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Panhandlers collect $3K in court

Friday, January 29, 2016
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
by Patricia Manson

Cook County SheriffThomas J. Dartfailed to train his deputies to respect the First Amendment rights of the public, a federal jury found Thursday.

The jury awarded $1,500 each to two panhandlers who contend they were harassed and forced off Daley Plaza — a prime spot for begging — in violation of their right to free speech.

One of the men said the money will come in handy.

“I will use it for necessities,” said Kim Pindak, who supplements his monthly $750 in federal disability assistance with money collected from passersby, “and I might get a chess book or two.”

Pindak also said he hopes the verdict has an impact beyond the financial gain to him and fellow plaintiff Sam Phillips.

The men’s lawyers are trying to make that happen.

The lead attorney for Pindak and Phillips,Adele D. Nicholasof Nicholas Law Office, said she will continue to seek an injunction requiring the sheriff’s office to train deputies to avoid violating the First Amendment.

“It’s wonderful that two people who panhandle to make ends meet can come to court and hold accountable the sheriff of one of the largest counties in the nation,” she said.

The lead attorney for the sheriff’s office and the other defendants in Pindak and Phillips’ lawsuit is Cook County Assistant State’s AttorneyAnthony E. Zecchin.

The sheriff’s office is considering its next move, spokesman Abdon Pallasch said.

“The Cook County sheriff’s office strives to treat everyone it encounters with dignity and respect, which it did in this case,” he said in a statement.

He said the office is pleased the jury found in favor of Laverne Nance, one of two deputy sheriffs sued by Pindak and Phillips.

In a written opinion last year, U.S. District JudgeRebecca R. Pallmeyerheld the other deputy, Dalibor Jevtic, violated Pindak’s rights.

On that count, the jury was required only to determine the amount of monetary damages — if any — Pindak was owed.

After the jury returned its verdict Thursday, Pallmeyer urged the parties to try to settle the case.

In addition to Nicholas, Pindak and Phillips are represented bySara A. Garberof West Town Law Office and sole practitionerMark G. Weinberg.

Weinberg said he and his co-counsel will seek attorney fees for the nearly six years of work done in the case.

The law allows lawyers to collect fees in civil rights cases that are much higher than the awards made to their clients, Weinberg said.

“That’s because unless attorneys can recover their full and reasonable fees, a poor person whose damages are not high would never be able to bring a civil rights lawsuit,” he said. “This is a poster child for that kind of case.”

The sheriff’s office and the deputies are represented by Zecchin and Assistant State’s AttorneyPatrick F. Russell.

Pindak, 63, filed the suit in 2010. Phillips, 57, joined the action later.

Pindak and Phillips challenged what they contend is a routine practice by the sheriff’s office of removing panhandlers from Daley Plaza who are peacefully plying their trade.

Defendants in the suit included Securitas Security Services USA Inc., which provides private security officers at the plaza.

“We amicably resolved our differences” with Securitas, Nicholas said.

But the counts against the sheriff’s defendants went to trial on Monday. The 12-member jury returned its verdict Thursday after deliberating about four hours.

In his closing argument, Zecchin criticized Pindak for secretly recording a conversation in which Jevtic told him panhandling isn’t allowed on Daley Plaza.

That recording was part of a bid to manufacture a First Amendment case and make some money, Zechhin alleged.

Pindak, he maintained, is “a near expert in chess” who can think several moves ahead.

“You’re just pawns being manipulated by Mr. Pindak,” he told jurors.

Nicholas, however, contended Pindak and Phillips’ suit was about “institutional accountability.”

The sheriff’s office should be held accountable for failing to train its deputies how to comply with the First Amendment, Nicholas contended.

She maintained few resources would have been needed to conduct such training.

“It could have been a one-page memo,” she said. “It could have been 10 minutes of training.”

The case isKim Pindak, et al. v. Cook County, et al.,No. 10 C 6237.

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