Chicago taxpayers have already paid $760,725 in legal fees tied to the federal civil rights investigation triggered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald, and the meter is still running.
The tab accumulated over a three-month period does not include fees paid to former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb to conduct a third-party review of a Law Department that Mayor Rahm Emanuel initially claimed could not possibly be part of the “code of silence” in the Police Department.
The $760,265 went to three high-powered law firms and to a former police chief hired to guide Chicago through the Justice Department investigation likely to culminate in a costly consent decree and the hiring of a federal monitor similar to the one that rode herd over city hiring for more than a decade.
The fees include:
• $494,269 to the Chicago law firm of Taft Stettinius and Hollister LLP to produce “several hundred thousand pages of documents and scores of gigabytes of electronic requests” made by the Justice Department in December.
The legal fees were billed in December, January and February. During that period, the city was responding to “75 separate” DOJ document requests, holding five meetings with the feds and accompanying Justice Department attorneys during “numerous interviews” with police personnel.
• $185,547 to the Washington, D.C., law firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr hired by the mayor to quarterback Chicago’s response to the investigation in December.
• $64,348 to The Bromwich Group and principal Michael Bromwich to serve as a consultant to Chicago in January and February. A former federal prosecutor, Bromwich served as the Justice Department’s monitor for the Washington, D.C., Police Department during a similar probe that culminated in a consent decree.
• $16,100 to Charles Ramsey and Associates for January and February. The newly retired Philadelphia police chief is being paid $350 an hour to guide Chicago through the federal civil rights investigation.
City Hall sources contend the $760,725 in fees are “front-end loaded” and will not continue at the current pace. That’s because the “most time- and resource-intensive part of responding” to such a sweeping investigation occurs at the start, when documents are requested and interviews conducted.
Top mayoral aides acknowledged that the city’s “expedited response greatly increased” fees wracked up in January and February. But they insisted that the faster Chicago responds to the sweeping request, the more quickly the investigation will be completed and the less taxpayers will be forced to pay in the long run.
“The Department of Justice investigation is an important component of our work to restore trust in our Police Department and improve our system of accountability,” Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton said in an emailed statement.
“Working with experienced outside counsel is accelerating the completion of DOJ’s investigation, which will result in new policing reforms that will assist our public safety efforts and will have a positive impact on the residents of Chicago.”
In late January, Emanuel made a similar argument as he defended Ramsey’s $350-an-hour fee as “worth every penny.”
“One way of measuring is on the dollars. . . . That’s not one that I’m lax about. But if we come out of this process with the best police department, the best community relations, you’re going to have lower crime rates. And that’s not just a dollars-and-cents thing. That goes to the safety and security” of Chicago neighborhoods, the mayor said.
“He brings a wealth of knowledge that will not only help us save lives and help improve community relations. But also we’ll make sure that, while we’re starting this process with the Justice Department, we don’t waste any time and we hit the ground running.”
The fees tied to the Justice Department investigation are still less than the $825,000 Chicago taxpayers were forced to pay two years ago to find out that Emanuel’s now-convicted former City Comptroller Amer Ahmad did not cost them a penny beyond his $165,000 annual salary.
Emanuel has been under fire for keeping the Laquan McDonald shooting video under wraps for more than a year and waiting until one week after the April 7 mayoral runoff election to authorize a $5 million settlement to the McDonald family even before a lawsuit had been filed.
The video was released only after a judge ordered the city to do so and on the same day that white Police Officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with the first-degree murder of the black teenager.
In December, Emanuel apologized for the “systematic breakdown” that culminated in the “totally avoidable” police shooting death and acknowledged the “code of silence” in the Chicago Police Department he once tried to keep out of a court record.
But a cathartic and emotional speech by Emanuel before a special City Council meeting did nothing to silence demands for his resignation.
The mayor has emphatically denied keeping the dashcam video of the McDonald shooting under wraps to get past the election.
But he has acknowledged that he “added to the suspicion and distrust” of everyday Chicagoans by blindly following the city’s long-standing practice of withholding shooting videos to avoid compromising ongoing criminal investigations.
In his struggle to regain the shattered public trust and fend off demands for his resignation, Emanuel has fired a police superintendent he promised to keep, ousted an Independent Police Review Authority he once defended and welcomed a federal civil rights investigation he once called “misguided.”