Evanston’s city attorney says the city’s new policy of using in-house counsel to defend it against lawsuits has led to a string of court victories.

The latest came in a jury verdict last month involving a wrongful death action filed by relatives of a knife-wielding man shot by police in a building at 1810 Church St. on April 26, 2009.

City Attorney Grant Farrar told reporters at a police headquarters news conference this afternoon that Cook County Circuit Judge Edward Washington entered a  verdict for the city in the case after jurors said the three officers involved reasonably believed that the actions of the man with the knife, Desrick York, had placed them in danger of death or great bodily harm when they fired the gunshots that killed him.

Farrar said the “very credible and convincing testimony” of the officers persuaded the jury to reach that conclusion, and the city’s case was also helped by testimony from a state police investigator who handled the original probe into the incident —  which also concluded the officers’ actions were justified.

Top: Evanston City Attorney Grant Farrar. Above: Police Chief Richard Eddington.

Police Chief Richard Eddington said at the time the state report was issued that it showed the shooting was a tragedy made unavoidable by York’s actions.

Eddington said York, 32, had been drinking heavily before starting to argue with his landlord and a handyman at the building.

York reportedly became enraged that the landlord would not return his security deposit, even though he had not yet moved out of the building.

The landlord managed to flee, but the chief said that when police arrived they found York standing in the building’s cramped basement brandishing a four-inch folding knife and threatening the handyman who was lying on the floor beneath him.

The chief said the officers repeatedly demanded that York drop the knife but that instead he advanced toward them.

As one officer reached out to push York away, he and the other officers fired a total of 11 shots, although Eddington said the gunfire lasted perhaps only a total of three seconds and witnesses reported hearing only three or four shots.

One bullet hit the outstretched hand of the officer who tried to push York back, causing injuries that required amputation of a finger.

York was pronounced dead at the scene.

Farrar says the law department has taken three cases to trial this year, which he estimates has saved the city roughly $350,000 in legal fees it otherwise would have had to pay to outside law firms to handle the cases.

He added that plaintiffs in the three cases were seeking over $1 million in damages from the city. The only verdict against the city was for $2,300.

“It’s been a very successful approach to this point,” Farrar said.

One of the other cases involved a police use of force incident, the other was a sidewalk slip-and-fall case.

Eddington today said deadly force incidents involving Evanston police are extremely rare — that the York shooting was the only one in his five years as chief.

He said only a very small percentage of police interactions with the public require the use of force and only an infintesimal percentage of those require police use of firearms.

Related stories

Knife-wielding man killed by police (April 26, 2009)

State: Police fatal shooting justified (May 19, 2009)

Police shooting: The children left behind (May 22, 2009)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. So let me get this

    So let me get this right.

    Ousourcing is good because we save lots of money, and those no good city sanitation, forrestry, IT etc. workers are just lazy bums sucking at the public teat anyway. Unless it's legal services (or HR, or…) where we save lots of money by not contracting out to all those overpriced external firms who gouge us for services that our fine upstanding, well paid but competent city staff provide better and cheaper service in house.

    The depressing thing is that city management understands how things work for the services they truly comprehend (mostly white collar management related), i.e their own jobs. Things that they don't understand (often because they involve getting your hands dirty) aren't valued so accurately.

    1. $350,000?

      Bob – management here is trying to justify Wally's decision to have the legal department, take on its own cases.  Wally never provided the public with any real analysis of his decision.

      What is the $350,000 number?  Is the city lawyer, taking off the city staff time to get the net? Is he adding in the fact these people take space at the civic center? What is the actually billing rate of a city lawyer?  Also how many hours did they work on these 3 cases?

      I personal I think what Wally wants to do is fine in concept, but his math and justification is weak. Frankly the law department hides everything, from the public since they will tell you its a case they are working on, therefore you can't know about it.

      Given the law department spent $40,000 fighting with two residents over a $500 bill for cutting down a tree, I am not too impressed. ( although I believe it was the past legal management ) 

      How much time do these lawyers take on denying FOI requests will silly answers? I have personal seen that, even the staff person involved admitted to me, it was no big deal to give me the information.

      How much money did they waste on the legal fighting with citizens on the township? They ending up hiring an outside firm.

      A complete analysis of the entire operation is in order before Wally runs around sing his praise.

      Is this going to be Wally justification for hiring more staff to the law department? Given all the silly economic development deals going down is Wally planning on hiring another staff member?

      1. Aren’t the city’s employees

        Aren't the city's employees salaried?  They're getting paid whether or not you seek outside services.  If you don't hire outside services, and you do the work yourself, you're saving money.  I wasn't aware that the city's legal team gets to bill the city for its hours, as you are stating.

        1. My point

          To get a proper comparison you must take into account what is the real cost of the lawyers  are on the city staff, not what an expensive law firm would have billed the city.

          If city staff is held to a standard to account for hours they work, then we might know the real cost.  How many hours did the city lawyers put into the three cases?  Take those hours times a billing rate, a realistic hourly cost per these employees might be in the $!00 range.  ( salary ,benifits, office space ,support staff etc ) 

          Could have a small legal firm given us the same service? for the same cost?  or less?  It appears in the past the city hired the very expensive law firms, was this necessary?  Given the cases stated above it does not appear so.

          If these employees account for their total hours then you might be able to make a real decision if you want to do the work internal or external.

          1. Ponzi – I get your point. But

            Ponzi – I get your point. But by not outsourcing, they saved money.  You are aruging from the standpoint that the city's legal team was hired to only handle this one case.  I'm not a smart man, but I'm sure they do a little more than that.  The fact that the city used a resource that they are already financially commited to, rather than incur additional costs means that they saved money. 

            If you want to see how much we might save in the grand scheme of things, why don't you file an FOI on all the city's legal staff, their benefits, the office space, the perks, etc; then gather all the work they've done over the past year, get some bids from three or four reputable law firms on what it might cost to handle that workload, and then compare apples to apples.

            This city is beyond dysfunctional – I get it.  But your financial fear mongering everytime someone mentions money just dilutes that fact.

  2. Grant Farrar was hired

    Grant Farrar was hired a couple of years ago so that they could in-house this sort of thing. But even if that were not the case, there is no reason why, if laying off city workers and outsourcing the service saves money, you couldn't do the same with the lawyers, HR staff, accountants etc.

    The answer is of course that outsourcing isn't a panacea for any city service. There are places where it makes sense (usually ones where there are economies of scale, or intermittent need), but if the service provider is making money it's coming from somewhere.

  3. Typical Evanston

    I always love to come here for my daily dose of "Let's see how crazy Evanston residents can be today".  People are never happy with anything, and always trying find fault with something. There are other (possibly cheaper) cities to choose to live really close to here. 

    I wonder if there is a FOIA request that I can make to find out how many crazy residents there are here? 

  4. Hopefully these cases were softballs….

    While I commend the City's legal department on their wins, I'd actually be more comfortable to know that they have some hired guns to advise them.

    It's all well and good that they won, but if they had lost, the amount of money to be paid out in a wrongful death case would be multiples of $350,000.

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