Former ACLU attorney who pushed for Chicago police reform among 7 recommended for federal bench

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A former American Civil Liberties Union attorney who pushed for reforms within the Chicago Police Department, including changes to controversial enforcement actions by the agency, has been recommended for a seat on the federal bench.

Karen Sheley was among seven candidates whose names Illinois Democratic U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin sent to President Joe Biden as well-suited to fill a judicial vacancy in the Northern District of Illinois, Chicago’s federal court.

They are candidates for a vacancy that will be created when U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly shifts to senior status, a semiretirement of sorts for federal judges, in October.

Whoever Biden chooses would have to be approved by the full Senate.

Sheley, who is now the general counsel for the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, declined to comment, referring all inquiries to Durbin and Duckworth’s offices.

Sheley worked at the ACLU of Illinois from 2008 to 2021, a stretch that included time as director of its police practices project.

She co-authored a scathing 2015 report about the Chicago Police Department’s street stop policy that showed how it discriminated against minorities and led to constitutional violations.

The report showed that in a four-month period in 2014, the department made more than a quarter-million stops — a far higher rate than New York City cops at the height of their controversial stop-and-frisk practices.

This led to changes in Illinois law related to police interactions with citizens. The Chicago police also signed an agreement with the ACLU to change its street stop policy.

Last year, Sheley wrote a letter to the editor in the Tribune rebutting another commentary piece in the newspaper that defended stop-and-frisk. In her piece, she criticized the police’s overall use of “Terry” stops — another term for street stops, named for the landmark 1968 U.S. Supreme Court case Terry v. Ohio.

“Even then, the American Civil Liberties Union objected to allowing police wide latitude about whom to stop and pat down. It was clear that a disparate impact in the application of the practice was inevitable,” Sheley wrote. “The intervening years have shown this to be true. … There was a systemic policy of stopping a large number of people, which led to targeting (B)lack people, especially youth, by instructing officers to stop the ‘right people at the right place at the right time.’”

Sheley has also helped push for Chicago police to implement reforms as part of a federally mandated consent decree. In 2017, months after the U.S. Department of Justice found a host of deficiencies with the Police Department in training and supervision, the ACLU filed a lawsuit alleging that the reform efforts didn’t go far enough in addressing how cops should treat people with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities. That suit has since been folded into the current consent decree litigation.

To select the candidates for the federal bench, Duckworth and Durbin set up a screening committee of “12 distinguished members of Illinois’ legal community.” That panel conducted interviews, contacted references and reviewed the professional records and application questionnaires of the potential candidates, according to the letter to Biden. Durbin and Duckworth said in the letter they’ve also interviewed the candidates.

The other candidates include Jeffrey Cummings, a federal magistrate judge who previously served as a hearing officer on the Chicago Police Board; LaShonda Hunt, a U.S. bankruptcy judge; and Jeremy Daniel, a federal prosecutor and a former officer in the Marine Corp.

The three others are Lindsay Jenkins, a former federal prosecutor who once served as chief of the U.S. attorney’s office’s criminal division in Chicago; Nancy Maldonado, a lawyer who specializes in employment, fraud and civil rights cases, and once served on the Illinois State Police Merit Board; and Nicholas Gowen, a lawyer who focuses on litigating and arbitrating employment disputes and has served as chair of Chicago State University’s board of trustees.

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December 22, 2021 at 05:44AM

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