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Chicago litigator Philip S. Beck, a self-described conservative Republican who represented George W. Bush in his Florida court fight over the 2000 election, has won a huge victory as a plaintiff’s lawyer in a police corruption civil rights case. As lead trial counsel for a man wrongly convicted in 1980 of murder and armed robbery on the South Side, Beck won a $15 million verdict against the city of Chicago. A federal jury found that police detectives manipulated three witnesses to pick James Newsome out of a lineup as the shooter. The panel of seven whites and one black awarded Newsome, who served 15 years of a life-without-parole sentence, $1 million for each year he was wrongly imprisoned. He was exonerated and released in 1994 after obtaining a court order to test fingerprints left by the murderer, which detectives had failed to follow up on after learning that they did not match Newsome’s. The fingerprints pointed to a man on death row who had been paroled just before the shooting. Two years after Newsome’s release he sued the detectives for violating his civil rights. Newsome v. McCabe, No. 96C7680 (N.D. Ill.). “Our case was that they rigged the lineup because they were indifferent as to who did it. They just needed a black man to blame,” charges Beck, partner at Chicago’s Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott. “Kind of like in the old days in the South when a white woman was alleged to have been attacked by a black man and they just lynched the first black man that they got their hands on.” Beck concedes that civil rights aren’t exactly his bailiwick. He was a lead counsel for Bush in Florida last year and represents the Justice Department in the Microsoft case. But he says that Newsome’s case has been a “tremendous” experience. “I told James last night that my two favorite clients so far have been George Bush and him,” he said the day after celebrating the verdict, believed to be a record in a wrongful imprisonment case. “To me, it doesn’t involve politics. To me, there is nobody who is in favor of sending innocent men to prison for crimes they don’t commit,” he says. “I think it was an example of racism and corruption in the police force…. It’s a question of simple justice.” The city plans to appeal, said Jennifer Hoyle, spokeswoman for the city of Chicago law department. None of the city attorneys who handled the trial — Joseph Polick, Eileen M. Rosen and Liza M. Franklin — would discuss the case, she notes. Neither would the two detectives, John McCabe and Raymond McNally, who have since retired, Hoyle says. MORE TO COME? The case is among a series alleging that the predominantly white police force in the 1970s and 1980s on Chicago’s predominantly black South Side framed innocent people, Beck says. Scores of individuals have potentially meritorious claims, says plaintiff’s co-counsel David T. Odom, a Chicago solo civil rights practitioner. But even when there is wrongful conviction, finding hard evidence of police misconduct or corruption is extremely difficult, Odom says: “These cases are very difficult to win.” Odom says he brought Beck into the case as a trial heavyweight. With white defendants, a white judge and the likelihood that the jury would be predominantly white, and the plaintiff and plaintiff’s lawyer being black, “my experience tells me we needed a very good white attorney to sit first-chair in the trial,” Odom says. If the verdict is upheld, Odom notes that he and Beck would share about $2 million in attorney fees. In 1979, a black man killed the white owner of a small grocery store. The next day police picked up Newsome, then 24, in town visiting his mother. Police claimed he resembled a composite sketch of the shooter. According to the plaintiff’s evidence, detectives manipulated three witnesses’ identification of Newsome. One witness was shown a photograph of Newsome along with others in a photo array before picking Newsome out of a lineup. Newsome was the only one from the array who was in the lineup, Beck says. Newsome testified that police had the lineup turn away from another witness, but from the corner of his eye he saw detectives gesturing toward him. Still another witness, who testified at the civil trial, told detectives he did not recognize anyone in the lineup and they told him to look closer at number three, which was Newsome. When he said he still didn’t recognize anyone, officers told him they had evidence it was number three, and asked him, “Don’t you think it was number three?” Beck says. “This was the smoking gun and the bullet” in the civil rights trial, Odom says. To overcome the detectives’ immunity defense, the plaintiff’s lawyers had to show that the police intentionally rigged the lineup and that they concealed that fact from both the defense and the prosecution, according to a 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals pretrial opinion in the case, Beck says. During the damages portion of the trial, jurors saw a 9- by 12-foot courtroom replica of Newsome’s cell. Beck says he fought the state’s objections to the demonstration by arguing that powerful evidence is not necessarily prejudicial. The state also objected unsuccessfully to testimony about Newsome’s assaults by prisoners for refusing to join a gang. The state had sought the death penalty for Newsome, Beck notes. “It’s not like I’m some kind of bleeding-heart liberal here who is a cause lawyer, but to me, he could have easily gotten the death penalty,” he says. “It’s a different feeling to have the future of somebody and their family in your hands.”

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