By Todd Feurer
CHICAGO (CBS) — In a 4-3 vote, the Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday ruled former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge can keep his pension, despite his conviction for lying about the torture of criminal suspects.
The court held Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan did not have the legal authority to challenge an administrative board’s decision allowing burge to keep his pension.
Burge, 66, is currently serving a 4 ½-year prison sentence in the Butner low security federal prison in North Carolina, following his 2010 conviction for perjury and obstruction of justice. He was charged with lying in sworn testimony during a civil lawsuit when he said he never tortured or witnessed the torture of criminal suspects while he was an Area Two police officer.
After a police pension board’s 4-4 split decision allowed Burge to keep his $3,000 monthly pension, Madigan filed a lawsuit in 2011 to terminate his benefits, arguing his conviction was directly tied to his job as a police officer. A Cook County judge dismissed Madigan’s lawsuit, but the Illinois Appellate Court reversed that ruling, finding a majority vote of the pension board was needed for Burge to keep his pension.
The Illinois Supreme Court, however, ruled Madigan did not have the authority to challenge the pension board decision.
“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,” Justice Anne Burke wrote in the court’s majority opinion. “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.”
Kent College of Law professor Richard Kling said it’s “outrageous” that Burge gets to keep his pension, but the high court ruled it was up to the police pension board to make that decision, not the courts.
“It flies in the face of common sense, and it flies in the face of propriety. Here’s a guy who was found to have tortured individuals while he was a police officer, and yet we the taxpayers continue to pay him,” Kling said.
He said, even if it’s a technical ruling, the Supreme Court opinion sends a bad message to allow Burge to continue drawing a pension, even while cases are pending involving suspects who claim Burge and other Area Two detectives tortured them into giving false confessions.
Attorneys for Burge had argued his conviction came after he was off the force, so was therefore not directly related to his official duties.
Burge was fired from the Police Department in 1993 after decades on the force, after the Chicago Police Board ruled he tortured convicted cop killer Andrew Wilson, who died in prison in 2007 while serving a life sentence for killing officers William Fahey and Richard O’Brien.