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A year in law: Record verdicts, consent decrees, airport attorneys and pop taxes

December 01, 2017
By Chicago Lawyer staff

Jan 1: Darby Dickerson began her tenure as dean of The John Marshall Law School, replacing John E. Corkery, who served as dean for more than 10 years.

Jan. 13: Chicago and the Department of Justice signed an agreement-in-principle to negotiate a consent decree — a court-enforceable agreement with an independent, federal monitor — to oversee police abuse reforms.

Jan. 20: Donald Trump was inaugurated president. His Justice Department never pursues the Chicago consent decree.

Jan. 23: Professional speed driver Craig Breedlove and the Museum of Science and Industry announced they have resolved a lawsuit over the handling of the jet-propelled car Breedlove used to break the 500-mph land speed barrier.

Jan. 27: In a scene echoed at airports across the nation, hundreds of lawyers flocked to O’Hare International Airport to provide legal services for stranded or detained travelers in the wake of Trump signing a ban on travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Volunteer attorneys from the Council on American-Islamic Relations Chicago Travelers Assistance Program working in shifts staffed a table by the Terminal 5 McDonald’s restaurant until late summer, when the group transitioned to a hotline model.

March 1: The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office announced a new bond reform initiative that allowed the release of some Cook County Jail detainees who remained behind bars because they could not afford a $1,000-or-less bail bond.

March 13: Zachary T. Fardon stepped down as Chicago’s top federal prosecutor three days after the Trump administration suddenly ordered Fardon and 45 other U.S. attorneys to hand in their resignations. John R. Lausch Jr. of Kirkland & Ellis was later nominated to succeed Fardon and was affirmed by the U.S. Senate in November. In August, Fardon would open the Chicago office of King & Spalding.

March 13: Michael J. Kaufman, a longtime professor and former associate dean, was named dean of Loyola University Chicago School of Law.

March 24: A McDonough County jury awarded a record-breaking $4.1 million to the estate of a woman who died after a police officer collided with her minivan while pursuing a suspect at high speed, a record for both the county of roughly 32,000 residents and the entire six-county 9th Judicial Circuit. The estate was represented by Spesia & Ayers.

April 4: The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals became the first federal appellate court in the nation to hold Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation.

April 12: A federal jury awarded nearly $13.4 million to Deon Patrick, who alleged Chicago police officers framed him for a double murder he did not commit. He was represented by Valorem Law Group.

April 12: Federal prosecutors indicted Cook County Circuit Judge Jessica A. O’Brien on charges of federal mail and bank fraud in connection to an alleged mortgage fraud scheme that helped her mislead lenders to obtain and refinance $1.4 million in mortgage and commercial loans between 2004 and 2007. She has since been reassigned to administrative duties.

April 20: A federal jury awarded $3 million to the wife of Stewart Dolin, a Chicago lawyer who killed himself six days after he began taking a generic version of the antidepressant Paxil. She was represented by Rapoport Law Offices and Los Angeles-based Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman.

April 24: Cook County Circuit Judge Richard C. Cooke served his last day before resigning after only six months on the bench. Refusing to report for his assignment to traffic court, he had solely been presiding over weddings since Jan. 20.

April 27: United Airlines entered into a confidential settlement with passenger Dr. David Dao after he was injured when forcefully removed from at flight at O’Hare International Airport earlier that month. He was represented by Corboy & Demetrio.

May 17: Cook County Circuit Clerk Dorothy A. Brown unveiled details behind the plan to roll out a new electronic case management system for the Cook County Circuit Court between July 2018 and March 2021.

June 5: Judge Ann Claire Williams, the only African-American woman to serve on the 7th Circuit, took senior status the previous month. Williams’ move left three seats open on the 11-seat appeals court. A fourth vacancy would be created when Richard A. Posner retired in September.

June 9: U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Kendall brought the Cook County Jail out of federal oversight for the first time since 1974.

June 26: Eric Dannenmaier resigned as dean of Northern Illinois University College of Law amid reports that he sexually harassed two former employees.

July 6: Illinois lawmakers implemented the state’s first budget in more than two years, overriding Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto and approving a plan that called for income tax increases.

July 7: William J. Martin, who prosecuted Richard Speck — convicted of systematically torturing, raping and murdering eight student nurses — died at the age of 80.

Aug. 1: U.S. District Judge Milton I. Shadur announced health problems would force him to retire from the federal trial bench in Chicago at the age of 93. Shadur said he would leave the bench on Sept. 1.

Aug. 11: The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a $219 million judgment that six corporate executives were ordered to pay for driving Emerald Casino Inc. into bankruptcy.

Aug. 23: A Cook County jury awarded more than $148 million to a woman paralyzed when a pedestrian shelter at O’Hare fell on her. The award was the largest Cook County personal-injury verdict ever reported and the largest verdict ever reported against the city of Chicago. She was represented by Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard.

Aug. 29: Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed State of Illinois v. City of Chicago, working with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to sue the city over police abuse, hoping a judge could order the consent decree Trump’s Justice Department opted not to pursue in January.

Aug. 31: The Cook County Circuit Court opened its first-ever Restorative Justice Community Court. The court meets every Thursday in North Lawndale to bring victims and nonviolent offenders together to talk out disputes.

Aug. 31: The same month Illinois failed for the first time ever to send general state aid to schools, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a school-funding compromise bill into law.

Sept. 1: Judge Richard A. Posner announced his abrupt retirement from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after nearly 36 years on the bench. Posner said friction with his fellow judges over the way the appeals court treats pro se litigants led him to retire two years earlier than he planned.

Sept. 11: U.S. District Judge Robert M. Dow Jr. threw out a $54 million verdict a jury returned in favor of the Black & Decker Corp. in a trade dress suit over the use of its yellow-and-black color scheme on Rockwell tools.

Sept. 11: U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly declined to throw out a $22 million verdict in favor of Nathson Fields, a former death row inmate who alleges Chicago police fabricated evidence and withheld critical facts in his murder trial. He was represented by the Law Office of H. Candace Gorman and Loevy & Loevy.

Sept. 15: Cook County Circuit Court officials debuted a Pretrial Division designed to evaluate whether defendants charged with nonviolent felonies should be freed with no bail or minimum bail before trial.

Sept. 15: Attorney General Lisa M. Madigan shocked the Illinois political universe, announcing she wouldn’t run for re-election in 2018. Madigan has been the state’s top lawyer since 2003. As of November, seven Democrats had either announced runs or filed campaign paperwork to replace her. The primary winner will face the lone Republican, downstate Meyer Capel associate Erika N.L. Harold.

Sept. 15: U.S. District Judge Harry D. Leinenweber temporarily enjoined the Trump administration from withholding public safety grant money from sanctuary cities across the country. Leinenweber held the injunction would remain in effect while a lawsuit filed by the city of Chicago challenging restrictions on the grant money remained pending.

Sept. 19: Daniel Rodriguez resigned as dean of Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and will return to the classroom as a full-time faculty member at the end of the 2017-18 school year.

Sept. 25: M. Cherif Bassiouni, an Egyptian-born legal scholar known as the “father of international law” who co-founded the International Human Rights Law Institute at DePaul University, died at age 79.

Sept. 28: The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an Illinois case, Janus v. AFSCME, that threatens to end mandatory union fees for nonunion members.

Oct. 4: Cook County was awarded a $1.85 million grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation as one of eight counties in a program looking to shrink jail populations and divert nonviolent offenders.

Oct. 12: Chicago Ald. Ameya Pawar dropped out of the race for governor, saying his campaign did not have enough money to compete in a field that includes multimillionaires Bruce Rauner and Chris Kennedy and billionaire J.B. Pritzker. Pawar’s departure left seven Democrats looking to unseat Rauner.

Oct. 26: A federal jury awarded $44.7 million, a record for police abuse cases, to a man left disabled after an off-duty police officer shot him after a night of drinking. The man’s suit alleged the Chicago Police Department’s “code of silence” hindered the investigation. Chicago vowed to appeal the award, saying the man tried to kill himself with his friend’s service weapon. He was represented by Romanucci & Blandin.

Oct. 26: U.S. District Judge Milton I. Shadur gave preliminary approval to a proposed $295 million settlement agreement in a lawsuit accusing waste disposal company Stericycle Inc. of fraudulently overcharging customers.

Oct. 31: In a 55-43 vote, the U.S. Senate confirmed professor Amy Coney Barrett of Notre Dame Law School to fill one of four vacant seats on the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Nov. 2: A Cook County jury awarded $85 million to a man who had both of his legs amputated after a crane incident in Rockford, setting a record in Illinois for lawsuits involving double leg amputations. He was represented by Power Rogers & Smith.

Nov. 7: The state legislature passed a series of bills aimed at curbing sexual harassment by lawmakers. Pressure had mounted on the bill when a victims’ rights advocate testified about harassment at the hands of a state senator.

Nov. 8: Former President Barack Obama reported to the Daley Center for jury duty. He was not selected.

Dec. 1: Nine months after it took effect, Cook County’s penny-an-ounce sweetened beverage tax ended. The tax, whose funds would have been used in part to stave off layoffs at the Cook County Public Defender’s Office, was put on hold in court in July and overturned by county board vote in October.

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