A split Illinois Supreme Court ruling Thursday means disgraced former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge can keep drawing his public pension — roughly $54,000 a year — despite a 2010 conviction for lying about the torture of police suspects.
In an opinion authored by Anne Burke, the court ruled that a Cook County court was correct in not allowing Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to intervene in a police pension matter. The decision by the high court means Burge, now serving out his prison sentence, will keep drawing his pension.
Illinois’ high court ruled that Madigan did not have the jurisdiction to challenge a police pension board vote that allowed Burge to keep his pension, despite a federal criminal conviction.
“This opinion should not be read, in any way, as diminishing the seriousness of Burge’s actions while a supervisor at Area Two, or the seriousness of police misconduct in general. As noted, the question in this appeal is limited solely to who decides whether a police officer’s pension benefits should be terminated when he commits a felony,” the court wrote. “On this issue, the legislative intent is clear. The decision lies within the exclusive, original jurisdiction of the Board under section 5-189. Accordingly, the judgment of the appellate court is reversed and the judgment of the circuit court dismissing the Attorney General’s complaint is affirmed.”
Madigan issued a statment saying she was “extremely disappointed” in the decision, since it will allow “a torturer and convicted felon to receive his taxpayer-funded pension.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel also was disappointed in the verdict.
“We have been fighting to provide retirement security for those who have served our community with integrity, and to see taxpayer dollars flow to a felon whose perjury conviction was directly related to the abuse of his city police position is offensive to every Chicago resident and the men and women who honorably earned their pensions,” the mayor said in a statement issued by his office.
Madigan filed suit in 2011 seeking to terminate Burge’s monthly pension after a 4-4 split decision by the police pension board allowed him to continue receiving payments.
Madigan argued that the pension board was wrong to let Burge keep his pension in light of his conviction and sentencing for lying about the torture of crime suspects.
Burge, 66, is serving a four-and-a-half-year sentence for perjury and obstruction of justice for lying in his testimony in a civil lawsuit that he never participated in or witnessed the physical abuse of crime suspects while he was a Chicago police officer.
Burge’s supporters on the pension board, all police officers, argued that his felony conviction involved his testimony after he retired, so it wasn’t, as state law specifies, directly “relating to, arising out of or in connection” with his official duties. Other pension board member who weren’t police officers voted against Burge.
An attorney for Burge issued a statement praising the ruling.
“This is a good decision not only for Jon Burge, who is very grateful, but for all policemen in the State whose pensions would have been subject to attack by the Attorney General anytime she disagreed with a police pension board decision,” said the statement from attorney Michael H. Moirano. “We understand why the Attorney General felt compelled to file this case. We are very pleased the Supreme Court did the right thing. I am sure Jon Burge is a very happy man today, for the first time in a long time.”
When Burge retired, his pension was $3,095.14 a month. As of Dec. 31, 2013, his monthly pension is $4,487.89, largely because of cost-of-living increases.
Chicago attorney Flint Taylor, who has represented numerous individuals who have brought cases against Burge, said taxpayer money continues to go to the wrong side of the issue.
“I find it extremely upsetting and disturbing and I find it extremely unfair in the broad political and social sense that we have so many men who were tortured by Burge and they don’t have jobs. They have gotten no compensation, no medical care and that kind of thing,” Taylor said on Thursday. “Several of them testified against Burge, they’re one of the reasons Burge was locked up. They’re penniless and Burge has collected $652,000 as of the end of 2013.”
Contributing: Frank Main