Chicago city lawyers want a federal judge to recuse himself from hearing a police torture suit linked to Jon Burge

Former civil rights lawyer Jeffrey Cummings, appointed a federal judge this year, once signed off on reports condemning an investigation into accusations of torture by Burge and his so-called “midnight crew.”

SHARE Chicago city lawyers want a federal judge to recuse himself from hearing a police torture suit linked to Jon Burge
James Gibson, who spent nearly 30 years in prison for a 1989 double-murder, has sued the city of Chicago, saying that, while being questioned, he was tortured and framed by detectives working under former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge. Lawyers for the city want the judge hearing the case to step down because, before being appointed to the federal bench, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Cummings signed a letter condemning an investigation into police torture by Burge and his “midnight crew.”

James Gibson spent nearly 30 years in prison for a 1989 double-murder. He has sued the city of Chicago, saying that, while being questioned, he was tortured and framed by detectives working under former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge.

Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times (file)

Lawyers for the Chicago Police Department want a federal judge to recuse himself from presiding over a lawsuit filed by a man who spent decades in prison after he says he was framed by detectives working under corrupt former Cmdr. Jon Burge.

While working as an attorney specializing in civil rights cases more than 15 years ago, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Cummings was among dozens of lawyers and activists who signed on in support of a pair of reports that condemned a special prosecutor’s investigation into accusations of torture by Burge and his so-called “midnight crew” of detectives.

Unlike some of the other supporters, Cummings wasn’t involved in researching and drafting the reports.

Cummings, now a newly appointed federal judge, was handed a docket of more than 200 cases last month, including the lawsuit filed by James Gibson that accuses Burge’s detectives of torturing him into a false confession in a 1989 double-murder.

The case, filed in 2019, had been in front of Judge Sara Ellis, with U.S. Magistrate Judge David Weisman assigned to handle settlement discussions.

“Your Honor (Cummings) was listed as one of the individuals who submitted two reports in 2007 and 2008 regarding Jon Burge and detectives under his command,” city lawyers wrote in a court filing, saying they intend to ask Cummings to recuse himself.

“Respectfully, Defendants believe that Your Honor’s role as an individual signing onto these reports disqualifies Your Honor from presiding over this case ... and wish to address this before this Court considers any further matters.”

Gibson’s attorneys have noted that city lawyers haven’t raised objections about Weisman, who, in his previous career as an assistant U.S. attorney, led the prosecution team that sent Burge to prison. The ex-commander was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison in 2011, though Weisman argued he should have gotten 20 to 30 years.

A spokesperson for the city Law Department wouldn’t comment. Gibson’s attorney, Andrew M. Stroth, said the move to disqualify Cummings from the case was a delaying tactic.

“Attorneys for the city of Chicago are doing everything they can to delay and deny justice for an innocent man,” Stroth said.

Gibson was sentenced to life in prison for the 1989 killings of Lloyd Benjamin, an insurance agent, and his client, a mechanic named Hunter Wash, who were gunned down at Wash’s garage on the Southwest Side.

Gibson claimed he was beaten by detectives Anthony Maslanka and John Paladino, an accusation the state Torture Inquiry Relief Commission found credible, sending his case back to court for review.

An appeals court overturned Gibson’s conviction, and a special prosecutor assigned to the case dropped the charges.

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