WJBC Voices: Irish chutzpah

By David Stanczak

Many years ago, a friend of mine explained by way of example, the meaning of the term “chutzpah.”  He said it’s like a kid who killed his parents asking the court for clemency on the ground that he’s an orphan.  While the term is Jewish, and incredibly colorful, it’s an equal opportunity trait. Its most recent practitioner is an Irish lawyer named William J. Quinlan of the eponymous Quinlan Law Firm.  That firm represents Jussie Smollett in his court battle with the City of Chicago, which is suing Smollett to recover more than $130,000 it spent investigating his report of a hate crime committed against him. According to Smollett’s account, two men assaulted him around 2 a.m. on January 29 as  he was returning to his home after purchasing a sandwich at a Subway shop.  The men, wearing red caps, knocked him down, sprayed some kind of chemical on him, placed a noose around his neck and shouted, “This is MAGA country.”  Smollett called the police, who investigated with an intensity and thoroughness that would do credit to any law enforcement agency, at least any law enforcement agency that had enough personnel to invest 1,836 hours of overtime.

When the investigation was over, a very ticked-off Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, flanked by Hizzoner held a press conference to announce that the victim was really the perp and that the whole thing had been staged.  While the CPD accumulated enough evidence to make Johnson’s conclusion irrefutable, at least to everybody other than Smollett, there were plenty of facts to suggest that there was less to the story than what Jussie was telling. Why did the perpetrators wait until 2 a.m. on the coldest night of the winter to ambush a gay black man they wanted to torment? And when did Chicago become MAGA territory. The cops would have been hard put to find anyone wearing a MAGA hat within a 10-mile radius of the crime scene. And the assailants did no physical harm to Smollett, even leaving his Subway sandwich intact, pretty courteous treatment of someone you hate. And Smollett was still wearing the noose around his neck when the police arrived, not because he was incapable of removing this symbol of oppression, but because he wanted them to see what it looked like on him (as if they couldn’t imagine it).

The filing of 16 counts of making a false report, their subsequent dismissal under circumstances that looked suspicious even by Crook County standards (a very high bar), the subsequent appointment of a special prosecutor, and the fact that the incumbent State’s Attorney Kim Foxx will be primaried next year are another matter to be followed and discussed later as the case develops.  For now, the City of Chicago wants to recoup the money it wasted on the investigation, money that could have been far more profitably spent tracking down killers of Chicagoans who lack Smollett’s notoriety (a TV star of sorts) and clout (Foxx took a phone call on Smollett’s behalf from someone affiliated with the Obamas).

Quinlan has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit against Smollett on the ground that the extensive investigation was all the CPD’s fault.  In his words,

“The filing of a police report, in and of itself, does not necessitate a sprawling investigation nor does it, as a practical matter, usually result in an investigation as exhaustive as the one  the CPD chose to undertake in this case.  The City has failed to allege that Mr. Smollett was similarly ‘well aware’ that his statements to police would result in 1,836 hours of police overtime, or any other reasons why he should have known this would have been the case.”

The statement that filing a police report doesn’t ordinarily result in such a thorough investigation is true enough.  But then this wasn’t just any police report and Jussie Smollett weren’t just any victim.  He was a high-profile person whose victimhood as a gay black man was enhanced by his celebrity.  The media, not just in Chicago, but elsewhere, were aroused about the attack.  If an obvious hate crime could be perpetrated in Chicago, that says something about the climate in the city as well as the inability, or even the disinclination, of the CPD to protect its citizens from the predations of white supremacist Trump supporters run amuck. As Gov. William J. Le Petomaine famously said, “We have to do something immediately, immediately, immediately.  Harrumph, harrumph, harrumph!” Jussie knew the report would trigger just such publicity.  In fact, that publicity was exactly what he was seeking when he staged the incident. He also had to have known that Chicago officials couldn’t minimally investigate such a hate crime. No expense could be spared to bring the miscreants to  justice. Given the publicity surrounding the attack, the CPD either had to find and arrest the perps or, failing that, have performed such an exhaustive investigation that everyone would acknowledge the impossibility of solving the crime.

There is irony in the filing. William Quinlan, the attorney who filed the motion, at one time served as Corporation Counsel of the City of Chicago. It is unknown whether he always possessed the kind of chutzpah reflected in the motion or whether it developed during his career at City Hall, on the circuit court or appellate court bench, in Democratic politics or in his lucrative private practice. Wherever it came from, he’s got it in abundance.

David Stanczak, a WJBC commentator since 1995, came to Bloomington in 1971. He served as the City of Bloomington’s first full-time legal counsel for over 18 years, before entering private practice. He is currently employed by the Snyder Companies and continues to reside in Bloomington with his family.

The opinions expressed within WJBC’s Voices are solely those of the Voices’ author, and are not necessarily those of WJBC or Cumulus Media, Inc.

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