Mandel Clinic Challenges Chicago’s Unethical Legal Practices

Who Says You Can't Fight City Hall?
Law School Staff
Law School Office of Communications
March 1, 2009

Professors and students in the University of Chicago's Mandel Legal Aid Clinic recently won a victory for Chicago's civil rights lawyers and victims of police misconduct by securing an agreement from the City of Chicago to change a decades-old policy of requiring plaintiff's attorneys to accept restrictions on their use of relevant evidence as a condition of settlement.

The City agreed to change its long-standing policy in response to a challenge issued in a recent article released by the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic, and published in the May-June issue of the Police Misconduct and Civil Rights Law Report.

The article, titled Settlements You Can't Sign: Ethical Implications of Chicago's Machinery of Denial, was written by Craig Futterman, Clinical Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School, Jason Huber, Clinical Lecturer at the Law School, and Pier Petersen, a third-year student at the Law School.

For more than 25 years, City of Chicago policy required attorneys representing victims of police misconduct to agree to restrictions on their right to practice law as a condition of settling their clients' claims.  "The restrictions were designed to keep relevant evidence of police misconduct out of court, and to make it harder for experienced civil rights attorneys to represent new victims of police misconduct," explains Petersen. But, as the authors demonstrate in their recent article, settlements crafted to compromise opposing counsel's ability to represent future clients violate the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct and national rules of legal ethics and attorney conduct.

The article describes how the Law Department's unethical settlement practices served the City's larger effort to suppress information about and inquiry into police misconduct and the City's liability for that misconduct, and supported its broader strategy of "solving" the problem of police misconduct by concealing it from the courts, from the public, and even from elected officials responsible for the oversight of the police department.

"For far too long, the City of Chicago used unethical legal tactics as part of a broader strategy of institutional denial of police misconduct," says Futterman. "The City's decision to drop these unethical restrictions from its standard settlement agreement vindicates legal ethics, and is a positive step toward restoring public trust in the City's handling of police misconduct." 

For more information:   

  • Craig Futterman, 773-702-9611
  • Pier Petersen, 773-297-9723


Craig B. Futterman