D.C. lawyer to become Emanuel’s next corporation counsel

SHARE D.C. lawyer to become Emanuel’s next corporation counsel

Edward Siskel, Chicago’s Corporation Counsel. | Courtesy of WilmerHale

A Washington attorney whose law firm helped guide the city through the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation of the Chicago Police Department has been chosen by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to replace departing Corporation Counsel Steve Patton.

Edward Siskel, a former deputy White House Counsel under President Barack Obama, also served as a deputy attorney general in the Department of Justice.

He joined the law firm of WilmerHale in 2014. WilmerHale was paid $979,000 to advise the city on the Justice Department investigation.

Siskel’s resume also includes stints as a former federal prosecutor in Chicago and as a former law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

“Having started my legal career in Chicago, I look forward to coming home and returning to public service on behalf of the City and its residents,” Siskel was quoted as saying in a press release.

Siskel is also a nephew of Gene Siskel, the late movie critic who was the television partner of famed Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert.

The decision to replace Patton with Siskel comes just one week after the U.S. Justice Department wrapped up its yearlong investigation with a scathing indictment of the Chicago Police Department.

Patton served as Emanuel’s point man with the Justice Department.

He negotiated a 1 1/2-page agreement in principle that includes a commitment to “good faith” negotiations toward a court-enforced consent decree and the hiring of a federal monitor.

On Thursday, Patton said he has no idea whether President-elect Donald Trump and his nominee for attorney general, U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions, will pursue a consent decree.

“If we have a dancing partner that’s prepared to negotiate, we’ll be at the table with them. But if they’re not at the table — and we can’t control that — we’re gonna continue the same way we would if there were a consent decree,” he said. “The city has the power to do everything that it would do under a consent decree on its own without a consent decree.”

Steve Patton is leaving his post of corporation counsel after six years. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Steve Patton is leaving his post of corporation counsel after six years. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Patton, 63, maintained that the decision to leave the $173,664-a-year pressure-cooker job in mid-February was his alone.

It has nothing to do with the controversy over the Law Department’s failure to turn over evidence in civil cases to plaintiffs in a timely manner.

“It’s been a privilege and an honor to have this job. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. But I’ve already done it about two to three times longer than I ever expected to,” he said.

Emanuel applauded Patton for deftly handling difficult issues and approaching “every issue, every case and every question with integrity.”

Under Patton’s 6-year watch, the City Council has been forced to approve a steady stream of multimillion-dollar settlements to victims of police misconduct.

Many of them stemmed from what he called “serious, ugly exposures” inherited from former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Patton set out to clear the decks of those cases. He helped the mayor get out from under the Shakman decree and the costly constraints of a federal hiring monitor.

He also painstakingly negotiated a deal that awarded $5.5 million in reparations to victims tortured by convicted former Area 2 Cmdr. Jon Burge and his cohorts.

But Patton also was forced to wear the jacket for Emanuel’s decision to withhold the Laquan McDonald shooting video for more than a year, and authorize a $5 million settlement with the McDonald family before a lawsuit had even been filed.

The video was released only after a judge ordered the city to do so, on the same day that Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with the first-degree murder of the black teenager.

On Thursday, Patton categorically denied that he advised Emanuel to conceal the tape to get past the mayoral election.

“The reason the videotape was not released was purely and simply to avoid the risk of interfering with a pending criminal investigation of, quite frankly, the most horrific police misconduct, at least in my 5.5 years I’ve seen, in which I believe then and, I think it’s been born out, constituted a murder,” he said.

In the never-ending fallout from the police shooting of Laquan McDonald, Patton juggled the federal civil rights investigation while hammering out the deal that abolishes the Independent Police Review Authority and replaces it with a Civilian Office of Police Accountability.

He also took a hit for the Law Department’s failures.

Two years ago, U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang reversed a jury’s decision that found Officers Gildardo Sierra and Raoul Mosqueda did not wrongfully kill Darius Pinex and ordered a new trial.

Chang found that city attorneys engaged in misconduct when they failed to turn over to the Pinex family a key recording of a police radio transmission central to the police version of why the car driven by Pinex was pulled over by officers in the first place.

Jordan Marsh, an attorney for the city, knew about the recording before the first trial, the judge ruled.

Chang sanctioned Marsh for holding back evidence, prompting the city attorney’s resignation.

Soon after, Emanuel hired former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb to conduct an exhaustive review of the Federal Civil Rights Litigation Division of the city’s Law Department.

After a six-month investigation that cost taxpayers $1.6 million, Webb recommended more than 50 policy changes but found no “evidence establishing a culture, practice or approach” of “intentionally concealing evidence or engaging in intentional misconduct.”

The Pinex case was among six since 2012 in which courts have disciplined city officials for “failure to produce documents in discovery” or for not producing them quickly enough, Webb’s 74-page report said.

On Thursday, Patton condemned Marsh’s actions and said he would have been fired if he hadn’t quit. But he also blamed the cloud hanging over the Federal Civil Rights Division on “over-worked” attorneys handling an avalanche of cases.

He noted that, of the 2,000 cases handled by the division, there have been problems in only seven or eight cases.

“What we’ve tried to do is put in place reforms to make sure that, whether it’s a fraction of one percent, it doesn’t happen at all,” he said.

“It would be wrong to conclude that what happened on my watch was somehow worse than what’s been going on for a long time. Just as the police are under greater scrutiny, so are the lawyers who represent policemen.”

RELATED ARTICLES • Report includes anecdotes of deadly force, ‘dangerous practices’ • Feds say sworn-affidavit rule undercuts CPD misconduct probes • Victims of police misconduct skeptical of Justice report’s impact • Feds say Chicago Police stuck in last millennium • DOJ report doesn’t surprise Black Lives Matter activists • Emanuel agrees to negotiate consent decree that may never happen • White House react to DOJ Chicago cops probe: Can restore ‘trust’ • Justice Dept. finds widespread Constitutional abuses by police • Brown: Federal report more important than next election • Mitchell: No surprises in DOJ report, just ugly truths • Mihalopoulos: On blogs, cops offer own take on federal report • Editorial: Chicago’s shame is Chicago’s opportunity for police

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