The City of Chicago will change its settlement terms in federal civil rights cases brought against police officers accused of misconduct, dropping a provision that precludes using those settlements as evidence in future litigation. The city’s law department agreed to change the terms of its standard agreements this month under a pact reached with a University of Chicago law professor, Craig Futterman, who has represented plaintiffs in such cases. Futterman, who works with the school’s Mandel Legal Aid Clinic, pursued the wholesale change with the city after he persuaded the law department last year to drop the clause in one settlement because he argued that it unfairly bound lawyers in future cases. “It’s a restriction on the attorney’s right to practice and it creates a conflict of interest,” said Futterman, explaining that the lawyers signing the agreements would be potentially precluded from using pertinent evidence in a future client’s case. Dropping the clause in the standard agreement is meaningful because it has been used for years in a number of civil rights cases filed against the city and its police officers by people who alleged they were abused and/or deprived of their rights by the officers, lawyers involved in the cases said. The city last year paid $58.1 million to settle such cases, which are typically brought in U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois in Chicago. Karen Seimetz, who is first assistant to the city’s corporate counsel, said that while the city is agreeing to change its settlement agreements to eliminate constraints on the attorneys, it doesn’t believe any court will permit past settlements to be used as admissions of liability in future cases. Any decision on that will simply be left to the judges, she said. “We are not going to try to contractually bind (the attorneys) from raising it with the court,” Seimetz said. The language eliminated from the agreements is: “Plaintiffs and their attorneys agree that they or any firm with which said attorneys may later become affiliated shall not use this settlement as evidence or notice of misconduct on the part of any defendant and/or the City of Chicago’s future, current or former officers, agents and employees.” In a June 22 letter to Futterman from Chicago Corporation Counsel Mara Georges, the city signed off on the June 5 language change proposed by Futterman for all future settlements. “It’s a very good step in the right direction to try to break the remarkable secrecy that the city attempts to invoke in all of these cases related to their failure to discipline cops who are repeatedly accused of acts of brutality,” said Flint Taylor, a lawyer with the People’s Law Office in Chicago. In the 2007 case where Futterman first persuaded the city to change the settlement, the plaintiff alleged that he had been detained by police for 26 hours of interrogation without access to his attorney or family members, though no charges were filed against him.
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