Liza Franklin, pictured in 2015, has resigned from her position as head of the Chicago Law Department’s civil rights litigation division, several sources said. (Nancy Stone / Chicago Tribune)
The head of the Chicago Law Department’s civil rights litigation division lost her job last week after a federal judge excoriated the city’s record of failing to turn over evidence in police misconduct cases, the Chicago Tribune has learned.
Liza Franklin, who oversaw a team of 60 attorneys and support staff handling mostly lawsuits against the police, resigned from her $140,000-a-year position amid the fallout over accusations her office failed to turn over evidence in the August 2015 police shooting that wounded Jaquise Evans, several sources said.
Calls to Franklin’s direct line at work on Tuesday went to a personalized voicemail message that said she was “no longer employed by the city of Chicago Department of Law” and referred callers to another city attorney for assistance.
A Law Department spokesman would not confirm Franklin’s resignation, citing the city’s policy to refrain from commenting on personnel matters.
Franklin’s resignation was the highest-profile casualty yet in a string of troubles for the beleaguered Law Department. According to her online biography, Franklin was responsible for more than 400 “in-house” cases pending against police officers and monitored nearly another 100 other cases that were being handled by outside counsel.
The Tribune first reported Friday that Corporation Counsel Edward Siskel sent a memo to staff last week announcing that one Law Department attorney had resigned and two others were suspended over the withholding of evidence in a recent lawsuit.
The two-page memo did not identify the attorneys involved or the case that led to the discipline, but Siskel explained that the attorneys’ failure to meet professional standards breached the public trust.
“Any failure to meet those standards can quickly erode the trust the public places in us, and mistakes can have lasting, significant consequences that damage our collective reputation with judges, opposing counsel and taxpayers,” Siskel wrote in the memo.
Also disciplined was Assistant Corporation Counsel Scott Cohen, who was suspended for 30 days without pay, and Assistant Corporation Counsel Bret Kabacinski, who received a five-day unpaid suspension, according to several sources familiar with the matter.
The move came a little over a week after all three attorneys were ripped in court by U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer for their conduct in the Evans lawsuit.
Evans’ lawyers had accused the city of failing to turn over crucial evidence in the case, including several citizen complaints against Sgt. Richard Salvador that were only disclosed in the eleventh hour as well as a Facebook video depicting Salvador threatening and verbally abusing a handcuffed suspect just weeks before the officer shot Evans.
Pallmeyer was already considering issuing sanctions for those issues when it was revealed that Salvador was named in another recent civil rights lawsuit even though he had testified under oath that he wasn’t involved in any other litigation. In fact, Salvador was represented in both cases by Cohen, who failed to notify Evans’ attorneys about the suit.
In a court hearing Jan. 19, Franklin tried to explain that the mix-up was a simple oversight on Cohen’s part, leading to a testy exchange with the judge.
“How can it be that (Salvador) didn’t know he was being sued?” Pallmeyer asked. “Who dropped the ball?”
“I can make no representations for why he did not remember this incident or represented that, to his knowledge, he was not a defendant,” Franklin responded. “But he had to have been served personally because that is the procedure in the Police Department.”
Pallmeyer shot back, “So now you’re telling me that your client committed perjury?”
“I am not because I cannot say that he knowingly testified to a falsehood,” Franklin said.
The judge also blasted the Law Department’s record in other civil rights lawsuits in the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse. In case after case, judges have imposed monetary and other legal sanctions after the city was caught withholding documents or failing to meet its burden on discovery, the legal process that allows the two sides in a lawsuit to uncover relevant facts through the exchange of documents.
“I think it’s time for someone to step up to how the city generally is handling the defense of these cases, how it’s keeping records,” Pallmeyer said. “Because the number of times there have been problems of one nature or another has just escalated, and this episode is as distressing as any.”
Near the end of the hearing, Franklin promised Pallmeyer she would file a memo explaining how the Law Department would correct problems going forward. Nothing was ever filed, however, because the city agreed to settle the Evans lawsuit a week later, minutes before a hearing on possible sanctions was set to begin.
Franklin’s resignation marked the second time in the last two years that conduct during litigation cost a city attorney their job. In 2016, Law Department attorney Jordan Marsh, who at the time was Franklin’s deputy, was forced to resign after evidence surfaced in the midst of a trial over the fatal police shooting of Darius Pinex that he had withheld key information. The city later settled the Pinex case for $3 million, including attorneys’ fees.
In all, federal judges have sanctioned the Law Department nine times for failing to turn over potential evidence in police misconduct cases since Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office in 2011, forcing the city to pay more than $1.1 million in fines. Eight of those cases have resulted in settlements or jury verdicts totaling more than $45 million; the ninth case is pending.