Monday, July 7, 2014

Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney Comments on Convicted Felon Jon Burge Keeping His Pension

This Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney has commented here and here about former, and notorious, Chicago police officer Jon Burge.  He was a commander in the Chicago Police Department during an era fraught with police torturing confessions from accused.  Several years after his reign, in 2010 he was found guilty of obstruction of justice and perjury.  He was sentenced to four and a half years in prison.  He is scheduled for release from prison this fall.

Now the Illinois Supreme Court has ruled that although he is a convicted felon, his pension remains intact. After his conviction, the pension board met to determine whether the felony convictions triggered forfeiture of his pension.  
The board was comprised of four civilians, appointed by then mayor Richard Daley, and  four police officers, some retired, and others active.  Burge argued that his convictions were not related to his police duties.  He had retired from the police force more than a decade prior to the convictions.  The board split with the mayor's civilian appointees voting to deny Burge his pension.  When the board splits the decision falls in favor of the pensioner.  After this ruling the Attorney General filed suit. 

The Circuit court agreed with the pension board and Burge.  That the pension board was the exclusive decision making body in this area, pursuant to statute.
  People ex. rel Lisa Madigan v. John Burge 2014 IL 115635, 
section 5-189 of the Pension Code (40 ILCS 5/5-189 (West 2012)), states in pertinent part that “[t]he Board shall have exclusive original jurisdiction in all matters relating to or affecting the fund, including, in addition to all other matters, all claims for annuities, pensions, benefits or refunds.” The circuit court further noted that, while the statutory prohibition against providing pension benefits to a person convicted of a felony relating to, arising out of, or in connection with his service as a policeman is absolute, “in each individual case, the statutory standard will have to be applied to discrete facts and circumstances.
 The circuit court concluded that this was a “quintessential adjudicative function” which section 5-189 (4) conferred exclusively on the Board.
The Attorney General appealed.  The appellate court reversed the Circuit Court ruling finding that the Circuit Court did have subject matter jurisdiction.  It found that the Court could indeed decide whether Burge's felony convictions,  "related to, arose out of, or were connected with his service as a police officer in violation of section 5-227."  Burge and the pension board sought leave to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court.

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled, in a 4-3 decision, that:

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. 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.

Somehow, I think this ruling will generate some legislative activity.  But even if it does, Jon Burge will keep his pension.

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