National Lawyers Guild (NLG) attorneys have reached a historic $6.2 million settlement in a class action lawsuit brought against the Chicago Police Department on behalf of hundreds of protesters arrested during a 2003 protest. The arrests came on March 20, 2003 after some 10,000 anti–Iraq War demonstrators marched through downtown streets before police surrounded a large section of the crowd, trapping and arresting over 700 people without ordering them to disperse.
“Looking ahead to a spring of protests, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and his peers around the country should take note," said National Lawyers Guild Executive Director Heidi Boghosian. "Short-sighted attempts to extinguish free speech often come at great expense.”
A Seventh Circuit ruling on the case (Vodak v. City of Chicago, 639 F.3d, 738 (2011)) holds that police cannot arrest peaceful protesters without warning just because a demonstration lacks a permit. The decision bears new weight in light of mass arrests of Occupy Chicago protesters this winter, as well as recently ratified, far-reaching city ordinances that aim to squelch protests of the G8 and NATO summits in May.
The over 700 plaintiffs in the Vodak suit will receive compensation up to $15,000 each, and Guild lawyers are negotiating additional payments for class representatives and class members who were required to give depositions.
“The rights of dissenting Chicagoans could have been buried under the county jail,” Boghosian said. “Instead, thanks to years of tireless work by Guild members, those rights have been vindicated.”
The city’s settlement offer comes on the eve of a scheduled trial. The suit was litigated over the course of almost nine years by a team of NLG lawyers and legal workers including People’s Law Office attorneys Janine Hoft, Joey Mogul, Sarah Gelsomino, and John Stainthorp, as well as People’s Law Office paralegal Brad Thomson, and attorneys Melinda Power and Jim Fennerty. The team has reached settlements totaling over $300,000 in other excessive force lawsuits stemming from the 2003 protest.
For more information and updates on the settlement visit peopleslawoffice.com.
The National Lawyers Guild was founded in 1937 and is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. Its headquarters are in New York and it has chapters in every state.