Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is estimating the city will spend nearly $153 million fighting legal battles next year.
That number is more than double what has been budgeted in past years, but is closer to what the city has actually spent in recent years.
Lightfoot said her administration is trying “to be honest about what the number looks like and to have some forecasting that’s actually tethered to the facts.”
Last year, the City of Chicago budgeted about $47 million for legal settlements, but ended up spending nearly $142 million, of which roughly $113 million was for police misconduct cases.
Kristen Cabanban, a spokeswoman for the city’s budget office, said the estimate for 2020 was calculated, in part, by “reviewing the city’s recent history of legal settlements and examining the volume and potential liability of current litigation.”
“It will not have any bearing on our efforts to vigorously litigate cases or factor in our decisions when negotiating settlements,” Cabanban added.
The settlement line item can be difficult to budget because at any given time, the city’s lawyers are working on hundreds of cases. These cases range from small insurance claims to settlements in high-profile police misconduct lawsuits, like the $16 million payment in 2018 to the family of Bettie Jones, who was fatally shot by a police officer responding to an incident involving her upstairs neighbor.
According to data posted on the law department’s website, the actual amount spent on legal fees, settlements, and judgements has been over budget by as little as $4 million to as much as $94 million. The data also does not include outside counsel, expert witnesses, and administrative costs.
In the past, Chicago has also borrowed to cover unexpected and large legal settlements, but Lightfoot wants to move away from that practice. She also hired Chief Risk Officer Tamika Puckett and tasked her with reigning in the amount the city spends on legal fees, settlements, and judgements.
Actual amount spent
*Amount spent as of April 30, 2019.
**FY2020 Budget Forecast
Source: City of Chicago
Becky Vevea covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @beckyvevea