Former 21st Ward Ald. Howard Brookins won’t have to pay a $5,000 fine for violating the city’s Governmental Ethics Ordinance by defending clients — including former 1st Ward Ald. Proco Joe Moreno — in criminal cases involving the Chicago Police Department.
Brookins sued the Chicago Board of Ethics in January 2021 after it unanimously levied the fine against him, saying it had no authority to stop him from serving as a criminal defense attorney in Chicago. WTTW News was the first to report in November 2020 that Brookins had agreed to represent Moreno, who had been charged with drunken driving, prompting the Ethics Board investigation.
The Ethics Board voted unanimously Monday to settle the lawsuit filed by Brookins by dropping the fine.
Moreno, who served as 1st Ward alderman from 2010-19, lost his bid for reelection in February. Brookins did not run for reelection, and left the City Council in May after six terms in office. Brookins remains the 21st Ward’s Democratic committeeperson.
Ethics Board Chair William Conlon said the settlement was “in the best interest of everyone” in part because the resolution of the lawsuit did not overturn a 2019 ruling by the Ethics Board that aldermen face “diverging interests” when they represent a client charged with a crime based on evidence developed by Chicago police officers.
Aldermen “owe 100 percent of their allegiance to the city and its taxpayers,” according to the board’s opinion.
Brookins told WTTW News Tuesday he had been vindicated by the lawsuit’s resolution and called on Conlon and Ethics Board Executive Director Steve Berlin to resign.
Brookins said he remains convinced the board exceeded its authority by investigating his conduct and levying a fine without an investigation by the Chicago Inspector General’s office.
However, the Ethics Board can find violations and levy fines in cases that do not require a “factual investigation” and where an ethics violation is apparent, according to the regulations that govern the board.
The board can act on publicly available documents, such as Brookins’ notice to the court that he was Moreno’s attorney, and that does not constitute an investigation but an act to “adjudicate … alleged violations of the City Governmental Ethics Ordinance,” in accordance with its rules.
Even though Chicago taxpayers pay aldermen approximately $120,000 annually, they are allowed to work outside of City Hall — including as lawyers.
Brookins was first elected to the City Council in 2003 and served as Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s hand-picked chairman of the City Council’s Transportation and Public Way Committee.