Settlements: An Integral Part of our System of Justice

Today, I settled a case on behalf of my clients. As is typically the case in settlements, neither side got everything they wanted, but both sides agreed to settle their dispute understanding that the unpredictable nature of allowing a judge to determine the outcome of the case made the risk of continuing litigation too great for both sides to bear.


While settlements invariably involve compromise, they are an integral part of our system of justice. Our system of justice is designed to resolve disputes in a peaceful manner instead of resorting to vigilante justice. Although rulings from courts are key pieces of our system of justice, they actually represent only a small minority of the results of litigation. In fact, roughly 95% of all civil cases result in a settlement before trial.

Recently, a friend expressed concern over Tony Robinson’s family’s decision to sue the City of Madison over the fatal shooting of their son by a Madison police officer, as he thought that it would only result in a settlement. Ironically, this lawsuit was brought just a day after the City of Madison settled the lawsuit brought by the family of another victim of a fatal police shooting, Paul Heenan, for $2.3 million.

I explained to my concerned friend that although it was impossible to predict the outcome of the Tony Robinson lawsuit, odds were very high that it would result in a settlement, and there was nothing wrong with that. In fact, that is what happened just before the trial in which I represented a Sun Prairie Middle School student against a police officer who assaulted him at school.

While the City of Madison claimed the settlement in the Paul Heenan case was not an admission of liability, and technically that is true, I can assure you that no party settles a case for $2.3 million without knowing that it has a very good chance of losing a lot more if the case goes to trial. As the Heenan family’s attorney Mike Fox said,

We want policing to be something other than a reaction to unreasonable fear and unreasonable anger, and we hope that this case is a testament to the fact that a shooting of an individual who is unarmed and who we allege did not pose a threat to the officer is simply wrong.

They hope this settlement and the work it took to achieve this settlement will become part of the national conversation that is currently dealing with relationships between police officers and their respective communities and a dialogue between police officers and their respective communities that seems to be dreadfully out of sync.

Civil rights attorneys, such as myself, hope that every settlement brings about systems change resulting in improved future behavior by both the perpetrator of the civil rights violation, and perhaps more important, by others who learn about the settlement. As an attorney who continues to battle theĀ schools to prison pipeline, I sincerely hope that my Sun Prairie settlement, and the Paul Heenan settlement take us a couple of steps closer to living in a nation where our police officers protect us rather than injuring or killing us.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.