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Jesse Reyes

Appellate Court Justice Jesse Reyes speaks about his Democratic primary race for the Illinois Supreme Court against Justice Joy Cunningham, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024. On Monday, Reyes called on Cunningham to divulge whether she was one of the justices who recused herself from acting on the ARDC petition for an interim suspension of Burke’s law license.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere

A candidate for Illinois Supreme Court decries the high court’s inaction against Edward Burke

That convicted former Chicago Alderman Edward Burke still has a law license after the Illinois Supreme Court failed to suspend it is a “travesty,” a candidate for the state’s high court said Monday.

Democratic state Appellate Justice Jesse Reyes, who is running for the seat once held by Burke’s wife, Anne, cited reporting by WBEZ and the Chicago Sun-Times to attack his political rival in the high-stakes judicial contest in the March 19th primary.

On Monday, the two news outlets disclosed the state Supreme Court last month did not act on a push by the state Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission to suspend Burke’s law license based on his December corruption conviction.

At least four justices on the seven-member high court cited conflicts of interest as a basis for not acting on the ARDC request to suspend the state law license he has held since 1968.

Suspension of a convict’s law license is generally a customary move by the agency that polices lawyer misconduct and happened with former Commonwealth Edison CEO Anne Pramaggiore and ex-company lobbyist Michael McClain after guilty verdicts last year in a major federal corruption trial. Like Burke, they are awaiting sentencing.

“Convicted felons should not be practicing law in the state of Illinois, period,” Reyes said. “If the Supreme Court cannot make a decision because of conflicts of interest, the court should appoint elected appellate justices to fill in so that a decision can be made without delay.

“It’s a travesty of justice that a convicted felon can keep his law license just because half the court is conflicted,” Reyes said.

Reyes is running against appointed Supreme Court Justice Joy Cunningham, who filled former Chief Justice Anne Burke’s seat on the court in December 2022 after Burke retired from her seat on the court.

After WBEZ and the Sun-Times’ reporting, Reyes called on Cunningham to divulge whether she was one of the justices who recused herself from acting on the ARDC petition for an interim suspension of Burke’s law license.

“My opponent is now asking the voters to elect her for the next 10 years,” Reyes said. “She needs to let the voters know where she stands, whether or not she has recused herself, and the reasons why.”

Multiple times Monday, WBEZ asked Cunningham’s campaign whether she had done just that, what her view was on the court’s paralysis involving Burke’s license and whether there were any remedies to the situation.

A campaign spokesman declined to answer those questions, directing them instead to a spokesman with the Illinois Supreme Court, who also has declined multiple times to identify which justices chose not to act on suspending Burke’s law license and their reasons why.

A Supreme Court rule allows state judges publicly to disclose conflicts that may require their disqualification from a case.

Four current justices on the court served alongside Anne Burke, including Democratic Chief Justice Mary Jane Theis and Democratic Justice P. Scott Neville, Jr. and Republican Justices David Overstreet and Lisa Holder White.

State campaign records show that Democratic Justice Elizabeth Rochford, who was elected in 2022, contributed more than $15,000 to Edward Burke’s political funds since 1999. And in at least one public interview, Rochford characterized Burke as a “longtime friend of our family.”

Cunningham has donated $1,800 to the former alderman’s political funds in the early 2000s, state campaign records show. Reyes donated $300 to Burke in 2007.

Reyes said a campaign contribution could factor into his own recusal from a case if the person receiving the donation appeared before him in a matter. But he said his own standard dictates recusal in an instance like that only if the contribution occurred within the past five years.

For decades, Edward Burke controlled the judicial slate-making process for the Cook County Democratic Party. That necessitated his stamp of approval for any aspiring Cook County lawyers seeking judgeships in the county or seats on the state appellate and Supreme courts.

“For years, Ed Burke, in his own words on FBI tape, admitted that he controlled the judicial appointment process, and my opponent was the beneficiary of this insider appointment process,” Reyes said. “In this instance, a recusal by a Supreme Court justice is effectively a vote in favor of Ed Burke keeping his law license after he was convicted of public corruption by a federal jury.”

Dave McKinney covers Illinois politics for WBEZ and is the former long-time Springfield bureau chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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