CHICAGO (CN) - A divided Illinois Supreme Court upheld a Chicago pension board's decision that former police captain and alleged torturer Jon Burge is still entitled to his $4,000 a month pension.
Burge oversaw the Chicago Police Department's Area 2 headquarters on the city's South Side. He was fired in 1993 after it was revealed that police in the violent crimes section had been torturing suspects to obtain confessions.
Though the statute of limitations largely shielded Burge from being personally charged with police brutality, the abuse in his district gave rise to a large number of civil lawsuits.
Burge was convicted in 2008 for perjury, after the jury heard testimony about how suspects were suffocated with plastic bags, had their genitals electrocuted, and had guns forced into their mouths during interrogations.
Burge was found guilty of all counts and sentenced to 4 1/2 years in federal prison. He was released from prison in early October to serve out the remainder of his sentence at a Florida halfway house.
As many as 120 men, mostly African-American, may have been victims of Burge's torture. Chicago has spent more than $100 million to settle claims related to his misconduct, and to both defend and prosecute his crimes, according to the Huffington Post.
But despite the ongoing revelations of torture which forced the confessions of innocent suspects, Burge is still entitled to his pension benefits, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled.
The Retirement Board of the Policemen's Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago voted on whether to terminate Burge's benefits in 2011. The four city-appointed trustees voted to terminate, but the four officer-elected trustees voted against the motion.
Because the Board split 4-4, the motion was not passed.
One week later, the Illinois Attorney General filed a complaint seeking to enjoin the Board's payment of retirement benefits to Burge.
But the Illinois Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that the Board has the exclusive right to decide whether or not to terminate Burge's pension benefits.
"Consideration of the Attorney General's complaint would require the court to determine whether Burge's felony convictions related to, arose out of, or were in connection with his service as a police officer - the same issue addressed by the Board. Thus, to allow the Attorney General's complaint to proceed, we would have to conclude that section 1-115 not only repealed the exclusive, original jurisdiction of the Board under section 5-189, but also implicitly repealed the exclusive application of the Administrative Review Law under section 5-228. We decline to so hold," Justice Anne Burke said, writing for the four-justice majority, including Justices Robert Thomas, Lloyd Karmeier, and Mary Theis.
Burke emphasized that "[t]his 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."
Three of her colleagues disagreed.
Chief Justice Rita Garman wrote, "The majority opinion purports to answer 'who decides whether the pension benefits should be terminated.' The majority's decision is much broader than that - the majority decides that benefit decisions by the Board are immune to challenge by the Attorney General."
Justice Thomas Kilbride joined in this dissent.
In a separate dissent, Justice Charles Freeman said, "In my view, the legislature enacted section 1-115 to provide an important remedy that serves to protect public funds by granting the circuit courts concurrent jurisdiction to hear civil actions to enjoin acts or practices that violate the terms of the Pension Code."
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