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Chicago Pays $450,000 To 2 Drivers Falsely Charged With Duis: win For Erickson & Oppenheimer

Chicago to pay $450,000 to 2 drivers falsely charged with DUIs; Settlement comes on eve of trial, ends litigation related to police Officer Richard Fiorito, says Chicago Tribune.

Former Chicago police Officer Richard Fiorito was once honored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving for his aggressive DUI arrests, but he was pulled off street duty three years ago amid allegations that he had falsified dozens of the charges.

Amid a flurry of lawsuits, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office dropped charges against more than 130 drivers arrested by Fiorito for DUI, and Chicago police removed him from street duty. However, in 2010, county prosecutors refused to prosecute Fiorito, drawing criticism from lawyers for some of the alleged victims.

After numerous lawsuits, the city has formally agreed to pay the last of the drivers who had alleged wrongdoing by Fiorito. In a judgment entered Monday in federal court, James Dean Jr. was awarded $100,000 in a lawsuit accusing Fiorito of false arrest and malicious prosecution. Four months earlier, the city settled with another motorist for $100,000. The city also agreed to pay lawyers for both drivers a combined $250,000 in legal fees.

The resolution came on the eve of a trial at which Dean’s attorneys planned to allege that Fiorito arrested Dean for DUI outside the Town Hall Police District just four minutes after he was freed from the station on unrelated traffic charges. Yet no officers inside the district house believed Dean was drunk when he left, Dean’s attorneys contend.

The award to Dean and the earlier settlement by motorist Steve Lopez mark the end to litigation over Fiorito, according to city Law Department spokesman Roderick Drew, who said the city never admitted wrongdoing on Fiorito’s part. A separate lawsuit filed against Fiorito in 2009 resulted in an additional $25,000 settlement, Drew said.

In a telephone interview Tuesday evening, Fiorito, 63, stood by all his DUI arrests. “I don’t regret one day of it,” he said of his 13 years on the force. He resigned in December.

He also denied allegations he directed racial and other slurs at some of the drivers he arrested for DUI. “Anybody that says I did is a liar,” he said.

Drivers started coming forward with similar stories about Fiorito in 2003, according to attorney Jon Erickson, who brought a number of the lawsuits.

“I remember being astounded by the brazenness of his dishonesty,” Erickson said Tuesday.

In court filings, attorneys alleged that Fiorito was motivated to fabricate the arrests by the overtime that he received to attend traffic court.

Erickson said he won not-guilty verdicts for about five drivers arrested for DUI by Fiorito and then tracked down about 40 others who said they had been victimized too.

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