Siskel vows to appeal — and overturn — $44.7M verdict

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Michael LaPorta, center, and his attorney, Tony Romanucci, right, talk to reporters the day after a jury awarded a $44.7 million verdict to compensate LaPorta because a Chicago cop shot him in the head. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Corporation Counsel Ed Siskel on Friday assured aldermen that a $44.7 million verdict believed to be the highest involving a police misconduct case in Chicago history will be appealed and overturned.

“The taxpayers of the city of Chicago should not be held liable to pay for the purely private conduct of an off-duty police officer,” Siskel told aldermen on the final day of City Council budget hearings.

“We fully intend to appeal that verdict and believe that we have very strong grounds for challenging the finding of liability against the city and the amount of the verdict…We are…confident that we will succeed in overturning that verdict.”

Last month, a federal jury in a civil case found that off-duty Chicago Police Officer Patrick Kelly pulled the trigger that left his friend, Michael LaPorta permanently disabled and confined to a wheelchair after a night of drinking at Kelly’s home in January, 2010.

In a potentially crushing blow to beleaguered Chicago taxpayers, the jury held the city responsible for the shooting with a $44.7 million verdict.

In a 911 call that night and ever since, Kelly has maintained that LaPorta was trying to commit suicide – something LaPorta and his family have long denied.

The jury didn’t buy it. Not after Kelly took the stand and invoked his constitutional right not to incriminate himself 31 times.

The city was held responsible for failing to discipline Kelly and neglecting to maintain an adequate early warning system that could have helped to identify problem officers.

Ahead of LaPorta’s trial, 19 complaints had been registered against Kelly in a six-year span, according to the LaPorta family’s lawsuit.

LaPorta’s attorney has accused City Hall of being in denial and predicted that an appeal will only keep the meter running for Chicago taxpayers.

“They want to stick their head in the sand until it happens again. And then it’s going to happen again,” attorney Tony Romanucci has said.

The city paid out $59.6 million in settlements and judgments in 2016, most of them stemming from allegations of police abuse. Through Sept. 30 of this year, it was $41.5 million.

Siskel acknowledged that the U.S. Justice Department’s scathing indictment of the Chicago Police Department has made it more difficult for the city to win police abuse cases.

“Efforts by plaintiff’s counsel to use that report and its findings as a way of holding the city liable for all kinds of conduct in these cases–and purely private conduct,” Siskel said.

“It is a challenge that we face, but one that we have strategies in place for addressing and continue to have great success in defending our police department and police officers. If you look at the cases that we have taken to trial so far this year, we have an over 60 percent win rate.”

Also during Friday’s hearing, Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) castigated Siskel for spending $24 million on outside counsel, but giving just $673,445 to Hispanic law firms. That’s 2.7 percent for Chicago’s fastest-growing and second-largest racial or ethnic group.

Rubbing salt in the wound was the fact that only one of the Law Department’s 36 new hires was Hispanic.

“I could spend the rest of my time staring at you in disgust,” Munoz told Siskel.

“Counselor, this is 2017. I’m running out of adjectives.”

Siskel vowed to step up his outreach efforts and report back to the City Council in six months.

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