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Judge scolds city, police union over vax mandate legal battle: ‘Everybody that’s involved here is in public service’

As the vaccine mandate standoff continues, the police union’s City Council allies are flexing their legislative muscle.

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 President John Catanzara
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 President John Catanzara
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

A Cook County judge on Thursday harangued the city and police union over the “sensationalization” of their vaccine mandate battle.

Judge Moshe Jacobius’ voice began to rise shortly after an attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 expressed his sense of frustration with the legal proceedings.

“You speak of frustration, I think there’s enough frustration to go around,” Jacobius said during the virtual hearing.

“There’s been some comments about lowering the volume and lowering the flames and working in commonality for the people of the city of Chicago, both sides, and I think these parties should take that to heart,” he said.

He added that “when you see what’s going on and you see the sensationalization of this, people need to really consider, everybody that’s involved here is in public service.

“I think if people have goodwill and they approach it from consideration and a humanistic point of view, rather than a litigious [one] ... then everyone’s going to be better off.”

Police union attorney Joel D’Alba assured Jacobius both sides were in discussions away from courtrooms, trying to resolve differences.

Jacobius’ mini tirade was an aside to the main order of business in his courtroom.

He granted a motion by attorneys for the city to have a single judge handle the two pending cases related to the vaccine mandate.

One case filed by the city seeks to extend a 10-day ban on police union President John Catanzara’s use of social media to discourage his members from reporting their vaccine status to the city and place similar restrictions on other union leaders. The next hearing in that case is scheduled for Monday, the same day the current 10-day ban — in the form of a temporary restraining order — is set to expire.

A separate lawsuit filed by the police union seeks a court-ordered suspension of the city’s vaccination policy pending further bargaining and arbitration.

Under Jacobius’ order, both cases will now be handled by Cook County Circuit Judge Cecilia Horan.

The order comes a day after Horan denied a request from the police union that she recuse herself.

Attorneys for the union had questioned her impartiality because the firm she was a partner at prior to becoming a judge, Hinshaw & Culbertson, created a report about police reform for the city’s Police Accountability Task Force that contributed to the creation of a federal consent decree the Police Department is still currently under.

Horan said the firm had more than 400 attorneys and she did not know about the report at all and had nothing to do with it while she was a partner at the firm.Horan further said she doesn’t know Mayor Lori Lightfoot and has never represented any of the parties involved in the case.

Later Thursday, more than 130 municipal workers, including a large group of Chicago Fire Department employees, filed a lawsuit claiming the vaccination mandates imposed by the city and state are unconstitutional.

Filed in federal court in Chicago. the suit challenges an executive order signed Sept. 3 by Gov. J.B. Pritzker requiring health care workers and certain state employees and contractors to be fully vaccinated. In addition to a host of Fire Department employees, the plaintiffs also include workers from the city’s Water and Transportation departments.

The complaint similarly pushes back against a mandate imposed by Lightfoot. The suit filed Thursday holds that the mandates extend beyond the authority of Pritzker and the city and are thus both “null and void.”

Meanwhile, some City Council members also are jumping in to the vaccine standoffs.

Ald. Silvana Tabares (23rd) and Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) plan to introduce an ordinance Monday that retroactively requires Council approval of “all policies, rules and regulations governing discipline” of city employees.

“Notwithstanding any other provision of the city code to the contrary and subject to the terms of any applicable collective bargaining agreement approved by City Council, any new policy rule or regulation that provides for placing city employees on non-disciplinary, no-pay status requires City Council approval,” the ordinance states.

Lightfoot’s mandate that city employees report their vaccination status on the city’s data portal took effect Oct. 8. The ordinance “shall be retroactive” to Oct. 1.

Also on Monday, indicted Ald. Edward Burke (14th) plans to introduce an ordinance requiring the continuation of health care benefits for the dependents of city employees for the duration of the dispute.

“Many of these beneficiaries are being treated for life-threatening diseases, mental health illnesses and are receiving hospital and in-patient treatment which will be at risk. ... Humanitarian interests demand the continued care and treatment of these current dependents,” the resolution states.

“No provision of the municipal code authorizes the mayor of Chicago to take this Draconian action. And furthermore, no action of the municipal code requires city employees to submit the information” on their vaccine status.

Lightfoot later Thursday called the Tabares-Napolitano ordinance “foolishness” and plans to do “everything I can to stop it.”

Catanzara “has demonstrated over and over again he’s racist. He’s a misogynist. He’s xenophobic. He hates immigrants and refugees,” Lightfoot said. “I think people in her ward need to ask why [Tabares] is carrying the water for a guy like that.”

Lightfoot said the city is seeing a “significant increase” in compliance with the vaccine mandate at both CPD and the Chicago Fire Department. The city has said the number of police complying has rise from 64.4% to 68%.

“They don’t want to lose their job. They don’t want to lose their health care. Over what? Saying yes or no? That doesn’t make any sense. It’s not rational,” she said.

“People just need to sign up and be in compliance. And I’m confident that the numbers will continue to rise, as they have all week long and that people are gonna wake up to the reality that they are being led over a cliff by someone who has already destroyed his career. I urge our young officers, our firemen not to follow that example. Make your own decisions.”