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Emanuel gives legal counsel a vote of confidence — with a caveat

At an unrelated CTA event, Mayor Rahm Emanuel gave his city attorneys a vote of confidence — and a warning. | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday gave his corporation counsel a tenuous vote of confidence, but he put Stephen Patton on the clock to make certain that city attorneys never again conceal evidence.

One day after a senior city attorney resigned in disgrace after getting caught concealing evidence in a police shooting case, Emanuel said he has Patton’s back, just as he once had former Police Supt. Garry McCarthy’s.

But that confidence came with a caveat: Fix it. Tighten the ship.

“There is zero-tolerance for any individual — especially an individual representing the city in the courtroom — for not upholding the professional standards that are expected,” Emanuel said.

“Now, to Steve, he does have my confidence. . . . He also has my support to make sure that this never happens again,” the mayor said.

Senior Corporation Counsel Jordan Marsh resigned Monday hours after a federal judge issued a harshly worded ruling that raised questions about whether the notorious “code of silence” in the Chicago Police Department extends to the city’s Department of Law run by Patton, Emanuel’s only corporation counsel.

Specifically, U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang ruled that Marsh had intentionally concealed evidence in a 2015 trial that culminated in a jury finding that two Chicago Police officers were justified in killing Darius Pinex during a January 2011 traffic stop.

Two Chicago police officers testified they had pulled the victim over after hearing a radio call about an Oldsmobile involved in a shooting that matched the description of the car Pinex was driving.

Marsh was accused of concealing the actual recording, which conflicted with the officers’ testimony, until midway through the trial — even though the recording became available before the trial.

The judge threw out the verdict, ordered a new trial and demanded the city pay the plaintiffs’ legal fees. Chang also accused the Law Department of poorly training and overseeing city attorneys, creating an environment that hampered production of records essential to prosecuting cases of police misconduct.

That misconduct has led the U.S. Justice Department to conduct a sweeping civil rights investigation that could ultimately lead to a court order and the appointment of a federal monitor similar to the one that rode herd over city hiring for nearly a decade.

Given the harsh language used in Chang’s ruling, Emanuel was asked whether the Law Department was part of the “code of silence” that the mayor has openly acknowledged exists in the Chicago Police Department.

“That’s not possible when you’re in front of a court and getting a judge ruling,” the mayor said.

Pressed on whether the Law Department should be included in the sweeping federal civil rights investigation of the Chicago Police Department, Emanuel said, “No. They’re working where they are.”

After joining Emanuel at an unrelated news conference at a CTA bus garage, U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., predicted that the Law Department would rightfully get swept up into the Justice Department’s investigation.

“The mayor recognizes that the Law Department is under scrutiny, just as the Police Department is under scrutiny,” Davis said.

Despite Emanuel’s vote of confidence, Davis said he wouldn’t be surprised if Emanuel ultimately gets rid of Patton, just as he pulled the rug out from under McCarthy.

“Certainly, he’s being looked at. Certainly, he’s under scrutiny. And I think an appropriate decision will ultimately be made. . . . If enough pressure mounts, something will happen,” Davis said.

“McCarthy was pressured out of office. The mayor was pressured. I mean — if you’ve got 10,000 people marching down Michigan Avenue, that’s a lot of pressure,” he said. “If you’ve got people marching around City Hall every other day or every week, that’s a lot of pressure.”

City Hall claims that the crowd of protesters who shut down Michigan Avenue for hours on Black Friday never amounted to 10,000. It was more like 1,000, city officials said.