Plea made for outside judges
Saying the torture charges against former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge and his detectives taint almost every corner of the Cook County criminal justice system, a group of attorneys asked Monday that judges from outside the county and independent prosecutors be assigned to handle pending cases.
The request, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, says judges have never granted relief based on a torture allegation in 50 cases in which a defendant charged that Burge or one of his detectives abused him in an interrogation. Yet, the attorneys said, appellate courts, the Chicago Police Board and the Police Department's Office of Professional Standards have found defendants were in fact tortured in 13 cases.
The attorneys also contend 18 of the county's 61 Felony Court judges played key roles in alleged torture cases when they worked as prosecutors. Roughly two-thirds of all Criminal Court judges were prosecutors before joining the bench, according to the lawyers' analysis.
The conclusion, according to the lawyers, is that pending cases in which defendants say they were tortured by Burge or his detectives--including a dozen or so Death Row appeals--should be handed to judges from outside the county.
The state's attorney's office should be disqualified, according to the attorneys, because of its long involvement with the cases and the confessions central to them, and because of "numerous instances in which it obtained, vouched for and defended the use of such tainted evidence."
"The direct involvement of many of the judges in these cases as state's attorneys makes it impossible for there to be fair and impartial hearings," said Flint Taylor, one of the lawyers who filed the request and the attorney for several of the alleged torture victims. "This is particularly true given that a special prosecutor is looking into the state's attorneys' role in these cases."
County prosecutors disputed the Monday court filings.
"There are prosecutors from Cook County involved every step of the way in the Illinois criminal justice system, all the way up to the Supreme Court," said John Gorman, a spokesman for the Cook County state's attorney's office. "It would seem that Flint Taylor would only be happy if this case wound up in the World Court in The Hague."
If the motion is granted, it is not clear who would handle the cases or where the cases would be heard. The lawyers suggest using the same criteria that led to the naming in April of a special prosecutor to investigate possible criminal conduct by Burge and his detectives.
Cook County Chief Criminal Court Judge Paul Biebel appointed Edward Egan to investigate allegations that Burge and detectives at South Side precincts in the 1970s and 1980s used electric shock, suffocation and even Russian roulette in interrogations. Burge was fired in 1993 for torturing convicted cop-killer Andrew Wilson.
Biebel ruled State's Atty. Richard Devine and his assistants had a conflict of interest because Devine once represented Burge in private practice. Devine has proposed the chief of his office's civil division, Assistant State's Atty. Patrick Driscoll, be named to supervise the pending cases in which the defendants have alleged torture. A so-called Chinese wall would be created to ensure Driscoll's decisions would be independent.
The attorneys who are seeking a special prosecutor argued that Driscoll's loyalty would remain with Devine and the state's attorney's office.
"Once you acknowledge [the conflict], the question becomes how to deal with it," said attorney Locke Bowman of the University of Chicago's MacArthur Justice Center. "And it's clear that the Chinese wall isn't sufficient."
A second solution proposed by Devine's office was that Illinois Atty. Gen. Jim Ryan's office handle the cases, but the attorneys for the alleged torture victims contend that office also is compromised.
The attorney general worked on appeals with the state's attorney's office, the lawyers argue, and also failed to investigate the torture allegations.
Gorman said Ryan's office would be an appropriate prosecutor.
"Bowman seemingly wants to have a string of special prosecutors," Gorman said. "If Judge Biebel decides to disqualify this office and Pat Driscoll, then the attorney general can surely handle these cases. Jim Ryan never represented Jon Burge."