Panel Denies Union Bid to Weigh In on Chicago Police Reforms

CHICAGO (CN) – The Seventh Circuit on Wednesday denied as untimely a Chicago police union’s attempt to intervene in Illinois’ lawsuit against the city over police brutality against blacks and Latinos.

In August 2017, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan asked a judge to stop police officers from engaging in a pattern of excessive force against Chicagoans, an issue that the state says reached a “flashpoint” with the release of video footage in November 2015 showing police officer Jason Van Dyke fatally shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

Illinois says Chicago has paid close to $662 million in settlements, judgments and legal fees related to police misconduct from 2004 to early 2016.

In the months since taking legal action, the state has worked with the city to draft a consent decree to reform the police department, which has come under increased scrutiny for its treatment of minorities.

As part of the agreement, Chicago police officers may be required to report every time they point a firearm at someone, and the state will appoint an independent monitor to oversee the reforms.

Since the state filed its complaint, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 7 has publicly opposed any consent decree, arguing it might impair its collective-bargaining rights.

The police union met informally with state officials, but waited until June 2018 to file a motion to intervene in the lawsuit.

A federal judge denied the motion as untimely, finding that the union knew from the beginning that the suit might impact its interests.

The Seventh Circuit upheld that ruling on Wednesday.  

“The lodge argues that the timeliness inquiry should instead run from the time it determined that the state was not protecting its interests. Specifically, the lodge contends that it reasonably relied on the state’s assurances that it was protecting the lodge’s interests,” U.S. Circuit Judge Michael Kanne said, writing for the three-judge panel.

“But the very fact that the lodge and state were discussing the need for ‘carve-out’ language makes clear that both anticipated that the consent decree would address matters which arguably fell under the purview of the [collective-bargaining agreement],” Kanne continued. “The state also refused to provide copies of the draft proposals the state and city were exchanging. And the state and city excluded the lodge from the settlement conferences with the district court, despite the lodge showing up and asking to be admitted. Thus, there were many indicators that the lodge’s interests were ‘directly pitted’ against the state’s and city’s.”

The court found no evidence of any unexpected development to excuse the union’s nine-month delay.

And, at this point in the well-publicized negotiations, allowing the union to intervene would be greatly prejudicial to the city and state, both of which have invested significant time and money into coming to an agreement regarding policing reforms in Chicago, the judge said.

However, the 17-page opinion also assured the union that federal courts could re-examine the issue of intervention if it turns out that the approved consent decree impairs the CBA or state law rights enjoyed by Chicago police officers.

Judge Kanne’s opinion was joined by U.S. Circuit Judges Kenneth Ripple and Ilana Rovner.

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