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Law firm paid over $1 million by Finance Committee hosting fundraiser

Ald. Ed Burke (14th) spoke during an event on the city's new riverwalk between Clark and LaSalle to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Eastland Disaster on Friday, July 24, 2015. | Ashlee Rezin/for Sun-Times Media

As the head of the Chicago City Council’s Committee on Finance, Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) holds sway over all worker compensation claims filed by city workers — and all of the outside lawyers the city hires to fight those claims.

Now, Hennessy & Roach, a law firm that the powerful Southwest Side alderman’s committee paid more than $1.4 million over a three-year period to fight injury claims from city workers, is giving back: It’s hosting a political fundraiser Thursday for the powerful alderman, who already has the richest campaign war chest of any politician in Illinois.

Burke had a total of more than $8.6 million in his three political campaign funds at the start of this year, records show. By comparison, Mayor Rahm Emanuel had $1.2 million, the Illinois Democratic Party had a little more than $1 million, and Gov. Pat Quinn had about $720,000.

Thomas G. Hennessy, one of the law firm’s managing partners, is hosting this week’s fund-raiser, a cocktail party at the swanky Union League Club downtown. He’s asking people to donate as much as $1,500 to The Burnham Committee, one of Burke’s campaign funds.

The event has a professional sports theme — and a decided South Side bias. Top contributors — those who give $1,500 or more — are proclaimed “Sox fans.” Those who give $500: “Bears fans.” For $150: “Bulls fans.” Not going? “Cubs fans.”

“Those who contribute $1,500 will be invited to play golf at Beverly County Club this year as Tom Hennessy’s guest . . . because they’re Sox fans, of course,” the invitation says.

Anyone who actually is a Cubs fan but kicks in $1,500 still gets to play. “Tom Hennessy hates the Cubs, but $1,500 is $1,500, so those contributors will be invited to play at Beverly, too, if they can get past security,” the invitation says.

Hennessy’s law firm has been doing work for the City Council Finance Committee for at least two decades.

Through the committee, Burke has complete control over how to handle worker compensation cases filed by city employees. He has City Hall’s corps of staff lawyers — from the corporation counsel’s office — fight most of the claims. In some cases, he hires outside law firms — like Hennessy & Roach — to defend the city.

Burke hired Hennessy’s law firm to defend the city in 776 worker compensation cases between 1992 and 2006, the Chicago Sun-Times has reported. In all, City Hall paid Hennessy & Roach more than $1.4 million between 2004 and 2006.

The firm and its lawyers have given Burke more than $30,000 in campaign contributions in the past 12 years.

Another of the firm’s attorneys — Edward Hennessy — is married to Catharine Hennessy, an assistant commissioner in the city Department of Streets and Sanitation who testified for the prosecution, against the city, six years ago in the illegal hiring case that sent then-Mayor Richard M. Daley’s patronage chief, Robert Sorich, and former streets and sanitation official Patrick Slattery to prison.