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Aldermen begrudgingly OK multi-million-dollar settlement to veteran cop punished for reporting threats by fellow officer

Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) was incredulous to learn the case could have been settled seven years ago “at no cost to the taxpayers,” simply by putting Laura Kubiak back on the job at CPD’s News Affairs division.

A 15-year-old girl was shot Sept. 20, 2021, on the West Side.
A costly settlement in a lawsuit by a now-former Chicago Police Department officer could have been avoided simply by putting her back on the job, aldermen were told Thursday.
Sun-Times file photo

Chicago aldermen on Thursday begrudgingly agreed to pay $3.8 million to a veteran police officer who was transferred to a midnight shift patrolling what she called an “unsafe neighborhood” after reporting that a fellow officer had “verbally and physically threatened her at work.”

Indicted Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) was incredulous after First Deputy Corporation Counsel Renai Rodney confirmed during a Finance Committee meeting what Kubiak’s attorney told the Sun-Times — that the code-of-silence case could have been settled seven years ago “at no cost to the taxpayers,” simply by putting Kubiak back on the job at News Affairs.

“I don’t know why the request was denied, but it was denied,” Rodney told aldermen who signed off on the settlement, one of four stemming from allegations of police abuse, two of them police shootings.

Instead, the city’s Law Department chose to take the case to a trial that culminated in last year’s jury decision to award Kubiak $1.4 million in damages for emotional distress and $400,000 in lost wages.

“Somebody has to take responsibility for costing the taxpayers four million bucks in a case that could have been resolved. … Some of us would like to know who is responsible,” Burke told Rodney.

“You’re left to clean up somebody else’s mess. What you said was there’s nobody in the Law Department who was involved in these decisions left. … But clearly, this wasn’t a decision made by the Law Department. Somebody in the police department had to have told the Law Department they wanted to go [to trial] with this case. Do we know who that was?”

Rodney said she has no idea, in part, because Kubiak’s complaint “began administratively” before proceeding to federal court, then on to state court after city attorneys got the federal lawsuit dismissed.

Burke was not appeased, particularly not after being told that Veejay Zala, the officer accused of threatening Kubiak, has since retired after serving a one-day suspension.

“It’s a hard pill to swallow, in that, there’s no one left to really take responsibility for this mess. It’s too bad,” Burke said.

“He’s retired. There’s nobody in the Law Department that’s taken responsibility. There’s nobody in the police department that’s taken responsibility. And we’re now asked to vote to fund $4 million of the taxpayers’ money to make this go away.”

“That’s certainly one way to view it, yes,” Rodney said.

Burke countered: “Well, tell me if there’s another way to view it.”

Rodney replied: “We have a jury award that we must pay. We thought it was best to reduce the amount of additional exposure to an even larger attorney fee petition, which could exceed $2 million. So, the proposed settlement of $3.8 million results in savings of about $700,000 from the ultimate exposure if we were to fight the petition and let the court decide.”

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) called the Kubiak case a “cautionary tale for all of us.”

“We now have an almost $4 million bill that we have to pay for one incident where tempers were raised and threats were made, but no one was physically attacked. No one was struck,” Hopkins said, bemoaning, what he called the “rush to trial.”

“It’s just an unfortunate situation all the way around.”

The alleged verbal and physical harassment that triggered the settlement occurred in 2012.

That’s when Kubiak reported that fellow officer Veejay Zala had repeatedly denounced her as “nothing” but a “stupid b----,” pronounced himself “the real police” and raised his hand as if he was threatening to hit her.

Although Zala’s record included 31 internal affairs complaints and a federal lawsuit accusing him of battery and excessive force, the Chicago Police Department “chose to retaliate” against Kubiak and a witness who also reported the incident to Internal Affairs by “dumping them back to patrol,” Kubiak’s attorney Megan O’Malley told the Sun-Times this week.

“Any time that the police department chooses to be complicit in silencing officers and sending a message to the other officers that you shouldn’t report misconduct or else you will be the one who is punished, that is the code of silence,” O’Malley said.