(Tribune illustration)

Two civil rights attorneys filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the City of Chicago saying the Police Department is unlawfully intimidating panhandlers from asking for money on the Magnificent Mile.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Chicago alleges that police officers are forcing panhandlers off Michigan Avenue by telling them it is illegal to panhandle there and threatening to arrest them if they do not move.

The suit accuses the city of trying to “whitewash” the Magnificent Mile, putting the interests of local businesses above panhandlers' constitutional rights.

“The city is engaging in short-term bullying tactics in the name of promoting commerce,” said Mark Weinberg, a lawyer on the case. Adele Nicholas is also a lawyer on the case.

Weinberg and Nicholas are seeking to have the lawsuit declared a class-action suit.

Weinberg has filed five other lawsuits on behalf of panhandlers in Illinois, including a 2001 class-action lawsuit that alleged the city’s definition of disorderly conduct to include panhandling was illegal, Weinberg said.

The suit, settled in 2003, entitled around 5,000 panhandlers to a payout of $400 each from the city, Weinberg said.

Lawyers are asking the court for compensatory damages for the nine named plaintiffs in the latest case.

A Chicago Police Department representative would not comment on the pending lawsuit.

nnix@tribune.com
Twitter: @nsnix87