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Police torture cases from Daley era vex Chicago's Rahm Emanuel

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said this week that Chicago will pay to defend former Mayor Richard M. Daley in lawsuits alleging police torture during his tenure. Wrong message, say critics.

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Daley is one of dozens of defendants in at least eight torture-related civil lawsuits still pending against the city, says Ms. Hoyle, of the law department. The city has no choice but to contract with private firms to represent the defendants, she says. The cases are so complicated, involving so many allegations against so many public officials, that the city cannot in good conscience represent all of them adequately or without the appearance of conflict of interest. “Different groups of defendants may have different positions in regards to different claims, so legally we can’t represent all of them,” she says.

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Chicago has already spent $43 million to defend ex-Commander Burge and other police officials involved in the scandals and to pay settlements to 10 victims. More than half that amount went for legal defense of Burge and others. Burge, who was convicted in 2010 of perjury and obstruction of justice, is serving five years in a federal prison in North Carolina. Because a majority of torture cases date from the mid- to late-1970s, the statute of limitations has run out, preventing prosecutors from pursuing more serious charges against Burge and the rouge band of police personnel who worked under him. [Editor's note: This paragraph has been modified to correct the number of people who have won settlements.]

Some critics say the city should settle with victims to finally put the matter to rest – for both moral and financial reasons.

“Continuing to defend the indefensible is not smart,” says Chicago Alderman Joe Moore. “I’m not suggesting we settle these cases without being mindful of the city’s fiscal health and sign a blank check. But, clearly, these people who were victims of Burge’s torture need to be compensated. To delay that justice for years is not a good thing.”

The city, for its part, says it must thoroughly review each case, because each involves different factors that may not qualify for an automatic settlement, such as one instance in which a plaintiff received a settlement but later filed a second civil suit to pursue additional compensation.

“We feel we have to treat each case own by its own merit, review allegations, and at least conduct due diligence,” Hoyle says.

Others say that even if Emanuel believes the city is legally obligated to pay defense costs, he should have been more vigorous in his condemnation of the Burge era, which stretched from 1972 to 1991. “By having city hall pay for Daley’s legal bills, Emanuel puts his own political down payment on the Burge case, whether he likes it or not,” Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass wrote Thursday.

Daley is immune from prosecution for his actions during his days state’s attorney – and during his days as mayor few were willing to challenge him. His critics say he looked the other way after the police torture allegations came to light in 1982, never ordering an investigation or bringing criminal charges against Burge. When a 1992 internal police department report described systematic torture between 1973 and 1986 involving 50 criminal suspects, Daley rejected the claims as unsubstantial. Daley did face questions under oath from a court-appointed special prosecutor in 2006, but many felt the exchange was too deferential to the mayor.

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