Fired Teacher Sues CTU Lawyer for Legal Malpractice
By Jim Vail
A fired Chicago Public Schools special education teacher is suing a lawyer for the Chicago Teachers Union for $5 million in legal malpractice alleging the attorney did not properly represent her.
In January of this year CPS teacher Ida Hindmon filed her complaint against attorney Graham Hill and CTU Local 1, which employs Hill as a staff legal council.
The CTU filed a motion to dismiss the case because union matters are handled in a different jurisdiction. While the judge denied the motion, Hindmon’s legal team decided to drop the CTU from the lawsuit, lawyer Charles Cohn said.
Hindmon’s complaint states that Hill advised her to resign from her job and then appeal in a disciplinary-action hearing, according to Cook County Record. However, it turned out that she could not appeal the case because she had in fact resigned, stated attorney Irwin Cohn.
“He didn’t do any preliminary discovery or even cross examine the witnesses which is so basic,” Irwin Cohn told Second City Teachers.
Cohn said the problem is that this special education teacher who has taught for 12 years gave up her tenure rights based on erroneous legal advise. He said she is now on a Do Not Hire list which spreads beyond the city limits. Those who have been fired from CPS before said they cannot get jobs in the suburbs because the black list spreads far and wide.
Hill did not respond to two phone calls with messages for comment on his voice mail.
CTU lead council Robert Bloch did not return two calls left on a voice mail machine from Second City Teachers.
The CTU filed the motion to dismiss because Hindmon cannot sue the union in the courts because Hill works for the union and not the teacher, though her union dues paid for union legal representation, Cohn said.
“We don’t have a prayer unless we can proceed in the courts,” said Cohn.
According to Lawyers.com, the current process to sue the union would be to file an unfair labor practice charge, known as “Failure to Represent,” which falls under the National Labor Relations Act. However, suing the union is similar to suing the press, one has to prove the union acted with malice, which is extremely difficult.
Several teachers have told Second City Teachers over the years that they were not satisfied with the union legal representation they received after being fired, and some said they hired outside attorneys to get their jobs back.
Peter Nerad was a former CPS substitute teacher who was featured on our website over a year ago when he was fired for trying to save a student’s life by preventing him from crossing a busy street while he was working at Lane Technical High School. He said CTU attorney Hill represented him in the dismissal hearing.
Nerad said Hill told him to tell his side of the story, and asked no questions. Hill told Nerad that he thought the case would depend on whether the Principal Christopher Dignam “really wanted me dismissed or not,” Nerad said.
Nerad was dismissed.
“My thoughts about Hill is that he was about as useful as an udder on a bull,” Nerad said in an email. “I can’t say of anything he did that was of any help. Sitting there having me tell my side of the story was all he did. The conversation with the hearing officer is then taped and played for his boss who makes the final decision. I can’t remember him adding anything, asking me questions, or helping in anyway. I was surprised he didn’t do anything at all.”
Nerad’s complaint sounded similar to the one Hindmon is alleging against Hill in that there was no pre-trial discovery or cross examining witnesses.
“In hindsight, I wish I had thought of getting witness statements for myself,” Nerad said. “The case boiled down to the complaining teacher and the student. Both of whom added information that was patently false, and I had no witnesses to challenge their side of the story. I did meet a teacher when I was subbing the year before who was falsely accused of sexually harassing a female student. After speaking with the union lawyer, I don’t know who, the teacher decided to hire his own attorney and got his job back. His legal fees were $15,000.”
Cohn said he has had several teachers call to complain about the poor legal representation from the union.
The complaint first alleged that the CTU was complicit in the Hindmon case because it was the CTU’s duty to let Hindmon know that Graham had certain shortcomings and inabilities, such as knowledge of resignations, which led him to “improperly” advise Hindmon to resign.
Hill has not yet answered the charges.