Chicago hires former US attorney to review law department

Flickr | Beth Cortez-Neavel

CHICAGO (AP) — A former U.S. attorney will conduct an independent review of the division of Chicago's law department that defends police after a judge last week accused a city attorney of hiding evidence in a lawsuit over a fatal police shooting, the head of the department said Sunday.

Dan Webb, co-chairman of Winston & Strawn, will review "practices and standards" of the Federal Civil Rights Litigation division, which represents Chicago and its officers in federal civil cases, including claims of excessive force, corporation counsel Steve Patton said.

He also said the department will bring in outside experts to provide yearlong, "enhanced ethics training" to the division's 45 lawyers and their support staff.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang threw out a jury's April finding that the police shooting of 27-year-old black man during a 2011 traffic stop was justified. In a 72-page ruling, he accused attorney Jordan Marsh of hiding evidence and later lying about it while representing the city in a lawsuit filed by Darius Pinex's relatives. Chang also ordered a new trial.

Chang's ruling was another blow for Mayor Rahm Emanuel and a police department that has been the subject of fierce criticism since the city, under court order, released squad-car footage of a white police officer shooting a black teenager 16 times. In the video, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, armed with a closed pocket knife, is seen veering away from the officer before he opens fire.

Days after the video's release, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it was opening a civil rights investigation of the Chicago police department.

Emanuel said Tuesday he didn't think it was necessary to expand that investigation to include the city's law department. Two days later, he announced there would be an independent review, but didn't disclose details.

Patton said in an emailed statement that Webb, who served as U.S. attorney for the northern district of Illinois from 1981 to 1985, will focus on how city attorneys handle discovery — the sharing of evidence with other parties in a case — as well as lawyer training and supervision. Evidence of past or current misconduct will be reported to the city's inspector general, and Webb will provide a public, written report with recommendations for changes, Patton said.

"Working with respected experts in the field, we are taking immediate action to ensure that city attorneys never again repeat the violations that were made in the Pinex case and maintain the highest professional standards going forward," he said.

The city will pay Webb $295 per hour, Patton said.