CHICAGO (CBS) — Nearly five months after City Hall’s top lawyer resigned over the Anjanette Young scandal, Mayor Lori Lightfoot named acting Corporation Counsel Celia Meza would take over the position full-time, becoming the first Latina to run the city’s Law Department.
“Celia is an extraordinarily talented lawyer who has and continues to demonstrate her legal prowess—even in times of crisis,” Lightfoot said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “Her more than 25 years of legal and ethics experience, dedication to public service and serious approach to this role is exactly what we need during what is still a very difficult time for our city. I want to thank Celia for all of the hard work she’s done since becoming Acting Corporation Counsel back in December and congratulate her on permanently stepping into the role.”
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Meza, like Lightfoot, is a former federal prosecutor, and had worked in the city’s Law Department twice before she became interim Corporation Counsel in December. Just before that, Meza had served as Lightfoot’s counsel and senior ethics adviser.
Lightfoot named Meza as acting Corporation Counsel after Mark Flessner resigned from that post in December, in the wake of the Anjanette Young scandal. Young was handcuffed naked when officers broke into her home in February 2019.
Less than a week before Flessner resigned, city attorneys went to court to try to block CBS 2 from airing a news report on the video of the raid of Young’s home, after CBS 2 obtained footage of the raid in which Young was handcuffed naked as police wrongly searched her home.
Lightfoot had criticized the city’s Law Department for seeking to block CBS 2 from airing that video, calling it a mistake, though she has denied knowing about the request beforehand.
The city also had sought sanctions against Young and her attorney, Keenan Saulter. The city argued Saulter and CBS 2 were violating a confidentiality agreement with the court, but the judge denied their request to block CBS 2 from airing the video.
The CBS 2 Investigators also exposed six body camera videos the city’s Law Department failed to turn over to Young under Flessner.
After Flessner’s resignation, the city dropped its request for sanctions against Saulter, and said it never intended to seek sanctions against Young herself.
Lightfoot has called the effort to sanction Saulter “a colossal mistake,” and said had she been advised of the move beforehand, she never would have allowed the Law Department to seek sanctions.
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As for Meza, in addition to her time as a federal prosecutor, she has served as an attorney in the city’s Office of Inspector General, and in multiple roles in the private sector
“Meza is a skilled attorney with labor, employment, ethics, compliance, investigations, and corporate experience. She has a diverse government
background having worked in federal, state, and local government legal positions,” the mayor’s office said in a news release. “Meza also has a background in corporate work having served as in-house counsel in public and private corporations, an institution of higher education, and a non-profit organization.”
Meza, who started her legal career in the city’s Law Department, said it’s “an honor and a privilege” to return as the city’s top attorney.
“Throughout my career as a public servant, I have committed myself to integrity, ethics, and equality for all. I am the proud daughter of migrant farmworkers and thrilled to be the first Latina to serve in this role in a time when diversity, inclusion and equity are essential tenants to building a stronger city,” she said in a statement.
Lightfoot also announced two other hires to top posts on Wednesday, including former federal marshal John O’Malley Jr. as her new Deputy Mayor of Public Safety, replacing Susan Lee, who stepped down last October; and Beniamino Capellupo as her Senior Advisor for Labor Partnerships.
“In a time marked by uncertainty and unpredictability, fully ensuring the safety of our residents is my top priority and a goal that will be made all the more obtainable with John on my team,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “John’s experience, extensive institutional knowledge and incredible leadership skills will be invaluable to my administration and our city as a whole. I am thrilled to formally congratulate him on becoming Chicago’s newest Deputy
Mayor and look forward to working closely with him to enhance our city’s public safety infrastructure.”
O’Malley most recently has served as director of corporate security for William Blair & Company, a financial services firm, since 2015. He also served on the Police Accountability Task Force with Lightfoot under former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and has served on the Chicago Police Board since 2017. Prior to his time in corporate security, O”Malley served for 25 years at the U.S. Marshals Service, including six years as the Chief Deputy United States Marshal in Chicago.
Capellupo most recently served as the Executive Director of the Service Employees International Union Illinois Council, the governing body for 10 local labor unions in Illinois. He was responsible for lobbying city officials on a number of social, economic, and environmental issues considered vital to the unions.
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“Chicago will always be a labor town, making it that much more important that my administration has a leader like Beniamino at the helm of our labor engagement and workforce protection efforts,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “Beniamino brings a host of real-world organizing and labor movement experience to my team that will be invaluable long after this pandemic is over. I am excited to formally welcome him to our team and have the utmost confidence that he will have a positive impact on our city’s long legacy of lifting up working people.”