they are acting reasonably and within their rights.

Affirmative Defenses

Consider any potential affirmative defenses to the charge. 720 ILCS 5/3-2. For example, political defendants have had success raising the defense of necessity in Illinois. Illinois law specifically provides for the defense of necessity. 720 ILCS 5/7-13. The statute sets forth:

Conduct which would otherwise be an offense is justifiable by reason of necessity if the accused was without blame in occasioning or developing the situation and reasonably believed such conduct was necessary to avoid a public or private injury greater than the injury which might reasonably result from his own conduct.  

          The defense of necessity is not always favorably accepted by judges but can have an important impact on juries if allowed. NLG attorneys were first educated on this defense by activist clients. Defendants have been able to introduce testimony and evidence as to why they took the actions they did and why it was reasonable and necessary for them to do so. The advantage of this defense is you could argue that you should be able to present evidence as a part of your defense, for example, on the facts and history of racism and anti-Blackness, police brutality, as well as the efficacy of protests in changing public opinion and the law as part of your defense.  This defense requires a significant commitment from the attorney, the client, potential witnesses and overall resources.  But, the use of the defense can make an impact on you, your client, court personnel and the public.

Good luck, thanks for your commitment and willingness to support your clients!


[1] Additionally, but not applicable to these arrests, certain offenses committed on federal property, such as blocking the doors of a federally owned building or trespassing on federal property may be similarly charged by Federal Protective Service Officers (FPS) as violating federal codes. The FPS can process these federal charges or relinquish jurisdiction and request arrest by the CPD. Common applicable misdemeanors include state disorderly conduct, criminal trespass, resisting or obstructing, mob action and reckless conduct.

[2] O.E.M.C. recordings include any 911 calls or police messages pertaining to the arrest and the incident leading to the arrest.

[3] We also suggest that you prepare a subpoena to the City of Chicago police department asking for arrest reports and supplemental reports.  If your client claims injuries, also subpoena officer battery reports (if applicable), TRRs, and color arrest photos of the client.  Subpoena forms can be obtained online at the Clerk of the Circuit Court’s website. The Office of Emergency Management and Communications can also be subpoenaed. https://oemcsubpoena-chicagops.govqa.us/WEBAPP/_rs/(S(dz2vk3lisrzk02fb2malqznh))/RequestOpen.aspx?rqst=13&sSessionID=67167244194I[HUHGBGLONUYSWNNTWPZ[PBMLIPI

[4] A corporation counsel must prove each and every element of an ordinance violation by a preponderance of the evidence. 

Exhibit 1 City Disorderly Ordinance

Exhibit 2 Bond Slip

Exhibit 3 Appearance

Exhibit 4 Trial Demand

Exhibit 5 Discovery Motion

Exhibit 6 Subpoena

Exhibit 7 OEMC Order

FOIA Documents Maintained by Departments

Chicago Freedom School files lawsuit against City of Chicago, Chicago Police Officers and City Officials after retaliatory raid, “cease & desist” order, and threats of arrest.

On May 30, 2020, the Chicago Freedom School, located in the South Loop, opened its space to provide support (including take-out pizza and store bought snacks) and rides home to Black and Brown young people protesting the racist police murders in downtown Chicago.

At 11 p.m., several Chicago Police Officers and members of the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) showed up at CFS’ door and aggressively demanded to search the premises asserting that CFS was “housing and feeding protestors.”

“Many youth who had just experienced police violence while protesting said violence, came to CFS to use the bathroom, drink water, and get connected to a ride home – since the Mayor had just instituted a curfew, raised the bridges, and shut down the CTA.  We chose to open our doors for immediate safety because we are dedicated to young people’s well-being,” says Wellness Director Jacqulyn Hamilton. “The City & Police colluding to search CFS that night, without a warrant, and threaten to arrest staff present, including myself, for daring to serve pizza – was in character for how this City and police treat Black & Brown young people – with disdain.” 

After searching the premises, BACP members issued CFS a “Cease and Desist” order falsely claiming the CFS was “preparing and serving food” on its premises without a Retail Food Establishment License. The order directed the CPD to arrest CFS employees if they continue to provide youth participants commercially prepared food and fine CFS $500-1,000 each day it continues to provide food, thereby effectively shutting down this small, not-for-profit organization.

“We appreciate the love & support we have received from our community, in light of our mistreatment at the hands of the City of Chicago and the Chicago Police Department. We are bringing this lawsuit to ensure that none of our programs, young people, or staff are at continued risk, and to affirm our support for the righteous protests against police violence against Black people and for the defunding of police,” says incoming Executive Director, Tony Alvarado-Rivera.

Chicago Freedom School Executive Director, Tony Alvarado-Rivera addressing the media.

The lawsuit seeks to stop the City from enforcing this order. The suit also seeks vindication and damages as the search and order are attempts by City and CPD officials to retaliate against the CFS for exercising its 1st Amendment rights to support young people and to support the protests against racist police violence. Read the filed complaint here.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys are Joey Mogul of the People’s Law Office and Sheila Bedi of the Community Justice and Civil Rights Clinic at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.

People’s Law Office summer 2020 intern Avneet Chawla, legal worker Kris Clutter and attorney Joey Mogul. Photo by the wonderful Debbie Southorn

“We are outraged that the CPD and BACP illegally raided the CFS’s premises and issued an illegal, unconstitutional, and frankly bogus, cease and desist order to the CFS” said Joey Mogul and Sheila Bedi. “The Chicago Freedom School provided critical support to young Black and Brown people on May 30th. They should be revered for their work, not threatened with arrest and being shut down.”

The Chicago Freedom School is a non-profit organization, inspired by the Mississippi Freedom Schools of the Civil Rights era, which provides a space where young people and adult allies can study the work of past movements, deepen their understanding of current social problems, build new coalitions, and develop strategies for change.  Learn more at ChicagoFreedomSchool.org

Cook County Public Defender, Community Groups, and Defense Attorneys File Lawsuit Against City of Chicago for Denying People in Police Custody Access to Counsel and Phones

The Cook County Public Defender on Monday joined a broad coalition of community groups, activists, and attorneys in filing a lawsuit against the City of Chicago for denying people in police custody access to counsel and phones.

The lawsuit further states that the City’s history of unlawful refusals became more widespread following the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent citywide protests over police brutality and racism. Follow the link to view the filed lawsuit.

“Since 1963, the law has required that every person arrested is entitled to communicate with their loved ones and counsel,” said Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli. “For seven decades, Chicago police have not been held accountable for this systemic violation of human rights. If the police just followed the law, we would no longer be the false confession capital of the world and communities would have greater trust for and cooperation with the Chicago Police Department.” PD QUOTE

Under Illinois law, people who are arrested have the right to communicate and consult with an attorney and the right to make phone calls within an hour of arriving at their first place of custody.  However, the Chicago Police Department has a long history of depriving arrestees access to a phone to reach out to counsel or loved ones.

On Friday, May 29, and throughout that following weeks, more than 2,600 demonstrators were arrested by CPD and many were denied access to counsel. The lawsuit details how CPD systemically impeded attorneys from finding and talking to their clients.

In filing the suit, the Public Defender joins a coalition that includes Black Lives Matter Chicago, Stop Chicago, #LetUsBreathe Collective, UMedics, and GoodKids MadCity. Each organization has members who were detained and denied their right to make a phone call and contact their attorneys. The National Lawyers Guild Chicago, also a plaintiff in the suit, has been denied access to clients in police stations, including during the recent protests. 

”On Sunday May 31st, I was slammed to the ground and beaten with batons by CPD while trying to protect my brother and his fiancée, #LetUsBreathe co-founders Damon Williams and Jennifer Pagán, and our comrade Christopher Brown,” said Kristiana Colon of the #LetUsBreathe Collective. “Horrified by the excessive force and unjust targeting of my family and fellow organizers, I did my best to intervene and was injured in the process. When I arrived at 51st & Wentworth to try and locate them, the supervising officer told me they weren’t there. I asked again if he was telling the truth and he said he had no reason to lie to me. After several hours of fear and confusion, it turned out they were there after all, but were denied access to counsel for several more hours. Our organization supports mutual aid efforts across the South & West sides, and had to redirect our time and resources to a rapid response rally to get our people out of jail. This is one of the many ways superfluous police encounters are a theft of the energy that should be spent on keeping people safe.”

“I sat in the hospital handcuffed to a wheelchair for nearly 8 hours before I saw a lawyer,” said activist and artist Damon Williams, who was arrested following a protest on May 31, 2020. “I hadn’t slept. I thought I was alone. I was afraid I would be locked up with no end in sight. I wasn’t the only person in custody crying out for information and asking to talk to my lawyer. I have nightmares about being in custody and terrified that I’d be locked up without any explanation or contact with the outside world.”

The City and the Chicago Police Department has cynically used  the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to deny people their rights while under arrest.  After Gov. Pritzker issued his stay-at-home order on March 20, the Public Defender was forced to curtail in-person attorney-client visits, and informed CPD that all attorney-client conversations would take place by phone until further notice. CPD refused to coordinate mandatory confidential telephone visits for clients in custody unless and until the Public Defender agreed that CPD would not be liable if they overheard any attorney-client conversations. The Public Defender alternatively asked for virtual visits with clients, similar to the system used by the Cook County State’s Attorney to talk to its witnesses. That request was denied.  

Between April 16, 2020 and June 5, 2020, the Public Defender’s Office surveyed 1,468 people in bond court. Nearly a quarter (23%) stated that CPD never offered them access to a phone at any point while they were detained at the police station. Those who were allowed phone access were forced to wait an average of 4.2 hours.

“Denying phone access is a key CPD scare tactic to impede access to counsel,” said Alexa Van Brunt of the MacArthur Justice Center, which represents the plaintiffs. “The result is that detainees are cut off entirely, without legal guidance or protection from police coercion.”

The recent practice is just an exacerbation of the decades-long practice to deny arrestees access to attorneys and phone calls. It is a practice that was called out by the current Mayor when she was part of the Police Accountability Task Force that formed following the shooting of Laquan McDonald.

“We had documented for decades how the denial of phone access leads to false arrests, false charges and wrongful convictions, and costs the City money,” explained First Defense Legal Aid Executive Director Eliza Solowiej, who served on the Task Force with the current Mayor, and was part of the team that found that requiring access to phones with in a hour of arrest (as required by state law) would be one of the foundational reforms to ending police misconduct.

Plaintiffs have filed a writ of mandamus in the Circuit Court of Cook County Chancery Division to force the City to comply with Illinois law governing access to counsel and to phones.

Plaintiffs are represented by Brendan Shiller of Shiller Preyar Jarard & Samuels, Craig Futterman of the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School, Alexa Van Brunt of the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, Sheila A. Bedi of the Community Justice and Civil Rights Clinic at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, Joey L. Mogul of the People’s Law Office, and Daniel Massoglia of First Defense Legal Aid

ANNIVERSARY OF REPARATIONS LEGISLATION

Today, May 6, is the 5th anniversary of the Reparations legislation. This unprecedented legislation providing reparations to Chicago Police Torture (Burge) survivors passed Chicago’s City Council on May 6, 2015.  The legislation provides concrete, redress for the two decades long pattern of racially motivated police torture committed by and under the command of notorious former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge’s at Area 2 and 3 Police Headquarters from 1972 to 1991, including:

·a formal apology for the torture

·the creation of a history lesson about the Burge torture cases taught in Chicago Public schools to 8th and 10th graders;

·the creation of the Chicago Torture Justice Center in Englewood, Chicago that provides specialized counseling and social services to the Burge torture survivors, family members and all impacted by police violence;

·the creation of a $5.5 million Reparations Fund for Burge Torture Victims that provides financial compensation to 57 of the Burge torture survivors who are still with us;

·free enrollment in Chicago City Colleges for the Burge torture survivors, immediate family members and their grandchildren recognizing the legacies of harm caused by the torture and decades of incarceration suffered by the Burge torture survivors and families; and

·the creation of a public memorial to the Burge torture survivors.

The legislation was the fruit of decades of litigation, independent journalism and organizing, which included a concerted grassroots campaign led by Chicago Torture Justice Memorials (CTJM), Project NIA, We Charge Genocide and Amnesty International, USA, during the midst of #BlackLivesMatter movement of 2014 and 2015. We are grateful to Black People Against Police Torture for their work in sounding the initial demand reparations.

We are proud of our work in representing survivors of police torture at the hands of Burge and other Chicago officers in civil rights litigation and post-conviction proceedings. We continue that work to this day as People’s Law Office continues to fight for the freedom of police torture survivors who remain incarcerated and are now at serious risk due to COVID-19.

We are also grateful to have had the opportunity to work, build relationships and struggle alongside so many police torture survivors, their family members and other organizers.

This video, by Tom Callahan, is a small encapsulation of these decades of work. Click the link here.

People’s Law Office During CoronaVirus/Covid 19 Pandemic

PEOPLE’S LAW OFFICE REMAINS COMMITTED TO CLIENTS AND COMMUNITIES

Due to the CoronaVirus/Covid 19 pandemic, all of the staff at the People’s Law Office are working from our homes. We are operational and continue our zealous representation of our clients during this difficult time. There may, however, be a delay in our receiving USPS mail and deliveries and urge all to contact us by telephone or electronic mail if possible to assure the most prompt response.

We currently anticipate that this will continue to be the new normal through April 30th consistent with federal and state court closures as well as state and municipal orders.

During this unprecedented time, we wish health and safety to all and look forward to the day when we can again interact with each other in close proximity.

The Stanley Wrice Jury Returns

By: Flint Taylor

This article was initially published in InJustice Watch on March 11, 2020.

Just before the City of Chicago, apparently with Mayor Lightfoot’s blessing, took the Stanley Wrice case to trial last month, I wrote that it was still not too late for the city to offer a fair settlement to compensate Wrice for his brutal torture and coerced confession. The mayor stood, I wrote,  “at a legal and political crossroads; the question is whether she will stand with the torturers or torture victims. As lawyers like to say, ‘The jury is still out.’”

Ignoring history, the overwhelming evidence of systemic police torture, her own prior admissions and this warning, ship Lightfoot steamed ahead to trial with the officers represented by a team of five lawyers, four of whom were Andrew Hale and his coterie of private lawyers collecting handsome sums of additional “pinstripe patronage” at the taxpayer’s expense.

This crew, captained by Lightfoot’s handpicked Deputy Corporation Counsel Caryn Jacobs, set out to win the case at all costs, both financial and political, by slandering all six of the witnesses who averred that they had been tortured by Jon Burge henchmen John Byrne and Peter Dignan.

Preening around the courtroom they unabashedly attacked these torture survivors as a pack of liars, and took every opportunity to remind the jury that Wrice had confessed to participating in a brutal rape of a white woman — a charge that Wrice once again steadfastly denied during his testimony.

On the other hand, Dignan and Byrne chose not to sit through the trial, save for their appearance on the witness stand to take the Fifth Amendment when asked about their torture of Wrice and numerous other victims. Instead, their surrogate, Fraternal Order of Police Local 7 vice president Martin Preib, a close personal and political ally of Burge, Dignan, and Byrne, sat as their watchdog throughout the trial. Well before trial Preib had written a letter to Lightfoot on union stationary,  urging her  not to settle the case, claiming that the whole torture scandal was a hoax.

At the conclusion of the eight-day trial, the nine-person jury retired to deliberate late on March 2. Composed of seven women and two men, four of whom were of color, they selected a twenty-three-year old white woman as their foreperson. After approximately five hours of deliberation the following day,  the jury announced its verdict against the officers and for Wrice  on his coerced confession and conspiracy claims, and for the defense on the fabricated evidence claim. The damages award was most telling — $4 million in compensatory damages, and $600,000 apiece against Byrne and Dignan individually. The punitive damages award — extremely high in a police brutality case — spoke volumes about what the jury thought of Byrne and Dignan’s systemic conduct — a condemnation that was made despite the fact that Burge’s name could not be spoken before the jury.

So what does this verdict mean to the taxpayers? Instead of the two to four million that would have been a reasonable eve of trial settlement, (and one that would have been accepted if offered) the city now owes the four million dollars, plus the fees of Wrice attorney Jennifer Bonjean and her team. The City is held responsible for  those compensatory damages and fees, and – though state law forbids  it– has often ended up paying the punitive damages assessed against the officers And, of course, the City also owes the additional fees that Hale and company racked up trying the case.

So, instead of the $2-4 million an eve of trial settlement would have cost, the city now stands to owe more than $8 million in addition to the $2 million already paid in pinstripe patronage. And if the City decides to continue to fight this case the attorneys’ fees meter will continue to run.

Before the trial began a second set of taxpayer financed defense lawyers won a motion separating the case against the city, which rests on whether the torture was part of a pattern and practice, to be decided later. That case appears a slam dunk for Wrice and Bonjean because all they have to show is that the torture of Wrice by Byrne and Dignan was part of a policy and practice of torture that was conducted under the command of Burge — a practice that is now an uncontestable reality that City policymakers, most particularly Lightfoot, Rahm Emanuel, interim Superintendent Beck and the Chicago City Council have admitted, and a raft of federal and state courts have unequivocally affirmed. Lawyers (including the author) will be lining up to question these unquestionably material policymaking witnesses.

So Lightfoot is now not only confronted with a financial dilemma – – -whether to stop the unjustifiable bleeding of taxpayer money – – – but also whether she will now at last intervene to stop her lawyers from chasing the unconscionable agenda of the Fraternal Order of Police and own up to what she preached about Chicago police torture when she was a candidate for office.

The jury has spoken. Will Lightfoot?

People’s Law Office Remembers Rafael Cancel Miranda

Puerto Rican National Hero and internationally respected freedom fighter Rafael Cancel Miranda has joined his revolutionary ancestors on March 3d. In an audacious act of militancy, Rafael along with Lolita Lebrón, Andrés Figueroa Cordero and Irvin Flores, attacked the U.S. Congress in March of 1954, spraying bullets down into the House of Representatives, to bring to the world’s attention the efforts of the U.S. government to cover up the colonial subjugation of the Puerto Rican people.

Along with Oscar Collazo, who attacked the Blair House in 1950, the then temporary home of President Truman, the four became among the longest held political prisoners in U.S. history. An international campaign, led by the people of Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans in the diaspora, obtained their unconditional release from President Carter in 1979. The five had refused to seek parole or to accept any conditions on their release. They insisted that they were not criminals and the U.S. had no right to treat them as such.

The People’s Law Office, with Michael Deutsch taking the lead, had the honor to also play an important role in the campaign for the release of the five Nationalists, challenging their isolation in U.S. prisons, helping to get an earlier medical release for Andrés, and coordinating with lawyers from Puerto Rico to help support the campaign.

Over the last 40 years since his release, Rafael has been a critical voice in support of Puerto Rican independence, writing, speaking and marching to expose U.S. colonial control over Puerto Rico. He has written several books of prose and poetry, and has been an enduring symbol of the spirit and commitment for freedom of the Puerto Rican people. His love for his people was a inspiration to all who fight for liberation. His spirit lives on. Presente!

Lightfoot Administration Defending Burge Torture Henchmen

By: Flint Taylor

This article was initially published in InJustice Watch on Feb. 14, 2020.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration is poised to embark on defending two of the most notorious of Jon Burge’s midnight crew—former Chicago Police Sergeant John Byrne and Detective Peter Dignan—in a federal lawsuit brought on behalf of 65-year-old Stanley Wrice, whom they are alleged to have tortured and sent to prison for more than three decades.

Barring an unexpected last minute settlement, the trial will open next Thursday in U.S. District Court Judge Harry D. Leinenweber’s courtroom, where Managing Deputy Corporation Counsel Caryn Jacobs and Andrew Hale, a private lawyer who has been paid $1.5 million to date for his work on the case, will try to convince a jury that Byrne and Dignan did not torture Wrice in the bowels of Area 2 Chicago Police Headquarters in 1982.

For 30 years, since the civil rights case of torture victim Andrew Wilson went to trial, the city’s lawyers in past administrations had eschewed efforts to reasonably settle torture claims, making the refusal in Wrice’s case especially striking.

Wrice was picked up with several co-defendants on Sept. 9, 1982, for the alleged rape of a white woman the previous day and taken to Area 2, where they all claimed to have been serially tortured by Byrne and Dignan.

While handcuffed in a cell, Wrice alleges, he was repeatedly beaten with a long metal flashlight and a rubber nightstick—a trademark of the torturers—about the head, arms, legs, and genitals before he gave a confession. Medical evidence fully supports his injuries.

Three of the others picked up with him also say they were beaten with the same rubber nightstick, while one was also subjected to another of Byrne and Dignan’s favorite tactics—simulated suffocation with a plastic bag. Racist taunts allegedly accompanied this wanton brutality and one of the men was threatened with hanging, told — using a pejorative — that other black men had been hung, and threatened to kill him if they ever saw him in a white neighborhood.

Before Judge Leinenweber, Byrne and Dignan no doubt once again will invoke the Fifth Amendment when asked whether they tortured Wrice, his co-defendants, and other African American men known to have been similarly tortured. Their silence can be held against them, as should prior findings of several courts, including the Illinois Supreme Court, and a Cook County special prosecutor, that Byrne and Dignan’s midnight crew was the engine that drove the pattern and practice of police torture at Area 2.

When Wrice was finally exonerated in 2013 after 31 years behind bars, presiding Judge Richard Walsh specifically found that Byrne and Dignan committed perjury at Wrice’s criminal trial when they denied torturing him and his associates.

In the last five years Lori Lightfoot, re-inventing herself as a police reform advocate, has herself made some strong statements about the Burge torture scandal and the police code of silence.

In 2016, the Police Accountability Task Force, which Lightfoot chaired, unequivocally stated “from 1972 to 1991, CPD detective and commander Jon Burge and others he supervised tortured and abused at least 100 African-Americans on the South and West sides in attempts to coerce confessions.”

Wrice and his associates are important members of that group of torture survivors and Byrne and Dignan lead the group of “others he supervised.”

After Burge died in September 2018, then mayoral candidate Lightfoot stated that “with the passing of Jon Burge, we must reflect on the dark legacy that he embodied, so many lives shattered, and a horrible stain on the legitimacy of policing that resonates today.”

And less than a month ago she stood with her interim police superintendent, Charlie Beck, who invoked the “horrific actions” of Burge and his crew as a “tipping point” that “resulted in a huge loss of trust and confidence by the community in their police departments. … even more dramatically, there’s a human cost.”

Nonetheless, in what appears to be a decision that smacks of blatant hypocrisy, Lightfoot’s handpicked lawyers stand ready to defend the indefensible.

Hale, who was sanctioned by former Chief U.S. District Court Judge Ruben Castillo for  misconduct in a previous torture trial, stands to make another million on the Wrice case, in addition to the $1.5 million he has already received.

In all, over the years, the city has paid Hale more than $30 million for defending police misconduct cases, including those against his publicly professed heroes—Burge and his “right hand men,” Byrne and Dignan.

Unlike the torture survivors who have obtained $6 to $10 million dollar settlements from the city, Wrice has not received a certificate of innocence from the Cook County Courts. In the past 15 years, prior administrations have settled those cases where guilt or innocence is not thus resolved, in the $2 million to $4 million range.

That seems fair here. If the case is tried, upwards of $4 million will have been spent defending the indefensible, Wrice and several of his fellow torture survivors will have been revictimized, and Mayor Lightfoot’s strong statements condemning the dark history of police torture will be exposed as a sham, designed to curry political favor.

She stands at a legal and political crossroads; the question is whether she will stands with the torturers or torture victims. As lawyers like to say, “The jury is still out.”

Judge Denies the Mayor’s Office Bid to Withhold Emails on the Construction of the Cop Academy

On Friday, January 10, 2020, Cook County Judge Sophia Hall denied the Mayor’s Office bid to withhold over 400 documents concerning the creation of the Joint Public Safety Academy (“Cop Academy”), on Chicago’s West Side. The decision was issued in FOIA litigation brought by Debbie Southorn and Erin Glasco, the plaintiffs and organizers with #NoCopAcademy campaign, filed in the spring of 2018.

Southorn and Glasco previously filed several FOIA requests seeking information regarding Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plans to build the Cop Academy in West Garfield Park, estimated to cost over $95 million, which many believe is wholly unnecessary and will not decrease police violence that destroys the lives of scores of Black and Latinx people in Chicago. The original decision to create the Cop Academy was shrouded in secrecy without any public input as to whether it should be built and where it should be located.

In describing why they brought the lawsuit, Plaintiff Southorn said, “From the outset, Mayor Emanuel engaged in extensive planning and preparation to build this police academy without consulting the residents of the West side or Chicago.  We filed the lawsuit to get all the plans he refused to disclose so that the civilians of Chicago can have all the necessary information to evaluate whether their taxpayer funds should be used to build a police academy or whether their money is better spent on school, mental health and other social services desperately needed on Chicago’s West side.”

The Mayor’s Office argued the documents, including those pertaining to public messaging about the Cop Academy, were protected from disclosure by the “deliberative process privilege.” The People’s Law Office, representing Southorn, Glasco and the #NoCopAcdemy campaign, argued that the bulk of the documents were not protected from disclosure because the materials were generated after Mayor Emanuel made the ultimate decision to build the Cop Academy, and therefore, were not deliberative of his decision to build it. To date, the Mayor’s Office has refused to disclose when Mayor Emanuel decided to build the Cop Academy. 

After months of litigation and several oral arguments, Judge Sophia Hall ruled that Mayor Emanuel was the final decision maker regarding whether to create the Cop Academy and materials withheld by the Office of the Mayor after he made the decision to build the Academy must be disclosed.  Judge Hall’s ruling affirmed #NoCopAcademy’s argument that “the Mayor’s role was to make a decision as to whether to pursue the construction of the JPSTA [Cop Academy].  The Mayor’s Office announcement in the July 3, 2017 Press Release reflected the Mayor’s Office’s decision to build the JPSTA [cop academy].”

This is a win for #NoCopAcademy activists fighting for transparency around how decisions happen in the city of Chicago, and setting the historical record straight.  We look forward to reviewing the newly released documents and continuing to support those who organize for investment in youth and communities, not expanded investments in policing.   Read the decision: here.

Southorn, Glasco and the #NoCopAcademy campaign are represented by Joey Mogul, Ben Elson and Christian Snow of the People’s Law Office.

Illinois Appeals Court Affirms New Trial for Jackie Wilson

Yesterday, the Illinois Appellate Court rendered its decision in the Jackie Wilson police torture case. Affirming Cook County Circuit Judge William Hooks’ 119 page decision in which he found that Wilson was tortured into giving a confession, the Court remanded the case for a new trial. In a unanimous decision written by Justice Lavin, the Court recognized that the evidence told  a “morbid tale of improper law enforcement,” and condemned the Special Prosecutors’ who appealed Hooks’ ruling as displaying a “stunning level of denial about the well-established practice of torture in Area 2 and findings of torture by the special prosecutors’ own predecessors.” Wilson was and is represented by Flint Taylor, John Stainthorp and Christian Snow of the People’s Law Office and Elliot Slosar of the University of Chicago’s Exoneration Project.

Read the opinion Here.