By Dan Hinkel Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — A lawyer for Chicago’s largest police union told federal appeals judges Friday that the organization should be allowed to intervene in the court-overseen process of reforming the police department.

Leaders of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police oppose the forthcoming consent decree that aims to spur a comprehensive overhaul of the troubled department and their attorney sought to introduce a motion to dismiss litigation over the court order. But far from tossing out the case, U.S. District Judge Robert Dow Jr. blocked the union from intervening, writing that the FOP waited too long to get involved in the lawsuit Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan brought against the city to force reforms.

The union appealed that ruling, and FOP attorney Joel D’Alba told a three-judge panel from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the union didn’t seek to intervene until nine months after Madigan sued because her office gave union leaders assurances that the consent decree would not infringe on the FOP’s bargaining rights. The union’s executives only learned in recent months that the decree would, in their view, infringe on their rights, D’Alba said.

In court filings, the FOP has argued that provisions of the proposed court order would violate the union’s rights or state law. For example, the consent decree calls for the Police Department to investigate anonymous complaints, but the FOP contract bars most anonymous complaints. That is one of several disciplinary protections the contract has given officers that reform advocates want eliminated in the ongoing negotiations over the next contract.

Representing Madigan’s office, Deputy Solicitor General Brett Legner countered that the police union should have understood its members could be affected immediately after Madigan sued and Mayor Rahm Emanuel agreed to work toward a court order. Legner also noted that the proposed decree contains language that says that its provisions wouldn’t override the union contract and that city officials should use “best efforts” to win changes to the contract through negotiations.

The panel — judges Michael Kanne and Kenneth Ripple, as well as Ilana Rovner, who participated by phone — made no ruling Friday and are considering the case.

The forthcoming consent decree would be one of the most significant aftershocks of Officer Jason Van Dyke’s shooting of teenager Laquan McDonald. Three years ago, the release of video of Van Dyke shooting McDonald 16 times sparked heated protests and a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the department that found officers were poorly supervised, badly trained and prone to needless abuse against minorities.

Van Dyke was convicted last month of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery.

Madigan sued Emanuel in August 2017 after he wavered in his commitment to court-overseen reform, and the two politicians’ aides spent more than a year hammering out a proposed agreement intended to improve training, further restrict the use of force and fix the famously defective police disciplinary system.

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