Al­der­men be­grudg­ingly OK $3.8M set­tle­ment with cop

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY FRAN SPIELMAN, CITY HALL RE­PORTER fspiel­man@sun­times.com | @fspiel­man

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.”

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