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State's attorney faces challenge in Burge suit

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

by Jerry Crimmins

Lawyers who filed a class-action lawsuit seeking hearings for prison inmates who alleged torture by Chicago detectives connected to Jon Burge said today the Cook County state's attorney's office should get disqualified from this suit.

Joey L. Mogul and G. Flint Taylor Jr. of Peoples Law Office said the prosecutor's office faces a conflict of interest.

"The state's attorney's office has been intimately involved in the torture scandal," Taylor said after a hearing before Circuit Judge Paul P. Biebel Jr.

The lawyers and the Roderick MacArthur Justice Center filed the suit last month.

Taylor said the former state's attorney, Richard A. Devine, who served in the office from 1996 to 2008, once represented Burge when Devine was in private practice.

This led to Biebel finding a conflict of interest in 2002, Taylor said, disqualifying the state's attorney's office from Burge-related cases.

The state's attorney's office never returned to Burge-related cases and shouldn't now, Mogul said.

The Illinois attorney general's office represented the state in Burge-related cases from 2003 to 2009, said Assistant State's Attorney Celeste Stewart Stack.

Since 2009, the state has been represented in many Burge matters by Special State's Attorney Stuart A. Nudelman, a former Cook County judge.

However, Stack said her office doesn't agree that any conflict of interest that involved Devine still exists under State's Attorney Anita M. Alvarez.

"We're reviewing all this," Stack said.

"Jon Burge was fired (from the Chicago Police Department) 20 years ago," Stack said. "The conflict was found 10 years ago under a different state's attorney."

Assistant State's Attorney Paul A. Castiglione said the question is "whether a legitimate conflict exists" today.

"Anita Alvarez has a constitutional duty to perform the duties of the state's attorney. … This is about our ability to discharge our duties and present arguments well," Castiglione said.

Taylor called Alvarez "a high associate of Devine's" and said many prosecutors who served under Devine remain in the office.

"Her office is tainted," Taylor said.

The lawyers made their arguments today to reporters after a short public hearing before Biebel.

Taylor said he raised this conflict of interest argument during a 20-minute, private conference in Biebel's chambers to which only the lawyers were invited.

Locke E. Bowman, legal director of the Roderick MacArthur Justice Center, said, "we obviously need a prosecutor without a conflict of interest and with clear eyes to deal with the important issues we have raised.

"We want to get past the preliminary issues quickly," Bowman said.

Doing that, Bowman said, means the court can deal with the question of whether inmates who may have been tortured by Burge or his colleagues will get new hearings on the cases that put them in prison.

At least 100 current inmates could be seeking such hearings.

Biebel told the state's attorney's office to file its arguments in writing by Dec. 18. He told the lawyers who filed the class-action lawsuit to respond to the state's attorney's office's arguments by Jan. 7.

The judge told the lawyers to return to court on Jan. 15.



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