Corporation Counsel Celia Meza, one of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s closest and most trusted advisers, resigned on Tuesday, continuing the post-election exodus from the lame-duck mayor’s Cabinet.
When her resignation takes effect Friday, Meza will join former Police Supt. David Brown in leaving city government before Tuesday’s runoff election, when Chicago voters will decide whether to make Paul Vallas or Brandon Johnson Chicago’s 57th mayor.
Normally, the $195,708-a-year corporation counsel sticks around until after the inauguration as a courtesy to ease the transition to a new mayor.
As the city’s chief attorney and the head of an in-house law firm with 305 employees, a $32.9 million budget and control over millions of dollars in outside legal fees, the corporation counsel has a wealth of knowledge that is invaluable to the new administration. Without that information, the new mayor and his team could be at a distinct disadvantage.
But sources said Meza told her staff Tuesday she had another opportunity, one too great to pass up, and she was looking forward to the new challenge. She did not say where she was going or why she could not delay starting her new job until after the inauguration in mid-May.
“It has been my honor and privilege to serve in Mayor Lightfoot’s administration these past four years in the role of Mayor’s Counsel and Senior Ethics Advisor and as Corporation Counsel,” Meza was quoted as saying in a statement.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked with the talented and dedicated attorneys and staff in the Law Department, and I am confident that they will continue to serve the City of Chicago to the best of their abilities during the remainder of this administration and throughout the transition. I look forward to the next chapter in my professional career as I return to the private sector.”
The first Latina ever to serve as Chicago’s corporation counsel, Meza got her start as law clerk for Alan Page, the former Bears and Vikings defensive tackle who went on to serve as chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court.
She was Lightfoot’s counsel and senior ethics a adviser when the mayor promoted her in 2021 to replace Corporation Counsel Mark Flessner, who was forced out in the political fallout from the police raid on the home of social worker Anjanette Young.
At the time, Lightfoot claimed not to know about Flessner’s attempts to block WBBM-TV (Channel 2) from airing bodycam video of the raid — footage showing a crying, naked and humiliated Young repeatedly telling the all-male team of officers they had raided the wrong address.
During her confirmation hearing, Meza was asked how she could provide legal representation to the mayor and the City Council when the two groups, at times, have divergent interests.
“I guarantee you I can effectively represent you. Theoretically in my career, there’s always been a guillotine over my head. At any given point, the client can decide they don’t want you,” she said then.
Alderpersons Jeanette Taylor (20th) and Ray Lopez (15th) subsequently used a parliamentary maneuver to delay Meza’s appointment to protest her decision to file a motion to dismiss Young’s lawsuit against the city after Young refused to accept what her attorneys called a “low-ball” offer to settle her case for $1 million. The case was later settled for $2.9 million.