Can You Trust a Burke?

Notes from the 10/16/19 issue

Can You Trust a Burke?

Anne and Ed Burke have always made a baffling Chicago power couple. What, exactly, does the Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court—a generally well-respected jurist passionate about bond court reform—see in the alderman who has long been the face of old-school Chicago machine politics? And whatever the personal dynamics of their relationship may be, can we trust Anne’s independence as a judge, especially now that Ed is under federal investigation for using his Southwest Side aldermanic post to steer business to his private law firm?  On that front, recent reporting by WBEZ suggests that Anne may not be as adept at avoiding conflicts of interest involving her husband’s law firm as she has pledged to be. While Anne has frequently recused herself from cases that might involve a conflict of interest, WBEZ found that she ruled in favor of utility company ComEd, a client of Ed’s former firm, in two cases over the past few years. While there’s no evidence that ComEd specifically hired the Klafter & Burke firm in order to benefit from Anne Burke’s role on the bench, it’s not a good look, especially in a state with a storied history of corruption. As legal experts quoted by WBEZ point out, the Burke conundrum is one reason why Illinois judges ought to be required to explain their reasons for recusing themselves from cases, so that the public can understand their recusal patterns and have confidence in their independence. (Currently, there is no such requirement.) The judges can’t just judge themselves. 

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