Former federal prosecutor Dan Webb will lead the third-party review of a Chicago Law Department division after a senior attorney there resigned in disgrace for concealing evidence in a police-shooting case.
And if Webb finds any evidence of similar malfeasance, the former U.S. Attorney said Sunday he will send it directly to Inspector General Joe Ferguson.
“My job is to be independent,” Webb said.
Webb will spearhead the review of the standards and practices of the Chicago Law Department’s Federal Civil Rights Litigation division, which defends police officers in federal civil cases involving use of excessive force. Mayor Rahm Emanuel ordered that review days after U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang ruled on Jan. 4 that Senior Corporation Counsel Jordan Marsh intentionally concealed evidence in a 2015 trial. It culminated in a jury finding that two Chicago police officers were justified in killing Darius Pinex during a January 2011 traffic stop.
Winston & Strawn, Webb’s law firm, will bill the city at an hourly rate of $295, discounted from Webb’s normal hourly rate of $1,335, according to City Hall. Webb said Sunday he expects his work to take “a few months.” He has served in special investigative roles before, including as the court-appointed special prosecutor in the case against former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s nephew, Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko.
Corporation Counsel Steve Patton, who announced Webb’s review Sunday, said he was “extremely disappointed” after reading Chang’s harsh ruling in the Pinex case that threw out the verdict, ordered a new trial and demanded that the city pay attorneys’ fees.
“I hold this department to the highest professional ethics standards,” Patton said. “Any deviation from those standards is one too many.”
Marsh was accused of concealing a recording that conflicted with officers’ testimony until midway through the trial, even though that recording became available before the trial began. In his ruling, Chang accused the Law Department of poorly training and overseeing city attorneys and creating an environment that hampered production of records essential to prosecuting cases of police misconduct. The Law Department is now reviewing nearly 40 open cases handled by Marsh.
Patton said the review by Webb, coupled with expanded ethics training for the entire Law Department, is an “opportunity” for his staff. He said he expects Webb to issue a written report to the public summarizing his recommendations and the steps taken by the Law Department to address them. Patton also said he’s hoping for a “real-time review,” adding that his department will immediately begin to address any recommendations made by Webb’s team ahead of the final report.
“I want our lawyers to view this as the opportunity that I think it is, to have a nationally respected trial lawyer come in and look at what they do and how they do it and make recommendations as to how they can do it better,” Patton said.
Patton has also tapped former Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission Administrator Mary Robinson to augment the entire Law Department’s ethics training. He said the department’s lawyers can expect an “immediate refresher” by mid-February, followed by more tailored training programs to be completed by the end of the year. Robinson will be advised by Steven Lubet of the Northwestern University School of Law, and both will work with the Law Department on a pro bono basis, Patton said.
Emanuel’s Law Department could still potentially face a review by the Justice Department, which is already investigating the standards and practices of the Chicago Police Department. After initially telling reporters last week it was “not possible” that the Law Department could be part of the alleged “code of silence” in the Chicago Police Department, Emanuel said Thursday, “I don’t direct the Justice Department. But if they come [into the Law Department], we’re going to cooperate and work with it.”
Contributing: Fran Spielman