The Pulse: City Reviewing Policy of Paying Burge Bills

By: KATIE FRETLAND
New York Times
Friday, July 9, 2010

The City of Chicago is reviewing whether it is required to continue paying for the civil defense of Jon Burge, the former Chicago police commander, after his recent federal conviction for lying about the torture of suspects in police custody.

The city has paid $10.1 million in outside counsel fees for Mr. Burge’s legal defense in civil cases. Mr. Burge’s accusers and their advocates are questioning why the city is continuing to pick up the costly tab for his defense after he was found guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice on June 28. Mr. Burge, 62, has been a defendant in 17 civil rights lawsuits filed in federal court.

“I don’t think Burge should get anything from the municipality, period,” said Alderman Ed Smith (28th) on Thursday.

The city’s financial responsibility for Mr. Burge is based on its interpretation of Illinois law and sections of municipal code, one which states that the chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee — with the mayor’s approval — may appoint counsel to defend former employees in civil cases, said Jennifer Hoyle, the Law Department spokeswoman.

In 1997, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit required the city to pay damages assessed against Mr. Burge in a civil case alleging torture. Ms. Hoyle cited this decision as another reason the city believed it must continue to pay for Mr. Burge’s legal representation.

But Laurie Reynolds, a professor of law at the University of Illinois, said state law clearly allowed local governments to choose whether to pay for lawyer fees for former employees when they were sued for conduct on the job.

After reviewing the appellate court’s decision and the local code cited by the city, Ms. Reynolds said it was “pretty clear” that the city was not required to pay for Mr. Burge’s defense.

“There is no provision that you’ve shown me that seems to impose an obligation to pay for or represent him,” she said