The Watch

News and Information for Chicago FOP members.

Targeted Judge Fighting Back in Key Police Misconduct Case?

A former Cook County judge named as a defendant in a bombshell federal lawsuit alleging prosecutors and detectives framed an innocent man for a 1993 murder has filed a subpoena demanding records at Northwestern University. 

Circuit Court Judge Matthew Coghlan was voted off the bench last month after a high-profile attack from a powerful alliance of activists, journalists, and lawyers claiming, among other things, that the judge had helped detectives frame Armando Serrano for a 1993 murder and armed robbery. In addition to being voted off the bench, Serrano’s attorneys have named Coghlan and several detectives as defendants in the federal lawsuit that seeks $60 million in restitution. 

But now with the recent subpoena, it looks as if Coghlan’s team may be fighting back. 

From court records:

On September 17, 2018, Mr. Coghlan issued subpoenas to the Northwestern University Archives and the Medill School of Journalism, seeking documents pertaining to these lawsuits. 

The subpoena by Coghlan’s attorneys suggests his defense team is tapping into a large body of evidence alleging corruption in Northwestern University’s police misconduct claims, including the Serrano case. It was a Northwestern professor and his students who obtained a key witness retraction in the Serrano case that led to his exoneration. 

If this is the body of evidence Coghlan’s attorneys are seeking, what could be emerging in the case are conflicting, even warring, “pattern and practice” theories. 

Here is why. 

Attorneys for Serrano are claiming his exoneration is part of a “pattern and practice” by one of the detectives who worked the Serrano case, Reynaldo Guevara. Guevara is named in more than a dozen complaints, including Serrano’s, that he coerced confessions from suspects. The city has already paid out millions on these claims. 

In the other theory—the one that may be targeted in Coghlan’s subpoena—students and a former professor at Northwestern, David Protess, have been accused of misconduct in a host of wrongful conviction cases, including the Serrano case. One recurring accusation is that Protess and his students coerced false witness recantations in an effort to garner exonerations.

From a 2010 Tribune article:

Prosecutors on Tuesday unveiled documents that suggested students and staff with Northwestern University’s Medill Innocence Project arranged a visit from a female student as a “treat” for a prisoner, in addition to making unspecified promises, before he recanted his testimony in a 1993 murder and armed robbery case.

The filing included three memos and an e-mail sent by students of Northwestern journalism professor David Protess to an attorney representing convicted murderer Armando Serrano, who is seeking a new trial.

The memos include suggestions that Francisco Vicente, who testified against Serrano but later recanted to the students, was upset that a private detective who works with Protess failed to come through with unspecified “considerations.”

 In addition, an e-mail sent by a student investigating the Serrano case stated that a female former student agreed to join a visit to Vicente in prison after he requested her presence.

“[The woman], a previous student of David’s who worked on the case and formed a good relationship with [Vicente], will accompany us as a ‘treat’ for him, since he has requested to see her again,” the student wrote in an April 2004 e-mail to Serrano’s lawyer, Jeffrey Urdangen, a Northwestern law professor.

And this from another lawsuit naming Northwestern and Protess as defendants:

. . . Northwestern, through its employee and/or agent Protess, improperly used the journalism students, in this case and others, as pawns to deflect public scrutiny from the blatantly illegal and unethical investigative techniques routinely employed by Northwestern’s employees and/or agents to generate statements from witnesses without regard to the truth or falsity of those statements.

Northwestern’s conduct permitted a culture of lawlessness to thrive in Protess’ Investigative Journalism classes and investigations. . . .

One allegation against Protess cited in the lawsuit is particularly disturbing:

Protess also told the eyewitness that he could have sex with either of two Northwestern Medill students if he would change his testimony.

Is this the evidence Coghlan’s attorneys are seeking in their defense? 

Another theme that has already surfaced in the Serrano lawsuit is a too-cozy link between the activists and the local media.A relentless attack against Coghlan before the election for his judgeship took shape in the media as his election approached, with journalists regularly citing his work on the Serrano case. But none of these reports included the evidence against Protess and Northwestern in the case. 

Indeed, Coghlan’s attorneys seem to see a suspicious relationship between activists and journalists. Coghlan’s attorneys, for example, have demanded that Coghlan’s recent videotaped deposition in the federal case be kept protected so that it cannot be used by the media to “taint the jury pool.”

From court documents: 

Coghlan has a substantial concern that Plaintiffs will publicly disseminate the transcript and video (or cut or splice portions of them) in order to embarrass or harass him and to improperly influence the potential jury pool. The concern is not abstract or theoretical. To the contrary, prior to his deposition, Plaintiffs already started to try this case in the media, engaging in repeated media attacks against Coghlan specifically, and in some instances, misrepresenting the evidence in these cases. In addition, a number of the questions posed to Coghlan during his deposition had no relevance to the merits of the case and were designed solely to embarrass or harass him.What is more, Plaintiffs have failed to identify why they would have any need for disseminating the video and/or transcript of Coghlan’s deposition, leaving the clear implication that the sole purpose would be to embarrass and/or harass him and to try to influence the potential jury pool. 

Two vastly different pattern and practice claims may be emerging in the Serrano lawsuit, with wild accusations emerging from both sides. This is a case worth watching, both for the evidence revealed and for the coverage, or lack of it, in the media.