City Hall's Right To Fight

Won't be lawsuit pushovers anymore

By Steve Rhodes
|  Thursday, Sep 10, 2009  |  Updated 1:40 PM CDT
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Chicago's Political Players

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No more Mr. Nice city.

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You can still fight City Hall, but it's about to become harder to settle with them.

City officials are embarking on a new strategy of fighting lawsuits it deems to hold no merit instead of settling to make them go away.

For the most part, this is a good idea - and not just for Chicago, but for institutions in general.

Spending more money at the outset to battle legal claims will save money in the long run when cities and organizations quit being easy marks by handing out chump change.

The city's law department already changed strategy and started to fight "slip-and-fall" cases about 10 years ago; spokesman Jenny Hoyle told the Sun-Times that a decline in cases resulted.

This time around the impetus is coming from the police department. And that's where things get tricky. A better cost-containment strategy would be to crack down on brutality and abuse inside the department.

Hoyle says the new strategy is targetting "small-value" lawsuits in which plaintiffs are seeking $10,000 or less; Mick Dumke points out at Clout City that "the real money is going toward cases that the city [already] spends a lot fighting."

A recent analysis by Dumke found that the city spent $256 million in settlements and judgements in the last four years, as well as an additiional $52 million in outside legal fees.

One attorney with several lawsuits against the city tells WBEZ that the city's new strategy won't work.

"The cases aren't gonna fall off," Tom Peters told the station. "The city, by taking this superficially appealing position is really going to lose money."

The best thing the city can do to lessen its legal fees is to reform its police department. But the second-best thing it can do is not be so quick to settle with taxpayer money if it truly hasn't done wrong.

Steve Rhodes is the proprietor of The Beachwood Reporter, a Chicago-centric news and culture review. 

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