Chicago lawyer running for judge accused of withholding evidence

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A City of Chicago Law Department lawyer running in the primary next month for a Cook County circuit judge seat has drawn criticism in several cases over allegations the city improperly withheld evidence in lawsuits claiming police abuse, court records and interviews show.

Jonathan C. Green is running as the Democratic party-endorsed candidate in a countywide race for a seat on the bench. He has defended the city in numerous lawsuits, working as a supervising attorney in the division of the Law Department that defends the city and its police officers when they are accused in federal court of civil rights violations.

Beginning on February 21, Cook County voters started heading to the polls to winnow down the field of 110 judicial primary candidates vying to fill 39 vacancies on the bench. For the majority of races in which there is no partisan contest, the primary elections serve as the final word in who will become a judge in Cook County. This article is part of Injustice Watch‘s continuing coverage prior to the March elections.

That division has been repeatedly criticized and even sanctioned by the courts for withholding evidence; judges in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois have ordered the city pay fines to opposing attorneys in nine cases since 2011 for withholding or carelessly producing evidence during the discovery process.

The issues have been so persistent that in 2016 the city commissioned an audit of that division, and several aldermen last year called unsuccessfully for a U.S. Justice Department investigation.

An Injustice Watch review identified several such cases in which Green was the trial attorney or supervisor. Opposing attorneys in those cases asserted that Green, while personally amiable, obstructed their efforts to obtain critical documents about the conduct and disciplinary records of city police officers.

“It is interesting to me that Jonathan Green wants to be a judge when I have serious concerns that he appreciates the integrity of the discovery process,” said attorney Jeffrey Granich, who detailed disputes over withheld evidence in two police abuse cases in which Green represented the city, alongside other department lawyers. “I just think there’s been too many of these incidents. When supervisors allow s— to happen, then that’s what people do.”

Green declined to comment on the cases for this story, and did not respond to a request for comment on his handling of evidence more broadly. Representatives for Green’s campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Law Department spokesman Bill McCaffrey wrote in a statement, “The Law Department and Police Department take their discovery obligations very seriously and are working together to ensure that CPD is providing all relevant information to the Law Department as part of that process.”

Police shooting not revealed

Federal court records show Green was lead attorney for the city in Granich’s lawsuit on behalf of his client Elaina Turner, who suffered a miscarriage after a Chicago police officer stunned her three times with a Taser gun.

Jonathan C. Green

As part of the suit, city attorneys were asked to turn over evidence about Officer Patrick Kelly, including his personnel file and civilian complaints against him.

The city waited until one day before Turner’s lawyers were scheduled to question Kelly in a deposition to turn over a document showing Kelly had been found unfit for duty in two psychiatric evaluations, Granich wrote in a court filing in June 2016. Then, during the deposition, Kelly revealed a fact that was not in any of the evidence the city produced for Turner’s lawyers: Two years before, he shot and killed a civilian on duty, and the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), a city agency, documented the event in an investigation it completed.

U.S. District Judge Sharon Coleman sanctioned the city over the omission in December 2016, ordering the city to pay Turner’s attorneys the costs of taking a second deposition. The city settled the lawsuit with Turner and her partner last July for a reported $500,000.

“When it came to the sanctions Jonathan was heavily involved,” Granich said.

Even after sanctions, still trouble

U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall stepped in during a pre-trial dispute last November in a lawsuit brought by the family of Divonte Young, who was shot to death by a Chicago policeman. Gottschall found the city guilty of “wilfullness, fault and bad faith” in how attorneys were responding to the Young family’s requests for documents, and fined the city $62,500.

While the city did not concede it had erred, the parties agreed to a six-month pause in the pre-trial discovery process to permit the city the chance to fix any flaws.

Candace Gorman, the attorney for Young’s mother, contends in a pending motion filed last month that additional sanctions are needed because the city continued to drag its feet on turning over records about everything from the evidence gathered at the scene of the shooting to past incidents involving the officer.

Green, who is the city’s lead attorney, and another attorney representing the officer jointly signed a response blaming Gorman for the dispute.

“Plaintiff’s counsel wishes to resurrect past discovery fights and rulings to advance a narrative that the City and its lawyers have engaged in bad faith in discovery,” the response states, though “with a little mutual cooperation and more attention to detail by Plaintiff’s counsel, this current discovery issue could have been resolved.”

Gorman then wrote that Green’s response demonstrated further “gamesmanship” by the city.

“Plaintiff has endured a discovery practice runaround from the City for several years in connection with this case that involves the death of her son,” Gorman wrote. “The City has wasted this Court’s time and Plaintiff’s time. The City’s investigation of its discovery problems was a sham. This camel has a strong back, but enough is enough.”

“Not producing anything”

Months after May Molina, an outspoken police critic, died in police custody in 2004, the city and individual police officers were sued over her treatment and that of her son, who was arrested and held for 30 days before being released.

Green represented the officers, and the pre-trial discovery process was contentious for years.

Mark Reyes of Loevy and Loevy, the attorneys for Molina’s family, wrote in late 2006 that the attorneys representing the city and its officers were “not producing anything, not even written responses.” In early 2007 Reyes also wrote that the city was “flouting” the judge’s order to turn over evidence, and should be sanctioned.

Green, in return, co-signed a reply calling the attorneys’ filings “vitriolic, accusatory” and  “claiming an extensive controversy that really has never existed.” His reply also accused the attorneys for the family of “blatant manipulation,” contending they were implying that the city had been guilty of “intentional hiding” of witnesses when “nothing could be farther from the truth.”

Seven years later, as the case was close to trial, the two sides were still arguing over whether the city was withholding information. When attorneys for Molina’s family sought invoice records dating back 10 years to explore how often the city relied on the same expert witnesses, Green told the judge that the city could not produce that number.

Green told U.S. Senior Judge John F. Grady that Law Department employee Angelina Fuentes was unable to isolate the bills for specific experts from the bills of all experts used by the city in other cases, according to a transcript of the hearing.

Based on that representation, Grady ordered the city to produce only six years of the records. Weeks later during the trial, according to a trial transcript, attorneys for the two sides argued again over the burden of producing the bill. Grady demanded that Fuentes herself be brought in to testify. During a recess without the jury present, Fuentes told Grady that it took 10 to 15 minutes for her to find each year’s worth of payments to each individual expert.

Grady declined to order additional records as the trial was winding to an end, but said, “Had I known what I know now, my order would have been different.”

After the jury trial, Molina’s children ended up winning $1 million in damages from the city.

Weeks before trial, thousands of pages

On Feb. 19, the city settled with Aretha Simmons, for an undisclosed amount, her lawsuit alleging that Chicago police officers pointed a gun at her toddler daughter and used force on her in front of the child. It was the third case in recent months that the city settled when new evidence came to light shortly before trial.

Earlier in February, three weeks before the case was scheduled to go to trial, Simmons’s attorney Al Hofeld, Jr. said the city began producing thousands of pages of police records on the officers involved, including complaint files and personnel files that Hofeld had expected in discovery as long as two years earlier.

Green stopped working on the case in mid-2016, but he was supervising the city’s main attorney during the time Simmons’s side was expecting the evidence, Hofeld said.

“He was supervising what the city was agreeing to produce and what they were actually producing in discovery,” Hofeld told Injustice Watch.

District Judge Matthew Kennelly is considering Hofeld’s request for sanctions in the case. In a hearing Feb. 15 before the scheduled trial, Kennelly blasted the city for its delayed production of documents and asked for the names of all city attorneys who had been involved in the discovery process, including Green. The judge threatened to bring the city’s former attorneys and supervisors to court for a hearing on sanctions.

“I’m just going to start lining them up,” Kennelly said.

Green is one of four candidates for a countywide vacancy on the court, and the one who enjoys the Democratic Party endorsement in the March 20 primary. The others are Kathaleen T. Lanahan, Michael O’Malley, and Lori Ann Roper.

The Chicago Council of Lawyers in its evaluation of judicial candidates this week found all four “qualified,” writing that Green is seen by other attorneys as a “solid practitioner.”

“Most respondents report that he has a good temperament,” the council wrote. “In general, he has had an impressive legal career with substantial litigation experience in more complex matters.”

Jacob Kaplan, executive director of the county Democratic Party, wrote in a statement that Green underwent “an extensive vetting process” and was unanimously approved for endorsement by all 80 of the party’s ward and township committeemen.

The winner is virtually assured of becoming a Cook County circuit judge; there is no Republican candidate.