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Despite ruling, judge sees more delays in Chicago police neglect case

CHICAGO (MCT) — The trial judge in the case of a mentally ill woman who is suing the Chicago Police Department said Monday a recent appellate court ruling allowing the case to go forward may actually lead to more delays.

U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall’s frustration with last week’s ruling by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was obvious as she set a trial date for January 2013, months later than she had hoped, and nearly seven years after an attack that left Christina Eilman permanently injured.

The family of the California woman has blamed the city’s legal maneuvering for dragging out the lawsuit, which was filed in 2006 and seeks as much as $100 million for the devastating injuries Eilman suffered after police released her into one of Chicago’s highest-crime neighborhoods. She was sexually assaulted and fell from the seventh-floor window of a public housing building.

After more than 18 months of silence, the appeals court ruled last Thursday that the family’s lawsuit could proceed, a legal opinion that likened police conduct to throwing Eilman in a lion’s den.

But while the appeals court ruled that two police officers were out of the case and left six in, it also told Kendall to reconsider the status of two other officers. The judge said that opens the door for more legal wrangling over the officers left in limbo.

Kendall bristled at the notion the appellate court found her previous ruling keeping the officers in the case “not sufficient.”

In a contentious hearing with lawyers, she predicted that if she once again keeps them in the case, it opens the door for the city to appeal the same issue to the 7th Circuit again.

“If we continue to go on,” she said to the city’s lead lawyer, Matthew Hurd, “You will have a right to raise it again with the 7th Circuit, right? Do you agree with that?”

The city’s position is that those two officers should also be excused, Hurd said, but he repeatedly declined to answer Kendall’s question about whether the city would appeal the issue again.

Kendall had previously told both parties to be ready for an October trial, but given the briefs and hearings she now has to hold regarding the two officers, it became clear that won’t happen. When Hurd suggested the Eilman case be scheduled for trial in January, Kendall raised her voice in frustration.

“Why would we ever want to take an ‘06 case and move it to 2013?” she asked.

However, in the end, she saw no alternative. Her order setting a Jan. 14 trial date entered later Monday stated: “No further requests to move this date will be entertained by the Court.”

The judge also rejected the city’s request for a written gag order preventing Eilman’s family or lawyer from talking to the media in the wake of a statement from the family blasting the city. She encouraged both sides to sort out an informal agreement, similar to a no-talk arrangement reached in 2010 that the family’s lawyer felt had been voided by the city’s appeal in the case.

Eilman suffered what experts have described as a bipolar breakdown while she was in Chicago in May 2006 and was arrested at Midway Airport.

Instead of sending her for a mental health evaluation, police held her overnight and then released her in a high-crime neighborhood seven miles from where she had been arrested.

Eilman’s catastrophic injuries included a severe brain injury with permanent damage. Now 27, she lives in California with her parents and is dependent on state aid for her around-the-clock care.

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