Cook County

Cook County Employees Seek $14M in Inmate Harassment Lawsuit

“We are in the midst of a crisis that is affecting my ability to provide legal representation to my clients,” Campanelli wrote

A gavel on a table

Cook County public defenders and law clerks may receive $14 million as part of a lawsuit alleging that they were subjected to a hostile work environment that involved inmates masturbating in front of them.

Lawyers for the 534 public defenders and law clerks recently asked U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly to authorize the proposed settlement with Public Defender Amy Campanelli and Sheriff Tom Dart, who are named as defendants in the class-action suit. A similar lawsuit by sheriff’s workers is pending.

The public defenders and law clerks would receive a minimum of $9.5 million under the settlement, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. Most of the remaining money would go to their lawyers.

After the lawsuit was filed in 2017, Kennelly issued an injunction to stop the inmates from exposing themselves in front of female public defenders and law clerks.

The judge ruled that inmates who engage in such behavior be required to wear uniforms that restrict their access to their groins. He also ordered they be handcuffed behind their backs when meeting with their attorneys and during their transport between jail and court.

In response to the lawsuit, Dart and Campanelli denied that they ignored the issue and permitted a harsh work environment.

Nearly two years before the lawsuit, the newspaper reported in 2016 that inmates banded together calling themselves the Savage Life gang to attack guards and other officials. In addition to masturbating in front of the female employees, the group also threw feces and urine at guards. The story documented 219 incidents of inmates exposing themselves or masturbating in public between July 1, 2015, and Jan. 20, 2016.

Campanelli sent a letter to the sheriff in March 2017 noting the problem was getting worse. She wrote that inmates were masturbating in front of her female attorneys and law clerks every day.

“We are in the midst of a crisis that is affecting my ability to provide legal representation to my clients,” Campanelli wrote.

Nieves Bolanos, an attorney for the public defenders and clerks, told Kennelly in a court filing in February that lewd incidents have “dramatically declined” since the judge issued his injunction to require troublesome inmates to wear the special jumpsuits and be handcuffed.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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