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This week Katten Muchin Rosenman, along with the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, won a major hate crime award — $520,000 — for a Puerto Rican family who had been repeatedly harassed by a neighbor. While it’s not the largest award issued under the Illinois Hate Crimes Act, it is one of the largest, said Katten partner Alexander Vesselinovitch. Katten associate Jennifer Goltz also worked on the case, and Betsy Shuman-Moore from the lawyers’ committee led the team. On Sept. 2, the jury in Cook County Circuit Court awarded $140,000 in compensatory damages and $380,000 in punitive damages for the threats of violence and racial slurs that rained down on the family of six. The jury wanted to speak with the family after the trial and was very sympathetic in those conversations, Vesselinovitch said. The defendant neighbor, on the other hand, didn’t show up for the one-day trial or hire a lawyer to represent him. Getting payment of the award is the next challenge, Vesselinovitch said. “We’re going to be aggressive in seeking out collection of the judgment,” he said. Katten Muchin has developed an expertise in the hate crimes area after handling about a dozen cases over the past 10 years, said Jonathan Baum, a full-time pro bono partner at the firm. In 2007, the firm won a $1.3 million judgment for two Americans of Indian descent who were attacked shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, by assailants yelling, “Are you Taliban?” “This work is attractive to a lot of our attorneys, I think mainly because they’re so outraged,” Baum said. “In most of these cases, they ask, ‘How does something like that happen in the United States of America?’ “

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