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CTU blasts CPS for deal with top lawyer’s former firm

CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey. File Photo. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey. File Photo. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

The Chicago Teachers Union on Monday slammed Chicago Public Schools’ top attorney for supervising the work his former law firm did for the district earlier this year.

CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey blasted Ron Marmer, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool’s handpicked general counsel, after the Chicago Sun-Times detailed how Marmer oversaw work done by Jenner & BLock LLP — a law firm that is paying him $1 million in severance.

Sharkey called Marmer and Claypool “political cronies,” saying the school system hasn’t learned much in the wake of the massive contracting scandal that ousted the prior schools chief, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, opening the job for Claypool.

“You’ve got a permissive environment there, in which clearly the people who are running CPS treat it like it’s a consequence free zone,” Sharkey said by telephone. “For the second time in a row, you see the mayor’s choice for CEO is entangled in serious ethical lapses.”

CPS’ inspector general opened an investigation into the matter in July, after the Sun-Times first revealed the financial ties between Marmer and the firm.

Sharkey’s comments came a week before his union has vowed to strike, and the same day CPS laid off nearly 200 of his members.

CPS paid Jenner & Block $182,000 earlier this year to prepare what was to be a civil rights lawsuit against the state seeking increased taxpayer funding. But the suit was never filed, as state officials approved a deal to provide more money to the Illinois’ largest school district.

Claypool and Marmer both have worked at Jenner & Block, with Marmer leaving in 2013 but continuing to get $200,000 a year in severance payments from the firm.

When first asked about Jenner & Block’s deal in July, Claypool said Marmer “recused himself” and that and school board President Frank Clark chose to hire the firm. But emails obtained recently by the Sun-Times show Marmer closely supervised Jenner & Block’s work for CPS.

The district’s ethics code forbids officials from supervising work by contractors with whom they have a “business relationship” worth at least $2,500 a year. CPS officials say Marmer did not break the rules.

On Monday, Sharkey also questioned how Marmer ever landed the CPS job since he had no school district or public sector experience, suggesting it had something to do with the $24,000 Marmer has contributed to Claypool’s political campaigns.

“He’s there because Claypool has surrounded himself with insider loyalists because [Claypool] intends to chop CPS, not because her has any vision for a world-class school system,” Sharkey said.

On Monday, Claypool said he continues to support the “high quality of Mr. Marmer’s work and his contributions to the district’s legal strategy.”

“Faced with a racially discriminatory funding system that threatened to destroy Chicago Public Schools, we assembled a dream legal team of the finest litigators in the nation, including CPS’ general counsel — a nationally recognized litigator,” he said through a spokeswoman.

“I would mobilize this team again any day to ensure Chicago’s children get the resources they deserve.”

Marmer’s payments are fixed, so he doesn’t “gain any personal economic advantage as a result of the Board’s engagement of Jenner & Block,” Claypool said.