Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Fly In the Ointment

On Monday, hell seemed to freeze over, at least momentarily, as a nephew of King Richard II (a.k.a. former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley) was indicted for involuntary manslaughter in the 2004 death of David Koschman.  After eight years, David's mother will finally have some measure of justice and Richard J. Vanecko will learn that the Daley name is not a get out of jail free card.

Current Mayor Emanuel I (a.k.a. 'Il Duce') had little to say on the verdict, but that's because he was barraged this week with a long string of lawsuits against the city that he inherited from the Daley era.  Among them is the recently settled case against former Chicago police officer Anthony Abbate who nearly beat to death a bartender in a drunken fit of rage. 

The city lost that case and will need to turn over $850,000 in damages to the assaulted bartender, Karolina Obrycka.  But they are desperately trying at 'Il Duce's' behest to erase the trial verdict and settle the lawsuit after the fact.  If they don't succeed, the "code of silence" portion of Obrycka's winning defense would open the door to future lawsuits against the city, particularly its checkered (pun intended) police department. 

Emanuel was visibly annoyed at a press conference on Tuesday when asked by reporters about his attempts to erase the verdict.  Ironically the Mayor seems to want silence on a case where defense attorney's successfully proved how "a code of silence" can lead to tragic results. 

All of this, however, is smoke and mirrors.  Blocking from our vision the real problem.  That problem is the hidebound, complacent, and highly bureaucratic legal system that supposedly protects Chicagoans from those that would harm them and (in the case of Abbate) from the supposed protectors themselves. 

Anyone who still believes in the Cook County Judicial system needs to read Courtroom 302.  Steve Bogira's in depth look at the cases that pass through courtroom 302 in the criminal courts building at 26th and California is highly revealing of a system where justice is often traded for expediency. 

Yet another place to look is at the record of the current Cook County State's Attorney--Anita Alvarez.  Taking her cue from the tragi-comic villains of classic fiction such as Judge Angelo in Shakespeare's play Measure for Measure and the policeman Javert in Victor Hugo's Les Miserable, she takes the concept of an over-zealous prosecutor to new heights.  Zeroing in on smallest foible she is content at the same time to ignore the fiasco behind her. 

It's good to know that Alvarez will make sure to punish students from the Medill Innocence Project while murders on the south and west sides of Chicago are on record to outpace military casualties in Afghanistan. 

I'd like to say that there's a light at the end of the tunnel for Chicago Justice.  Perhaps the Vanecko verdict is just that.  Our real hope, however, lies not in the courtroom but at the ballot box.  Chicago voters need to pay more attention about who they vote into office.  It doesn't take much for a nobody to become the next Jean Valjean.  Just a finger pointed in your direction and a prosecutor who smells blood in the water.