City law Department disciplines attorneys for withholding evidence

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Corporation Counsel Ed Siskel disciplined several employees this week over failings to produce discovery in civil cases. | Sun-Times file photo

A city attorney has resigned and two more have been suspended in the continuing fall-out from a string of embarrassing lapses in which judges have found the city failed to produce evidence to defendants in criminal cases.

In a memo to Law Department employees, obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times, Corporation Counsel Ed Siskel said he has a responsibility to ensure that those under his command “meet and, in many cases exceed, the professional standards required” to represent the city.

“Any failure to meet those standards can quickly erode the trust the public places in us and mistakes can have lasting, significant consequences that damage the collective reputation with judges, opposing counsel and taxpayers,” Siskel wrote.

“We have taken steps to discipline attorneys who failed to meet those standards. These actions will not be tolerated under my leadership.”

As a result, Siskel said he has accepted the resignation of one attorney, suspended another for 30 days and will put that lawyer on a performance plan upon return and slapped yet another lawyer with a five-day suspension

“These actions were absolutely necessary. There are hundreds of employees in the Law Department who represent the city with integrity and distinction every day. It would be unfair to allow their reputations and performance to be tarnished by those who failed to meet the expected professional standards,” he wrote.

Last week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration settled yet another lawsuit over alleged police wrongdoing following claims of misconduct by the Law Department.

It happened less than a week after a federal judge asked city attorneys to explain “what they are doing to correct this problem.”

The settlement, for a so-far undisclosed sum, scuttled an upcoming civil trial over the August 2015 shooting by police of Jaquise Evans.

The latest black eye came just over a month after City Hall abruptly settled a major police misconduct case for $20 million – in the middle of closing arguments — after it was discovered the city had, for the eighth time under the mayor’s watch, failed to produce a critical disciplinary report involving the accused officer.

That case involved ex-cop Joseph Frugoli after critical evidence came to light well after trial began.

U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall said this week that she would hold a hearing to determine possible sanctions in the civil lawsuit involving Frugoli.

Frugoli was driving drunk when he was involved in a fiery crash in 2009 on the Dan Ryan Expressway, killing Fausto Manzera, 21, and Andrew Cazares, 23.

City attorneys provided a critical disciplinary report involving Frugoli during the middle of trial — years after it was first requested by lawyers suing the city.

In the most recent case, Evans’ lawyers sought sanctions against the city in a series of motions repeatedly alleging that new evidence had been revealed.

The evidence, including video of past misconduct and citizen complaints, revolved around Officer Richard Salvador. Then, last week, Evans’ lawyers accused city lawyers Matthew Hurd and Scott Cohen of letting Salvador commit perjury in a deposition when he said he had never previously been a defendant in a lawsuit.

It turned out both men had represented Salvador in a previous lawsuit. Cohen filed a response explaining that he “did not realize Sgt. Salvador was one of the officers he represented” in the previous case.

That prompted a rebuke from U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer who asked incredulously in court, “As a matter of professional responsibility, you don’t know who your client is?…Who, as a matter of professional ethics, does this? You cannot represent somebody and not know about it.”

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