Chicago has paid private attorneys $213 million to handle police or misconduct cases over the past 15 years, in addition to the $757 million paid to resolve the cases through judgments or settlements, according to a published report.
The Chicago Tribune reported Thursday that the city turns to private attorneys — who earn far more than the city's own staff attorneys — far more than other major cities, including New York. And while some former top attorneys defend the practice as a way to bring in attorneys who have the expertise to handle the often complicated cases, the city found several examples where that expertise did not translate into court victories.
For example, the paper found that at least 11 times the city spent at least $2 million on lawyers and expenses only to spend at least $5 million to resolve each of those cases.
In one case, for example, private firms billed the city more than 21,200 hours over six years in a case involving a man who won a $17 million jury award for wrongful conviction after he was cleared of murder following 21 years in prison.
Some former top city attorneys defended the practice.
"On my watch, I'm confident we delivered good value for taxpayers," said Stephen Patton, who held the post from 2011 until early 2017.
But defense attorney Jon Loevy, who represented Jacques Rivera, who won the $17 million award, suggested that the attorneys are often brought on in cases for lengthy court battles in cases where the city should have recognized far earlier — and at far less cost — that it should have reached settlements.
The city's current top attorney, Mark Flessner, seemed to agree that the city has been too quick to bring in private attorneys instead of letting the city's staff of attorneys handle the cases, calling the spending on outside counsel "scandalous." Flessner vowed to rein in the costs by trying to hire more in-house attorneys.