We have long known that former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge and his “midnight crew” tortured suspects. What we don’t know is whether innocent men remain in prison, put there by statements extracted through torture.
Now, after years of courtroom battles to bring in an independent special prosecutor, an effort to dig into 38 remaining cases from the Burge era seems headed back to Square One.
Let’s not go back. A fully independent prosecutor should be named, and these decades-old cases should be resolved.
In 2002, Criminal Division Presiding Judge Paul Biebel correctly ruled then-Cook County State’s Attorney Richard Devine and all his prosecutors had a conflict of interest in any Burge case because of the office’s close ties to the Chicago Police Department. In 2013, Biebel ruled that Devine’s successor, Anita Alvarez, also had an inherent conflict of interest. Instead of letting the state’s attorney handle the cases, Biebel appointed a former judge, Stuart Nudelman, as special prosecutor.
But Nudelman retired last year, and Cook County Judge Thomas Byrne in April appointed Devine’s former top aide, Robert Milan, to replace Nudelman. Byrne should rescind that appointment, as defense attorneys have requested, simply because Milan was a top administrator in the state’s attorney’s office during those troubling times.
We are in no way questioning the integrity of Milan, who is now in private practice and who has worked on wrongful-conviction cases. But the story of the Burge scandal is a story of conflicts of interests — by cops, lawyers and judges. That’s what Judge Biebel was trying to end.
Illinois is full of able lawyers who have no ties to any Burge case. Judge Byrne, who also worked for Devine, should pick one of them.