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Corruption Always the Key to a Great Retirement

Corruption Always the Key to a Great Retirement

Originally Published November 4, 2014

Analysis: Madigan v. Burge (2014 decision of the Illinois Supreme Court)

Convicted of perjury amounting from his role as an officer on the Chicago Police force, Jon Burge, continues to receive his pension despite his tribulations as a corrupt policeman. The case, involves Attorney General for the state of Illinois, Lisa Madigan, and Jon Burge, former Chicago Police officer. Burge served in the police department for twenty-three years, retiring in 1993. After receiving pension payments and other retirement benefits for fifteen years, Burge was indicted for perjury and two counts of obstruction of justice. Two years later, in 2010, Burge was convicted and sentenced to four and one-half years’ imprisonment.

Generally perjury is not a crime associated with violence or as presenting a continued threat to society. However in this situation, Burge, guilty of perjury, was responsible for overseeing several officers who took advantage of their authority by physically torturing and abusing citizens of Chicago. These acts are especially troubling considering the vulnerable position citizens are inherently placed when encountering law enforcement. Burge lied under oath about knowledge of the abuse and actively hid information that would have assisted officials with rooting out corruption on the force.

Burge’s four plus years in prison ought to have instantly disqualified him from also continuing to receive his pension. The question the Illinois Supreme Court was tasked with answering was simply, “who decides whether the pension benefits should be terminated.” The options in this case for determining which entity possesses that authority were between the circuit court of Cook County and the administrative agency responsible for distributing pension funds.

The circuit court of Cook County held that the administrative agency was responsible, claiming, the decision to terminate pension benefits is a “quintessential adjudicative function” resting exclusively within the jurisdiction of [the agency].” This decision stripped the courts of any authority to intervene when agencies overstep boundaries or make decisions that are clearly not in the best interest of the citizens of its district.

Following this ruling, Attorney General Madigan filed a complaint, protesting that per Burge’s criminal behavior, he is disqualified from receiving pension benefits.  “The complaint was brought pursuant to section 1-115 of the Pension Code. That provision authorizes the Attorney General to bring a civil action to “[e]njoin any act or practice which violates any provision of the Code.” The Appellate Court reversed the decision of the Cook County circuit court, agreeing with the Madigan.

The logic applied by the Appellate Court centered on the language of the Pension Code. The code is silent on who is to possess sole responsibility for these pension distribution decisions. As a result, “the court found that the circuit court erred in interpreting section 5-189 of the Pension Code as divesting it of the subject matter jurisdiction to address the Attorney General’s claims.” Thus, the court determined that concurrent or shared jurisdiction existed, authorizing them to intervene.

This makes the most sense. Pensions are funded via taxpayer dollars. Policeman in most cities, including the city of Chicago receive a salary that is funded by citizens of the city of Chicago. To claim the courts of that city are completely powerless in the decision making of pension distribution is nonsensical. At no level of government are agencies bestowed such unchecked power. Even federal agencies are limited to the allowances of Congress, pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946. There is no question, states are afforded leniency with regard to forming governing structure and granting other authority. But assuming any state would form an agency and then allow that agency to perform its duties unchecked by any other branch of government is a perversion of checks and balances.

The Appellate Court was right to determine that concurrent jurisdiction existed in this case. A singular branch of government should not independently handle these sensitive issues, nor should an independent agency alone render final solutions. Rather, the agency and the courts and the legislature, in concert should determine the best possible outcome.

Unfortunately, the Illinois Supreme Court reinstated the ruling of the Circuit Court, finding that section 5-189 of the Pension Code shall serve as the prevailing rule. It reads, “[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,” (40 ILCS 5/5-189 (West 2012).

Questions for the Illinois Supreme Court: How can an independent body possess “exclusive and original jurisdiction” over state affairs? If policeman are paid using public funds, their retirements publicly funded, and they are commissioned to serve the public, how are these factors not highly relevant to determining policies that affect those officers?

This ruling of the Illinois Supreme Court ignores Burge’s conviction while also rewarding his corruption - making corruption a lucrative business.

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