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Cook County judge lets restraining order on Chicago police union president expire

The judge denied Chicago's request to extend a restraining order that barred Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara from publicly commenting on the city's employee vaccine mandate.

CHICAGO (CN) — Cook County Judge Cecilia Horan dealt a blow to the city of Chicago Monday evening in its ongoing fight with Chicago Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 over the city's employee vaccine mandate.

Following a hearing Monday, Horan issued a three-page ruling denying the city's request to extend the restraining order that prevented FOP President John Catanzara from publicly commenting on the mandate. First issued on Oct. 15, the order was set to expire Monday at midnight. Horan also denied the city's request to extend the restraining order to other officials with the FOP, who the city argued said the things Catanzara was legally barred from saying — namely, encouraging Chicago police officers to defy the city's employee vaccine mandate.

Prior to the city and the FOP suing each other on Oct. 14, Catanzara encouraged police officers to disobey the vaccine mandate in several YouTube videos. He went so far as to tell officers to refuse orders from their superior officers to comply with the mandate.

"The new thing seems to be that [the Chicago Police Department] is going to have supervisors give direct orders to enter information in the portal. I am telling you right now, it is an improper order ... refuse that order," Catanzara said in an Oct. 14 YouTube video. After Catanzara was barred from making similar comments by Judge Horan's restraining order, other FOP officials took to saying what he couldn't.

"DO NOT COMPLY at the District or Unit Level on going into the [employee vaccine] portal. Make them give you a Direct Order to go down to 35th Street for a counseling session," FOP First Vice-President Michael Mette said in an email to all police union members on Oct. 19.

It was comments such as these that initially prompted the city to file its suit seeking an injunction against Catanzara and the FOP on Oct. 14, aiming to prevent similar comments. Not 15 minutes after the city filed its lawsuit, Catanzara, the FOP and the other Chicago police unions filed an opposing suit claiming that the vaccine mandate violated the unions' collective bargaining agreement with the city.

In the city's initial hearing on the Oct. 15, one of the city's attorneys, Mike Warner, said that Catanzara's comments encouraging officer insubordination amounted to "civil sedition" that needed to be contained. He further argued that officers refusing to comply with the vaccine mandate constituted an illegal strike. Warner forwarded a similar argument Monday, adding that Catanzara's actions were an indefensible risk to public safety.

"These statements are adding gasoline to the fire," Warner said, adding the court has "heard no good reason" as to why Catanzara and others are directing officers not to comply with the mandate.

Catanzara has harshly criticized the mandate since Mayor Lori Lightfoot's office first announced it in August. He initially compared the mandate to "Nazi fucking Germany," and only apologized for the comparison after intense public backlash.

At present, the mandate only requires that city employees, including police, upload their vaccination status into an online data portal. Those who report not being vaccinated for any reason must submit to twice-weekly Covid-19 testing, and those that refuse to enter their status into the portal risk having their pay revoked. Repeated refusal by police in particular to comply could lead to harsher consequences, including termination.

Catanzara labeled the act of reporting one's vaccination status as an invasion of medical privacy. He said in an Oct. 12 video that up to half the police force would choose to go on no-pay status rather than enter their information in the portal.

"It's safe to say the city of Chicago will have a police force at 50% or less for this weekend coming up," Catanzara said in his Oct. 12 video.

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This statement has since proven to be hyperbolic. Only 70% of Chicago police employees have entered their vaccination status into the employee portal as of Oct. 25 — the lowest compliance rate among all municipal departments — but Police Superintendent David Brown said in a Monday afternoon press conference that only 23 officers had been put into a no-pay status.

Horan cited this lack of a mass work stoppage by Chicago police — the threat of which caused the city to pursue action legal against Catanzara in the first place — as justification for her decision.

"The deadline for compliance with the City’s vaccination policy has expired," Horan wrote in her ruling. "The threatened work stoppage has not come to pass."

The FOP's lead attorney in the case, Joel D'Alba, continued to argue Monday that whether police should be made to comply with the vaccine mandate is a collective bargaining issue for the Illinois Labor Board to handle. Under this reasoning he forwarded a motion on Monday that the city's case be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

"The Labor Board has exclusive jurisdiction to deal with these questions," D'Alba said Monday. "It's up to the Labor Board ... to determine whether or not [noncompliance with the vaccine mandate] is a strike."

Horan dismissed this motion, as she had a already made a ruling in the case when she first levied Catanzara's temporary restraining order on Oct. 15. But her ruling Monday also seemed to agree with D'Alba that the current status quo between Chicago and its police force does not constitute an emergency requiring immediate rectification.

"There is no impending threat alleged in this case," D'Alba argued Monday.

"Critical to the Court’s analysis in entering the October 15th temporary restraining order were the facts that the deadline for compliance with the City’s vaccination policy had not yet passed ... and there was a real and imminent threat of a work-stoppage by a large number of Chicago police officers that would jeopardize the health, safety and welfare of Chicago citizens. There is nothing before the Court suggesting that these critical facts are still present," Horan wrote in her latest ruling.

Horan's ruling is not the end of the vaccine mandate fight in Chicago. D'Alba also successfully convinced Horan Friday to allow the FOP's own lawsuit against the city to be handled by a different judge — despite the county's presiding chancery judge, Judge Moshe Jacobius, opining Thursday that both cases should stay with Judge Horan. The FOP's case is now set to be handled by Judge Raymond Mitchell.

Another hearing for the city's case against the FOP is scheduled for Nov. 8.

Catanzara, meanwhile, has used the controversy to amplify his own political profile. On Oct. 15, after his temporary restraining order was issued, Catanzara hinted that he may run for the mayorship of Chicago in 2023. On Monday morning he organized a protest against Mayor Lori Lightfoot by FOP members and their anti-vaccine mandate sympathizers on the steps of city hall.

"It was pretty amazing to see that level of ... vocal resistance to a tyrant," Catanzara said in a Monday video.

In a Tuesday morning statement, the mayor’s office said that even considering its legal setback on Monday, it has already attained what it wanted to win through litigation: a mostly vaccine-compliant police force.

“The city sought court intervention after FOP leadership began encouraging FOP membership to ignore the citywide vaccine policy which may have affected public safety had officers opted to follow his directive. Luckily, FOP members saw through the false statements and half-truths of their leadership,” the statement says. “CPD reports that currently 71% of employees are in compliance with the vaccine reporting requirement, and of that number, 81% report being fully vaccinated. The numbers continue to grow.”

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