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Judge guts class action over Chicago weekend arrest policy

A federal judge in the Windy City tossed most of the claims in a class action arguing it's unconstitutional to keep arrestees detained over weekends and holidays.

CHICAGO (CN) — A federal civil rights class action challenging Chicago's policy to hold detainees over weekends and holidays hit a major hurdle Thursday, when a federal judge dismissed all but one of the plaintiffs from the suit.

The case, first filed in February 2020, argues that it's unconstitutional for those arrested on weekends and court holidays to have to wait until the next business day to post bond. A Chicago Police Department directive takes the exact opposite stance, expressly prohibiting those arrested on weekends and court holidays from posting bond at the police station in which they are detained. It instead mandates they must post bond before a Cook County judge, whenever court is next in session.

The plaintiffs and class representatives in the suit, all individuals who were arrested by Chicago police between 2018 and 2019 on days that court wasn't in session, say this policy violates their Fourth and 14th Amendment rights. The former guarantees protection against unreasonable search and seizure, while the latter guarantees a right to fair legal proceedings.

"Plaintiffs in this case... challenge this municipal policy as violative of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments because it results in an unreasonable duration of post-arrest detention and imposes an invidious and irrational discrimination," an April 2021 amended version of their complaint states.

The amended complaint also points out that the city does not require those arrested on weekdays to post bond before a county judge, implying that the CPD's weekend directive prioritizes court and police convenience over arrestees' civil rights.

"It is clear to me that the policy is unconstitutional," said Kenneth Flaxman, the lead attorney representing the class of arrestees, in an interview. "Everyone should be allowed to post bond at the station."

U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman did not discount Flaxman's argument on its face, but instead based his decision to dismiss all but one of the five plaintiffs on the interaction between state and municipal law. The four eliminated plaintiffs had been arrested by Chicago police on warrants issued outside Cook County, and the Barack Obama appointee found that their holiday detention was mandated by the Cook County Circuit Court's General Administrative Order No. 2015-06.

"Defendants taken into custody by an arresting agency located within Cook County on an arrest warrant issued by an Illinois state court outside of Cook County shall be required to appear in bond court in the appropriate district or division of this court," the order, enacted in July 2015, states.

As a municipal policy in Illinois cannot override state law or disobey a circuit court order, Feinerman wrote in his Thursday opinion that "this command plainly requires the City to bring to bond court persons arrested on a warrant issued outside Cook County."

Later in his ruling, the judge pointed out that those arrested on warrants from outside Cook County could not post bond at a police station even on weekdays.

"On its face... the Order prohibits individuals arrested on warrants issued outside Cook County from posting bond at the [police] station," Feinerman wrote.

Anticipating this argument, the class representatives said in prior hearings that Order No. 2015-06 also contains language allowing arrestees to post bond without having to go to court first.

The last sentence of the order reads, "When the defendant is able to post the bail set on the warrant issued by the demanding authority, the defendant shall be admitted to bail and scheduled for a court appearance in the county of the demanding authority."

But Feinerman rejected this argument outright, noting that sentence was aimed at the Cook County Sheriff's Office, not the Chicago Police Department.

"Plaintiffs argued that the Order’s last sentence... authorizes CPD to accept bond at the police station without bringing the arrestee to bond court," Feinerman wrote. "But that sentence is part of a paragraph whose first sentence is unambiguously directed at the Cook County Sheriff, not the City, and it therefore does not authorize CPD officers to accept bond payments at the station from persons arrested on warrants issued outside Cook County."

Feinerman's ruling is a blow to the arrestee class' complaint, but not a lethal one. The singular remaining plaintiff, a woman named Theresa Kennedy, was arrested on a Saturday in April 2019 on an in-county warrant. While the judge did not discuss any potential 14th Amendment violation Kennedy may have suffered, he found that she had at least adequately alleged a Fourth Amendment claim.

The class action, and the more than 2,500 people it seeks to represent, will now proceed entirely on Kennedy's allegations.

"Kennedy alleges that there is no legitimate reason for the delay she suffered, as individuals arrested during nonholiday weekdays on warrants issued in Chicago are allowed to post bond at the police station," Feinerman wrote. "Those allegations are sufficient to allege a Fourth Amendment violation, at least on the pleadings."

Feinerman's ruling comes as Illinois prepares for criminal justice reform legislation known as the Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today Act, or SAFE-T Act, that will take effect on New Year's Day 2023. The law eliminates cash bail in Illinois, among other changes, though Flaxman said he did not know if it would affect Kennedy's case moving forward.

"It's far from clear if the SAFE-T Act will affect this case," the attorney said, though he added that in light of the planned reforms, Chief Cook County Circuit Judge Timothy Evans ought to consider rescinding Order 2015-06.

"The chief judge may need to rescind that order," Flaxman said. "It seems out of touch."

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