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City of Chicago Sanctioned for Obstructing Discovery in Case of Wrongful Murder Prosecution

In October 2012, the City of Chicago was sanctioned for obstructing the discovery process in a case alleging that city police officials unconstitutionally brought a murder prosecution against a man they had reason to believe was not guilty.

In 2010, Nathson Fields filed suit in federal court alleging that City of Chicago defendants wrongfully caused him to be prosecuted for 1984 murders of which he was not guilty. During the course of discovery, the City produced about 90 pages of documents that, according to Fields, were not disclosed during his criminal prosecution.

When Fields filed interrogatories regarding the chain of custody of these exculpatory documents, the City responded that it was “unable” to provide the requested information.

When pressed, the City indicated that one of its attorneys “had himself taken on the personal responsibility of trying to track the whereabouts of the missing street file over the past 28 years.” When Fields then sought to depose the attorney, the City objected that the information he sought was protected by attorney-client and work product privilege.

The court found the first objection to be “baseless.” As to the second objection, the Court was skeptical of the view that a party could shield relevant evidence by having its attorney collect that evidence.

In any event, the court found that the work product privilege is not absolute and that Fields had made the necessary showing under Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(3) to overcome the privilege. Because the question was “not close,” the Court ordered the City to monetary sanctions to cover the costs of Fields’ reasonable attorney fees. See: Fields v. City of Chicago, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ill.), Case No. 1:10-cv-01168.

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Related legal case

Fields v. City of Chicago, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ill.), Case No. 1:10-cv-01168.