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Why Rahm Emanuel joined forces with Lisa Madigan on police reform

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a lawsuit in August seeking federal court oversight of the Chicago Police Department. She was joined at the announcement by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel tried Tuesday to portray Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan as his “partner” on police reform, but the mayor’s actions and Madigan’s lawsuit against the city called the mayor’s bold claims into question.

If Emanuel was really embracing federal court oversight over the Chicago Police Department, why did City Hall ask a judge just the other day to dismiss a similar lawsuit on grounds that CPD’s “extensive, ongoing reform efforts” made the legal claims a moot point?

And if Emanuel and Madigan were truly partners, why did the attorney general feel the need to file a federal lawsuit that holds a legal hammer over the mayor’s head?

Corporation Counsel Ed Siskel said there’s a simple explanation for the seemingly adversarial lawsuit. It’s the necessary legal step before a federal judge will order the parties to negotiate a consent decree.

“Courts only hear cases or controversies. That is a technical term that has constitutional significance,” Siskel said.

“If we had gone to federal court with Lisa Madigan and said, ‘Enter a consent decree with us,’ they would say, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about. Get out of here unless you file a lawsuit.’ ”

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University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman, a lead counsel in the earlier lawsuit, doesn’t buy that explanation.

He believes the Emanuel-Madigan partnership is a “tale of kicking and screaming.”

“With the Illinois attorney general . . . putting the muscle of the state behind it, now [Emanuel is saying], `We welcome federal court oversight. Disregard what I just said,’ ” Futterman said.

Inspector General Joe Ferguson credited the chorus of police reformers he joined, who demanded that Emanuel honor the promise he made in January to seek federal court oversight over the Police Department.

“When everyone else is saying it’s the right thing to do, sometimes you reach a tipping point where you recognize it’s the right thing to do,” Ferguson said Tuesday.

Tuesday’s joint news conference announcing the lawsuit was held on Madigan’s turf, the State of Illinois Center.

Emanuel said he agreed to embrace federal court oversight after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions walked away from a memorandum of agreement.

“The Trump administration wasn’t even willing to pursue the concept they proposed themselves,” the mayor said. “I am proud that the Illinois attorney general is standing up for our city, for its residents and for our police officers where the Trump administration fell flat.”

Madigan added, “We are essentially stepping into the shoes of the Department of Justice — shoes that the DOJ has abandoned.”

The attorney general was asked whether she would have sued the city in the unlikely event that Emanuel had succeeded in negotiating a memorandum of agreement with Sessions at the same time he is suing the DOJ over its threat to cut off federal funding to sanctuary cities.

“I’ve made it clear that the memorandum of agreement that the Trump administration has since abandoned was not going to be good enough because it was not going to be enforceable in court,” she said.

Despite the mayor’s concerns about an open-ended financial commitment from Chicago taxpayers, Madigan said her goal is to have “both timelines and financial commitments” in the consent decree.

For months, Emanuel has resisted the idea of court oversight amid concern that it would impose decades of Shakman-like pressure on taxpayers.

The mayor remains equally concerned about damaging already rock-bottom police morale at a time when Chicago is still struggling to reduce homicides and shootings.

“Other cities have done this to the Police Department and it’s come at the expense of public safety,” the mayor said.

Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham echoed those concerns, calling the consent decree a “potential catastrophe” for Chicago.

“Already facing an explosion of crime because the police have been so handcuffed from doing their job by the intense anti-police movement in the city, this consent decree will only handcuff the police even further,” Graham was quoted as saying in an emailed statement.

The consent decree has not yet been negotiated. Nor has the process for selecting the monitor.

Madigan would only say that she has “broad authority to enforce our civil rights laws and we are going to do that in a way that includes community input.”

Futterman said the “red flags haven’t gone away for me” because Emanuel’s “hand was forced.”

“If this just turns into another deal between politicians that excludes the community from a formal role in negotiating what’s in the deal and enforcing the deal, it lacks any credibility and it won’t be trusted,” he said.