A settlement has been reached in a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Northwestern University and a former journalism professor accused of conspiring to frame a man with a double murder.
The details of the settlement, confirmed from federal court documents filed Friday, were not disclosed.
Alstory Simon spent about 15 years behind bars for the slayings of Jerry Hillard and Marilyn Green. But Simon’s conviction was reversed in 2014 after then-Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez conducted an investigation that concluded he was railroaded.
Simon then sued Northwestern, as well as one of its then-star journalism professors, David Protess, and private investigator Paul Ciolino. Simon has agreed to dismiss the case against Ciolino, according to the documents filed this week in U.S. District Court.
Protess and Ciolino allegedly fabricated evidence that led to Simon’s conviction and the release of Anthony Porter, who was originally convicted of the 1982 killings, according to Simon’s lawsuit.
Terry Ekl, one of Simon’s attorneys, said in a statement that a confidentiality clause means the parties can’t talk about the terms of the settlement.
For now, the confidential settlement means that much of the evidence uncovered as a result of the lawsuit will never see the light of day in a case that had significant implications for the criminal justice system.
Simon’s conviction at the time was hugely important — prompting then-Gov. George Ryan in 2000 to declare a moratorium on the death penalty, saying Illinois’ criminal justice system was broken. Capital punishment has since been abolished in Illinois.
Northwestern was alleged to have been aware that Protess and Ciolino were using unethical practices to conduct such wrongful conviction investigations, according to Simon’s suit, filed in 2015.
Protess left Northwestern in 2011.
Matt Piers, an attorney for Protess, said the ex-professor’s decision to settle was largely financial.
“The expense of this case was destroying him financially. He doesn’t have the resources that an institution like Northwestern does,” said Piers, who also declined to release the terms of the settlement.
“There’s nothing about the settlement that in any way indicates David thinks he did anything wrong. He’s proud of the work he did on that case, and the evidence shows that the right person pleaded guilty.”
Ciolino’s attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, who said she didn’t know the terms of the settlement, described Friday’s resolution as a “travesty.” She said she and her client had refused to settle with Simon’s attorneys.
“It was a shakedown of Northwestern. My client refused to participate in it,” Bonjean said.
Ciolino is suing Simon, his attorney and Alvarez — among others — for defamation in Cook County.
Simon “found a group of pro-police advocates to take up his cause and a Cook County state’s attorney willing to release him to settle a score with Northwestern,” Bonjean said. “This is all Cook County politics at its finest, and Alstory Simon is the beneficiary.”
An irate Ciolino Friday insisted Alstory and his attorneys settled because they feared what Alstory might say during depositions in the case as it made its way toward trial.
Alstory “can’t keep his story straight,” Ciolino said.
A spokesman for Northwestern issued a short statement, without details of the settlement.
“Northwestern University is pleased that a lawsuit against the university and former journalism professor David Protess filed by Alstory Simon has been settled,” said Alan K. Cubbage, vice president for university relations, in a statement. “Under the terms of the settlement agreement, Northwestern does not admit to any wrongdoing on the part of the University.”
Contributing: Mitchell Armentrout