Federal judge won’t step down in Jon Burge lawsuits

A federal judge has declined to step down from presiding over two lawsuits by men who allege they were tortured into making false confessions by detectives led by former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge, despite requests by lawyers for the city’s that he recuse himself because the judge endorsed a report on police torture nearly 20 years ago.

In a 35-page opinion issued Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Cummings noted that he was not involved in drafting a pair of reports issued by teams of local civil rights attorneys and activists that questioned a special prosecutor’s investigation of torture allegations and called for reforms based on the findings.

Cummings, who then was a private attorney, did sign onto a report, along with about 200 other attorneys, politicians and civic organizations, but he was privy only to public information.

In separate federal lawsuits now before Cummings, James Gibson and Robert Smith Jr., have sued individual detectives and the city, claiming that they were tortured into making false confessions by Burge and his men.

“I was in private practice at the time and I agreed to add my name to the report because I believed that the police torture scandal in Chicago warranted further investigation,” wrote Cummings, who was sworn in as a magistrate judge in 2019 and was promoted to district judge by President Joe Biden last year. “As defendants acknowledge, I was not a member of the research team and I had no role in researching, writing, editing, or producing the 2007 Report.”

Cummings also noted that the city’s lawyers did not seek to remove U.S. Magistrate Judge David Weisman, who is overseeing discovery matters in the cases — despite the fact that when he was an assistant U.S. attorney in 2010, Weisman was one of the lead prosecutors in Burge’s trial for perjury and obstruction of justice. Weisman delivered a closing argument, stating that Burge and several officers named in the lawsuit were involved in the torture of suspects and that a “code of silence” existed to cover up the abuse, central issues in the wrongful conviction cases.

“Defendants also ignore the fact that (Weisman) interviewed numerous men who alleged that they suffered physical abuse and torture while at Area 2, prepared them for trial, and implicitly expressed his belief in their credibility by presenting their testimony to the jury in the Burge case and referencing them in his closing argument,” Cummings wrote. “Yet, defendants question my impartiality even though I never met these men and have no non-public information regarding them simply because their accounts of physical abuse and torture are referenced within the 2007 report and taken seriously.”

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