The City of Chicago has refused Tuesday to take the lead in prosecuting a slavery era disclosure case against more than 25 businesses and organizations.
The whistleblower lawsuit was filed in May by Bob Brown, one of the founding members of the Black Panther Party in Illinois and currently the co-director of the Pan-African Roots organization. Without the city’s participation, Brown has the responsibility of pursuing the case against the companies.
“They [city attorneys] have the discretion to choose whom to prosecute,” said Cook County Associate Judge Rita Novak. “I don’t know how I would compel them to assume responsibility.”
Novak said she was informed that the city will be “keeping tabs” on the case.
In his 400-page complaint, Brown alleges that the businesses and organizations failed to disclose their ties to slavery under Chicago’s 2002 slavery era disclosure law. Brown, author of Slavery and the Slave Trade Were and Are Crimes Against Humanity, also claims the companies violated consumer fraud and deceptive trade practice laws.
The organizations named as defendants include the Archdiocese of Chicago, United Airlines, American Airlines, Northwest Airlines, CitiGroup, JP Morgan Chase, LaSalle Bank, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.
Brown said this was the second time the city declined to take the lead in the case. He hinted that the refusal might be politically motivated to make sure the case does not succeed.
“A whistleblower case can’t proceed pro se [without a lawyer], and they know the difficulty of getting a lawyer for a case like this,” Brown said after a recent hearing in Cook County Circuit Court.
Brown added that the city’s “neutral” stance keeps it from “becoming a villain.”
“Mayor Daley can’t sue his own church [or] his brother’s bank. [Ald.] Eddie Burke can’t sue his law firm which represents CitiGroup,” Brown said.
The lawsuit seeks documents from the organizations to determine their investments and profits from slavery, and information about slaves and slave holders.
The lawsuit also seeks monetary damages -$1,000 for each false statement, $10,000 for each false claim, $50,000 for each misrepresentation with the intent to defraud, and $50,000 for each concealment meant to defraud – which are tripled under the Chicago False Claims Act.
Brown requested subpoenas for each of the defendants last Tuesday to require themto appear in court. They are scheduled to appear Jan. 16.