Judge calls timeout on stalling tactic
February 25, 2007
BY CAROL MARIN Sun-Times Columnist
It is a really bad idea to try and fool a federal judge. It is an especially stupid idea if that guy in the black robes is highly respected U.S. District Court Judge Marvin Aspen.
But here we are, just two days before the Chicago mayoral election, and it looks like Mayor Daley's Law Department has pulled a stunt from which it and he will not easily recover.
Oh, sure, Daley will still get re-elected to a sixth term on Tuesday. But he could soon be forced to testify about the always-unpleasant topic of torture by Chicago police officers, cases that date from 1973 to 1991, which happened under his watch as Cook County state's attorney and mayor.
This week we learned secret negotiations have been conducted by Aspen between the city's lawyers and attorneys for three former Death Row inmates who in 2002 were pardoned and set free.
It seems the city agreed in November to pay $14.8 million to Madison Hobley, LeRoy Orange and Stanley Howard, but only if they didn't criticize the mayor, depose him or make him a defendant in future cases. In other words, the city's terms for settlement were "take the money and shut up."
But perhaps the Feb. 27 election was still too close for comfort. The city's lawyers in consultation with unnamed officials "at the highest levels" suddenly screeched to a halt, threw themselves into reverse, and burned rubber to back away from the settlement they had orally agreed to in front of the judge.
Now the mayor and Mara Georges, head of the city Law Department, are claiming there was no deal.
Imagine Aspen's surprise.
In open court, the judge was heard to say the city's conduct was ''unprecedented.'' Translated, I take that to mean: "Mayor Daley and Ms. Georges, brace yourself. The gloves are coming off.''
Let's be clear.
Were black suspects tortured at the hands of former Chicago police commander Jon Burge and his all-white band of detectives?
How do we know?
The city said so.
The very same Law Department that has spent at least $10 million of our tax money defending these cops, and is still defending them to this very day, is the same Law Department that confirmed the torture.
Back in 1992 as it was preparing to suddenly fire Burge right after spending a million bucks defending him, the city's lawyer detailed seven cases of suspects being tortured, ''spitting blood,'' ''pants pulled down . . . electroshocks,'' and threats to a prisoner to ''blow his black head off.''
The city's attorney back then called it an ''astounding pattern'' of conduct by Burge and his boys.
The only thing that remains astounding today is that the city is still fighting what it long ago admitted was true. And should have settled. And apologized for.
So now, picture this.
The mayor's lawyers have until March 22 to explain themselves to yet another federal judge, James Holderman, who is the chief U.S. district judge in Chicago.
And it is entirely possible that Aspen could be called as a witness. Meanwhile, a third federal judge, U.S. Magistrate Judge Geraldine Soat Brown, has now ordered Daley to answer questions under oath about police torture.
Friday, around the same time that Brown was entering her strongly worded ruling, the city got even more bad news over at federal court.
A jury awarded almost $10 million because of another horrible cop case. One in which the city knew the cop was guilty, knew the parties suing had been wronged, but couldn't do the right thing and admit it.
Instead, the mayor's Law Department fought the claims of ATF agent Michael Casali and his wife, former ATF agent Diane Klipfel. At trial, the couple successfully proved that Chicago Police retaliated against them after they reported the criminal conduct of Chicago Police officer Joseph Miedzianowski, who threatened and stalked Klipfel. She had to move her kids out of state for awhile.
Miedzianowski, who is now serving a life sentence for gun running, drug dealing and protecting murderers, was one of the most corrupt cops the Police Department has ever produced and yet, jurors concluded, his superiors chose to cover up his conduct rather than really investigate it.
City taxpayers will pay the freight on that $10 million settlement, too -- an amount that could have been far less years ago when Klipfel and Casali were pleading to close this awful chapter of their life and take much less cash.
But the city law department said no.
Notice a pattern here?
I bet those federal judges down on Dearborn Street do.
Daley could soon be forced to testify about the unpleasant topic of torture by Chicago police officers.