Last year the city handed out $102 million to settle lawsuits against police officers and other city employees.
In late May 2011, a drunk Streets and Sanitations worker drove his city pick-up into a crowd of people seriously injuring Jennifer Anton. She sued. The city is proposing to settle the case next week for $7.4-million.
Another proposed settlement involves mishandled evidence in the old police crime lab. Another, $6.3 million to a man who did 12 years in prison for a rape and robbery he didn't do.
That's how the New Year begins, and here's how the old year ended. A total of $102 million was paid out in judgments, settlements, and attorneys' fees in lawsuits brought against the city, most of them involving police, including cases left from the days of Jon Burge.
The $102 million in payouts is more than three times what the city budgeted, so to pay the rest, the city issues general obligation bonds - meaning taxpayers pay more over the long haul.
"It's been going on too long for the city of Chicago," said Laurence Msall, Civic Federation.
Msall says the city needs to more realistically budget for legal costs instead of kicking can the 20-30 years down the road.
"Over the life of the bonds you're gonna pay a multiple of it," he said. "Instead of $70 million you may wind up paying $200 million or more for that."
The city has budgeted a few million more for litigation costs this year, but more bond sales will happen again.
"I fully expect that we're going to see the amount of money we spend on settlements and judgments coming down," said Steve Patton, Chicago Corporation counsel.
The city's Law department is trying to conclude long-standing, fee eating, tough to win cases, like the Burge matters it inherited. An old practice of waiting until the eve of trial is out. The new strategy is figure risk early, and cut down on hiring outside lawyers.
"We're already saving millions of dollars over what would have been spent if we hadn't taken these initiatives," Patton said.
The new strategy is not meant to suggest that the city is rolling over and writing checks. In cases it feels it should and can win, the city has won about 70 percent of the time, and Patton says the pay-off is in changing bad behavior so costly misconduct doesn't repeat itself.
But, as far as budgeting for what the city thinks it'll have to pay out during the course of a year, that won't happen. The money's not there. The old habit of more long term debt will continue.