Rare legal settlements demand officers pay too
May 04, 2012
To settle a wrongful-conviction lawsuit against the Chicago police, the city recently agreed to pay Harold Hill $1.25 million.
What never became public was that, to reach the settlement late last year, two detectives in the case that sent Hill to prison for 12 years for a rape and murder he insisted he did not commit agreed to contribute, too. It was not much next to the total settlement — $7,500 each — yet it apparently meant something to Hill.
The city of Chicago, like other municipalities, pays judgments and settlements when the conduct of police officers goes wrong. But in rare cases, said attorneys on both sides of the issue, people who were wronged demand money from the officers, too. It is an effort to balance the scales, a way to make the perpetrator of the pain experience something of what the purported victim went through, even if it is a nominal amount.
...."Most of the folks who have been victimized care more about the accountability," said Craig Futterman, a professor at the University of Chicago's law school. "They want an acknowledgment that the police did them wrong or hurt them. That's why some of these settlements are for such small amounts."
...."It's the symbolism that makes it attractive to a plaintiff," said Russell Ainsworth, who represented Hill but because of the confidentiality agreement also could not discuss details of the case. "To get money from the officer who wronged them means something to some people."
Ainsworth said the firm he works at, Loevy & Loevy, sees trying to make officers pay from their own pocket as "a policy position."
"It's what we believe in. It's an attempt at restorative justice," said Ainsworth, who called such settlements extremely rare at the firm. "It really has an intrinsic value that goes above and beyond the dollar amount, having a police officer writing a check out of his own account. There's a feeling of justice there for the client, and that's important. It's also an extra psychological piece to help make the client satisfied."
Taylor said he liked the idea of making police officers pay to settle lawsuits and, like Seng, said it could have some deterrent effect.