Chicago offers to settle panhandling lawsuit

Monday, November 10, 2003

CHICAGO — People arrested or ticketed in Chicago for panhandling might be in line for some money from the city.

Under a tentative settlement of a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of people arrested or ticketed over the past four years for panhandling, the city would pay nearly $500,000. About $99,000 will go to the people arrested or ticketed and $375,000 to their attorneys.

Those arrested for panhandling can file a claim for $400, while people who were ticketed can receive $50. In all, about 5,000 people could receive money from the pool of $99,000, but it is not clear how many will submit claims, said Mark Weinberg, an attorney who represented the plaintiffs.

The preliminary settlement signed Oct. 22 is part of a constitutional battle and debate over the city’s panhandling ordinance that was enacted in 1991. Weinberg filed a lawsuit in 2001 on behalf of three clients and later certified it as a class action. The next year, the ordinance was repealed.

“Currently you can’t have a blanket ban on panhandling like that,” said Jennifer Hoyle, spokeswoman for the city’s law department. “It’s considered a limit on commercial speech.”

Weinberg said the settlement’s significance goes beyond getting the plaintiffs money.

“What’s more important is ending what I think is a cruel practice by the city of Chicago,” he said, pointing out that “tens of thousands of people have been arrested over the past 10 years” for panhandling in Chicago.

Because of the statute of limitations of two years on civil cases, only those arrested or ticketed since Sept. 6, 1999, are eligible to receive money. People who qualify can comment on the tentative agreement at a hearing in the Dirksen Federal Building on Dec. 19.

Once the deal is finalized, people will have three months to file a claim, and checks will be cut in April, Weinberg said.

John Hall, a panhandler, said he would take the check because he’s “in desperate need of money.”

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