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Stroger says county caves by settling lawsuits

Wednesday, May 05, 2004
Chicago Sun-Times

Cook County Board President John Stroger believes the county is rolling over too easily when it comes to lawsuits against it.

Questioning the number of settlements commissioners are approving, Stroger had stern words for State's Attorney Dick Devine's staff at Tuesday's board meeting.

"We have to get tougher," Stroger said. "The word has got to get out that you'll be in for a fight if you sue the county.

"When you play football, if the guys think you're going to be a rollover, you're going to be a rollover."

Stroger's criticism came as commissioners approved $148,000 in settlements and a $400,000 judgment from an employee sexual harassment case that the county lost.

The $148,000 payout is average, by comparison, and all told, county taxpayers have paid $8.9 million in settlements and judgments so far this year.

"We can assure the president and the public that we only recommend settlement to the board in those cases where the evidence, the facts and the law support that," said state's attorney spokesman John Gorman. "In addition, no settlement is reached without the approval of the county board."

Commissioner Peter Silvestri, who chairs the litigation committee, said he and other commissioners pepper county attorneys with questions about each case before they recommend settling them.

Still, Stroger said the county spends "an unbelievable amount" settling, instead of going to trial.

Commissioner Deborah Sims said she quit the county's litigation committee because "I felt we were just giving money away."

But Silvestri said, "I don't like to have to pay or settle, either, but I don't like to see the facts of a sexual harassment case, either."

Commissioner Mike Quigley said the problem lies "within our system," adding "those truly concerned about this could be involved in reducing the causes of these cases."

In other business, all 17 commissioners signed on as sponsors of a bill asking Gov. Blagojevich to reconsider his plan to close the Tinley Park Mental Health Center.

Blagojevich wants to close the state-run facility, home to about 2,000 uninsured and underinsured patients, as part of budget cuts.

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