City could pay beaten bartender $850K to nix 'code of silence' verdict
December 7, 2012 (CHICAGO) (WLS) -- The City of Chicago says it will immediately pay a settlement to the female bartender seen in an infamous videotaped beating by an off-duty Chicago police officer.
But city lawyers are asking a judge to vacate part of the jury's verdict against that officer and the City of Chicago.
A jury found that a so-called "code of silence" within the police department led to an attempt to cover up the 2007 beating of bartender Karolina Obrycka.
Lawyers for the city want to erase the part of the verdict that says there was a police "code of silence." They fear it will lead to a series of new lawsuits filed against the city.
The city was going to appeal the Abbate verdict. Now it will not.
What the city wants to do instead is have the judgment thrown out. That will make it much more challenging for lawyers in other police misconduct cases to say, "Look, there was a code of silence in the Abbate case, and there's one in ours too."
Critics say the city is now trying to silence a verdict of legal significance.
Five-and-a-half years after she was pounded by a drunken Anthony Abbate, bartender Obrycka won a jury award of $850,000. The city now says, rather than appeal that, it will pay Obrycka by the end of this month.
"This is a woman with family and a son who's just trying to make ends meet," said Obrycka attorney Terry Ekl. "So receiving her $850,000 by the end of the month is an important factor to her."
But the larger issue in the Abbate case is still unsettled. The jury's verdict was widely seen as a finding that Abbate acted the way he did because of a police code of silence.
Lawyers for the city Friday argued in court that the verdict was ambiguous at best, but that attorneys in other police misconduct cases are already "chomping at the bit" to use the code of silence in their quest for big-money settlements, and that the best way to protect taxpayers is to have the Abbate case judgment vacated.
"This judgment is a wake-up call, and the city request to throw it out is shameful and it should be sustained," said Locke Bowman.
Bowman, Craig Futterman and others involved in police alleged misconduct cases say the city is trying to wipe away a communal memory, to in essence silence the verdict. Lawyers for the city say that is not true, that they are bound to protect taxpayers from lawyers who would misuse the Abbate case.
But this is a case that could have been settled before the trial, before a verdict that has so troubled and embarrassed the city, and Obrycka attorney Ekl says it could have been settled for $400,000.
Scott Jebson, attorney for City of Chicago, refused to comment on the case, saying ,"It'd be improper for me to comment while the motion is still pending."
The city decided against settling because it felt strongly that taxpayers shouldn't be on the hook for the actions of an off-duty cop who was drunk. And that is still the argument.
The argument over whether the Abbate "code of silence" judgment is thrown out is up to Judge Amy St. Eve. She will make her ruling later this month.
local, paul meincke
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