A federal jury has awarded two panhandlers $1,500 each, saying Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and his deputies violated their First Amendment rights when prohibiting them from soliciting donations from visitors to and those passing by the Daley Center, the county’s civil courthouse,.
On Jan. 28, the jury found in favor of plaintiffs Kim Pindak and Sam Philips, panhandlers who said courthouse security under the supervision of Dart’s office moved to stop them from begging in the plaza at the Daley Center.
Pindak and Philips alleged these actions by contracted private courthouse security and publicly employed sheriff’s deputies cost them money and undermined their free speech rights, which, as panhandlers, included the opportunity to ask other people for money.
In August, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, saying their rights to panhandle under the First Amendment were “clearly established,” and that the private security guards and the sheriff’s deputies had improperly moved to “regulate speech activities on Daley Plaza, a public forum.”
Attorneys for Pindak and Philips argued the violations of their rights occurred because the sheriff’s office had not properly trained the security officers and deputies on how to interact with panhandlers, and had not educated them on the rights of panhandlers under the U.S. Constitution and the city of Chicago’s panhandlers’ ordinance.
The judge agreed, finding the sheriff’s office was not exempted from damages in the case. She left it to jurors to determine how much each of the panhandler plaintiffs would receive from the county.
Adele Nicholas, a civil rights lawyer who represented the panhandlers, said she was “proud of our clients for having the courage to come forward and tell their stories in court, and grateful to the court and the jury for taking their rights seriously.”
“It’s a testament to the strength of our civil justice system that two panhandlers can come to federal court and hold accountable the top executive of one of the nation’s largest sheriff’s departments,” Nicholas said.