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Justice Burke has some explaining to do

Wednesday, Oct 9, 2019

* WBEZ dug up 10 Illinois Supreme Court cases where Justice Anne Burke participated in the decision even though her husband Ed Burke’s law firm represented one of the parties in property tax matters. There’s zero evidence that Burke tipped the scale on behalf of her husband’s clients, but the pledge she took when she was first sworn in looks inoperative to my eyes

On the day she first was sworn in as a justice in 2006, Burke pledged to be mindful of potential conflicts of interest that might involve her politics or her husband.

“I’m constantly on the lookout for any possible — what appears to be, which I might not even think is an appearance of — impropriety or conflict. I go the opposite way,” she said. […]

In the case involving Jason Sloan, a court spokesman said Justice Burke was unaware that her husband had any financial relationship to ComEd.

“I can confirm on the record that Justice Burke did not know who was or was not a client of Klafter & Burke in 2011 and still does not know who may or may not be a client of Klafter & Burke to this day,” court spokesman Christopher Bonjean said in a statement.

Court rules dictate that judges shall “make a reasonable effort to keep informed about the personal economic interests of the judge’s spouse.”

You cannot be both “constantly on the lookout” for even the appearance of conflict and then never make a reasonable effort to ask your attorney spouse about possible conflicts.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

40 Comments »
  1. - OneMan - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 10:10 am:

    I would suspect lawyers facing the Supreme Court are working on their “my client didn’t ask so therefore didn’t know’ defenses right now.


  2. - Birdseed - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 10:12 am:

    “I know nothing!” ~ Sergeant Schultz and maybe Justice Burke


  3. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 10:15 am:

    Conflict Corner

    The ageless and priceless Chief Justice of Illinois’ Supreme Court Anne Burke finds herself in one tough spot. Her husband the former powerful chairman now indicted alderman Ed Burke put her there.

    Can this power couple power through?

    Sneedless to say, sharing dinner with good friends, and being over the moon together doesn’t recuse any justice from not recusing themselves, or from not answering questions about these decisions.

    A good time being had by all?

    Natch.


  4. - OneMan - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 10:19 am:

    Get it, forget it.

    Considering how tight Sneed is with them, perhaps they counted on Sneed to report conflicts


  5. - Just Me - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 10:25 am:

    No surprise here. This is Illinois culture.

    Years ago I had Joe Berrios as my lobbyist, and when I found out he had a conflict of interest I told him to resolve the conflict. The next day I got a call from the Speakers Office telling me it was my job to know if the lobbyist had a conflict and it was my fault for hiring him in the first place. Needless to say none of my legislation moved for the next year.

    This is the environment we operate in, where the powerful are allowed to have conflicts every day and then get snooty when they are called out.


  6. - Smalls - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 10:33 am:

    I look forward to the follow up article on the cases that she did not recuse herself that involved the finances of the City of Chicago, and her husband as the Chair of the Finance Committee. While maybe not a direct conflict of interest according to state statute, certainly the appearance of a conflict of interest.


  7. - Really? - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 10:38 am:

    I find it interesting/disingenuous that Justice Burke “still does not know who may or may not be a client of Klafter & Burke to this day” given that her husband has to publicly file Statements of Economic Interests each year. Going back to 2013, he has listed ComEd as a client as well as a long list of other businesses. This is public knowledge and easy to find on the City of Chicago’s website. Surely her staff can print off the list and check for conflicts.


  8. - NIref - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 10:41 am:

    Didn’t Burke also sit on a case where a large donor (State Farm) was a party and subsequently ruled in their favor? Should have been sometime in the mid-00’s?


  9. - NoGifts - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 10:45 am:

    see what happens when you let your guard down for one minute?


  10. - Amalia - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 10:45 am:

    I know so many lawyers who think she is smart and nice. Lawyers who are independent minded women. can’t figure out what they are thinking.


  11. - Donnie Elgin - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 10:54 am:

    alderman Burke’s Guardian angel


  12. - SWIL Voter - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 10:57 am:

    It’s so jarring to go from reading national news to state news to see where, like, laws and ethics are real? The idea of “appearance of conflict” seems, I don’t know, quaint?


  13. - depressed in politics - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 11:05 am:

    The time to raise these issues was when she was running for retention. Now that she is retained for the next 10 years (now 9), it won’t matter a wit. Doubtful that these conflicts have reared their heads only within the last year. Many: bar associations, the media, political opponents, all failed to do their due diligence.


  14. - Three Dimensional Checkers - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 11:20 am:

    ===I know so many lawyers who think she is smart and nice. Lawyers who are independent minded women. can’t figure out what they are thinking.===

    The answer is likely in the psychological study of authoritarian personalities.


  15. - Steve - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 11:28 am:

    Technically it’s a conflict of interest for Justice Burke to hear any case the city of Chicago has in front of the Illinois Supreme Court: especially if her husband voted for the ordinance in question.


  16. - Louis Capricious - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 11:35 am:

    === The time to raise these issues was when she was running for retention. ===

    I disagree. The time is now for the Supreme Court of Illinois to come to terms with why its own justice did not follow a straight-forward rule. The rule says she must make a “reasonable effort to keep informed” about her spouse’s economic interests. Yet, by the admission of the court spokesman, she was making no effort at all – let alone a reasonable one.

    This therefore is now a matter for the Supreme Court: What is it going to do about its own justice’s failure to follow its own simple rule? Does it need to actually define in its rule a “reasonable effort”? Is it going to reprimand the justice for failing to follow a simple rule? Will it do ANYTHING AT ALL to show that the highest court in the state takes seriously the obligation of an attorney – in this case, a justice of the Supreme Court – to follow the Supreme Court’s directive?


  17. - Steve - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 11:38 am:

    The Illinois state legislature could pass a law dealing with these sorts of conflicts if they want to .


  18. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 11:39 am:

    ===The Illinois state legislature could pass a law dealing with these sorts of conflicts if they want to.===

    Different than now?

    Explain.


  19. - Glum - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 11:55 am:

    == The Illinois state legislature could pass a law dealing with these sorts of conflicts if they want to . ==

    No, they could not. The legal profession is solely regulated by the Supreme Court. Any law attempting to put restrictions or limitations on the practice of law or how judges operate would violate separation of powers.


  20. - Steve - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 11:55 am:

    OW

    If there were total ban on hearing any case from a municipality in which a justice is married to/related to someone who is a legislator of that municipality . Ed Burke’s name is on many of the ordinances that are/would be challenged in front of the Illinois Supreme Court concerning Chicago.

    https://www.wbez.org/shows/wbez-news/state-high-court-rejects-food-truck-case-against-chicago/d83cb506-a493-420b-8def-451fe41b08a2


  21. - Soccermom - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 11:57 am:

    Really? raises an excellent point. Alderman Burke’s client list is publicly available. Justice Burke doesn’t have to discuss it with her husband — she just has to google it.


  22. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 12:01 pm:

    ===total ban===

    … or they can recuse themselves or face sanctions or impeachment if it’s egregious.

    There are steps already in place. The real question is if an ethics officer of the court knew or why wasn’t the ethics officer notified, or… if they knew and allowed these cases to continue… why.

    Not everything is “there oughta be a law”


  23. - That not how this works - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 12:16 pm:

    “Is it going to reprimand the justice for failing to follow a simple rule? Will it do ANYTHING AT ALL to show that the highest court in the state takes seriously the obligation of an attorney – in this case, a justice of the Supreme Court – to follow the Supreme Court’s directive?”

    No, the supreme court is not going to do anything. Nor should it.

    First, recusal decisions are left to the judge to decide. For instance, if Justice Burke does not know who her husband’s clients are, then she can’t be biased for or against them. There is therefore no basis for her to recuse. Recusal decisions are subjective, not objective. So if she was unaware, she had no reason to recuse, regardless what Louis or the professors in the article think about the situation.

    Second, even if she had violated the recusal rule, the court would do nothing about it. And that is because the Supreme Court has no constitutional authority to punish judges for ethical violations. That authority lies solely with the Illinois Courts Commission. If the Supreme Court were to reprimand her, it would be an unconstitutional reprimand.

    So, no. The Supreme Court will not do anything.


  24. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 12:18 pm:

    ===That authority lies solely with the Illinois Courts Commission.===

    They can’t be impeached?


  25. - depressed in politics - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 12:18 pm:

    @Louis Capricious
    When has the Supreme Court EVER disciplined a colleague? Answer, when Justice Heiple was “censured”. It took the Illinois General Assembly to pursue impeachment to provide meaningful accountability. Technically, that would be the province of the Judicial Inquiry Board and the Courts Commission, both dominated by members from Cook County.


  26. - Red Ketcher - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 12:26 pm:

    Think the State Farm “conflict” involved the immediate past Chief - Avery v State Farm ?


  27. - 100 miles west - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 1:00 pm:

    Google justice James Heiple, he was censured and investigated, but the house committee voted to not impeach. He was chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court.


  28. - Henry Francis - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 1:03 pm:

    The feds have more than 62,000 of Ed’s phone calls. Wonder if the Chief Justice is on any of those. 62,000 (exclamation point)


  29. - Louis Capricious - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 1:04 pm:

    === the Supreme Court has no constitutional authority to punish judges for ethical violations ===

    We all get that the Courts Commission exists to discipline judges who fail to follow the rules and that, as a procedural matter, any complaint concerning her conduct will go before that body.

    But the Supreme Court is helpless here only in as much as it can’t be bothered to tend to its reputation.

    The court could convene a committee to study whether a clarification of the rule is necessary to provide justices and judges with clearer guidance as to their responsibility to ensure they are not acting to benefit their spouse’s economic interests. Apparently, “reasonable effort” wasn’t clear enough for Justice Burke.

    The court also could issue a public statement demonstrating its commitment to ensuring that all actors within the court system - even those sitting on the highest court of the state - follow the Supreme Court rules. There are any number of ways to draft a public statement. Surely, the Supreme Court, with all its staff and expertise at its disposal, could manage to draft a statement that reinforces common sense and respect for the law.

    Or it can do nothing and just pretend that its reputation will take care of itself.


  30. - Amalia - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 1:17 pm:

    @Three Dimensional Checkers….lol


  31. - depressed in politics - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 1:32 pm:

    @100 miles west: the pursuit of an impeachment inquiry did lead to his resignation as the Chief Judge, but you are correct, the inquiry did not lead to his removal. Perhaps you do not view resignation as the Chief Judge as meaningful accountability, an opinion I can respect. My fundamental point that the Courts Commission is a paper tiger remains.


  32. - 100 miles west - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 2:39 pm:

    @depressed, my point is that judges can be punished, and have been


  33. - A guy - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 2:51 pm:

    He shoulda “discussed the family business with her” just this one time.


  34. - Bourbon Street - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 3:53 pm:

    @depressed. The Courts Commission has removed judges from their positions as well as censured and suspended other judges, so I wouldn’t call it a paper tiger. Reasonable minds can disagree as to whether a censure of Heiple was sufficient punishment, but the censure of a sitting Supreme Court justice is serious business. I doubt his reputation (which is extremely important to lawyers and judges) ever recovered.

    For those of you who are interested, Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct governs recusals. It can be found on the Illinois Courts’ website.


  35. - Steve - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 4:02 pm:

    - Henry Francis -

    You are right to wonder if the feds have Justice Anne Burke on any phone calls and what was said ,if it has any relevance.


  36. - Keyrock - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 4:28 pm:

    Isn’t Justice Burke the current Supreme Court representative on the Courts Commission? I know she’s served on it in the past.


  37. - Michael Westen - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 8:09 pm:

    Could the Feds even listen into a conversation between husband and wife?


  38. - Soccermom - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 8:28 pm:

    Michael Westen — I don’t think privilege extends if there are others on the phone. And I am assuming the wiretap did not include calls only between the Justice and the Alderman.


  39. - Anon - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 8:40 pm:

    I’d be curious to know how many of those cases involved a 4-3 split. Not many, I’d bet.


  40. - ‘Hawk - Wednesday, Oct 9, 19 @ 10:12 pm:

    This story has been in the works, it seems, but terrible timing for the other justices - less than a month after they elected Burke as Chief Justice (please read: missed an opportunity to elect someone other than Burke). I believe the election of the Chief Justice is systematic, but the absence of political awareness, or courage, never surprises me.


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