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Emanuel: Settle Lawsuits Now So City Doesn't Pay More Later

By Chuck Sudo in News on Sep 24, 2013 8:55PM

Photo credit: City of Chicago/Brooke Collins

The Emanuel administration, with City Council approval, has shelled out nearly $78 million this year to settle lawsuits filed against the city, much of that number driven by civil lawsuits related to the torture practices of former Chicago Police Lt. Jon Burge.

The Sun-Times has an interesting article showing how proactive Emanuel has been in settling lawsuits against the city since he took office and how it's costing the city in more ways than on the ledger—an astounding $169 million has been paid out in settlements since Emanuel took office. That’s almost three times the amount the city paid out in settlements during Richard M. Daley’s final two years in office.

Emanuel earmarked $27.4 million to settle lawsuits against the city in his 2013 budget and promptly spent it all by January. For a town that’s counting every nickels spent, the running lawsuit settlement total is a staggering number but City Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton told the Sun-Times Emanuel is being proactive on settling lawsuits because it’s better to end them now than risk being found at fault in a trial and the total would be lower if Daley wasn’t so obstinate in his final years as mayor.

“When the mayor took office, we had a very large backlog of cases, most of which had been pending for a long time, and a number of which were very serious exposures,” Patton said, noting that Emanuel inherited 1,000 police cases alone.

“We’re settling cases we inherited. . . . In addition, we’ve accelerated the recognition of liability. So, we’re getting it on both ends. We’re clearing a lot of brush and bad things away from the past and doing something that will save money over the longer haul. But, it’s not saving us money short-term.”

Cases related to Burge account for over 44 percent of the settlements authorized this year and a quarter of the total since Emanuel became mayor. The city has had to borrow money to pay for the settlements, which contributed to the downgrading of the city’s credit ratings. Patton couldn’t explain why there was only $27.4 million set aside to settle lawsuits but added, “My hope is that, when we clean up the old and do some of the things that reduce the new, that $27 million number will be sustainable.”