The attorney for 15 individuals who say they were framed by a team of alleged rogue police officers on Chicago's South Side told a judge Wednesday that he has as many as 20 more cases waiting in the wings.
The revelation came in the courtroom of Chief Judge LeRoy Martin, as attorney Joshua Tepfer sought to have all 15 of the new petitions heard as part of a single consolidated case. Seven of the 15 stood with him in court as he argued for the cases to be combined.
When Assistant State's Attorney Linda Walls told the judge her office needed time to analyze each case and asked permission to respond in November, Tepfer hit the ceiling.
"Let me be very clear," Tepfer said. "These 15 petitions are not the end of this. It's just going to keep coming!"
"So I can look forward to seeing you for the rest of my career?" Judge Martin asked.
"Yes you can!" Tepfer replied.
The cases stem from arrests made by the tactical team headed by disgraced Sgt. Ronald Watts, which operated for more than a decade at the former Ida B. Wells housing project. Watts and another officer were both charged federally with shaking down drug dealers.
An undercover investigation of his operations in the neighborhood revealed the potential of hundreds of phony arrests and suggested that the whole team was corrupt.
"You can rule on this now. It's not even a close call," Tepfer told the judge, warning that the alternative of consolidating his cases would be calling in the same investigators, the same FBI agents and the same police officers to testify dozens of times in separate proceedings.
"The legal issues are identical," Tepfer said, telling the judge his office is currently vetting still more former defendants. "Five, 10, 20 more!"
A frustrated Judge Martin seemed to sympathize with the argument, but when informed that the chief prosecutor on the case was out on vacation and would not return until mid-October, he granted Cook County's request for a delay.
"I'm not warm and fuzzy about waiting until Nov. 2," Martin said. "(But) I think under the circumstances, I should give them a chance to respond."
After court Tepfer said while he would accede to the new schedule, he firmly disagreed with the state's attorney's argument that they needed to treat these 15 new cases as separate and distinct, in a scandal which has already seen at least five people exonerated.
"They're not defendants. They're petitioners and victims," Tepfer said. "It is the police officers in this case who are the criminals."
Asked about the potential of 20 more individuals coming forward, Tepfer said his office is vetting those cases right now.
"I would only tell the judge things that are true," he said. "We bring cases and that is what we are going to do."