Ex-Ald. Ed Burke retires as a lawyer after the state’s highest court failed to pull his law license

Former Chicago Ald. Burke has formally retired as a lawyer, a change in status from just two weeks ago when WBEZ and the Chicago Sun-Times first reported how a hamstrung Illinois Supreme Court failed to suspend his law license after his federal corruption conviction.

The state Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission website is now revealing that new status, though it’s not clear in the public record when exactly the change happened.

He had been listed as legally able to practice law prior to the WBEZ/Sun-Times report on March 11.

After Burke was convicted last December, the disciplinary commission had urged the state Supreme Court to suspend his law license, as is customary when lawyers run afoul of state or federal law.

After the federal convictions last year of two defendants in the Commonwealth Edison corruption case, former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore and ex-company lobbyist Michael McClain, the commission stripped both of their law licenses, even as they await sentencing.

But the court didn’t go that route with Burke after his racketeering, bribery and extortion conviction.

Instead, several justices cited conflicts of interest and recused themselves, sinking the effort — a move that wasn’t publicly revealed until almost a month after the fact, when it was reported by WBEZ and the Sun-Times.

The result of that paralysis on the court meant Burke remained in good legal standing with the state and was permitted to practice law, though his lawyer indicated his client had no desire to do so. Burke was first licensed with the state in 1968.

The issue flared during the final week of the primary involving state Supreme Court Justice Joy Cunningham and her rival, Appellate Justice Jesse Reyes, who called on her to divulge whether she was among the justices who recused themselves in the Burke case.

Reyes called the court’s inability to render a decision in Burke’s case a “travesty” and encouraged justices to develop rules that would enable state appellate justices to substitute when Supreme Court justices disqualify themselves from a case through recusal.

Cunningham, who handily won the Democratic primary Tuesday for a 10-year seat on the court, ignored Reyes’ call and has not spoken publicly about the matter. She was appointed to fill the unexpired term of Burke’s wife, former Chief Justice Anne Burke, who left the court in December 2022.

Under Supreme Court rules, Burke may apply for reinstatement as a lawyer while in retired status.

He also could still face a renewed effort by the Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission to strip him of his law license after his scheduled June 24 sentencing in federal court. But it is highly likely recusals by justices would doom such an effort again since there has been no turnover on the seven-member court since February.

Burke’s defense lawyer, Chris Gair, told WBEZ and the Sun-Times he discussed Burke’s law license with the commission shortly after Burke’s conviction, telling them Burke had not practiced law in years and wanted to retire. The commission said that wasn’t possible, according to Gair.

After the WBEZ and Sun-Times report on March 11, posture of the Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission changed, he said Friday.

“The ARDC came back to me and said, ‘You know, maybe he should go on retirement status,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, that’s what I told you months ago,’” Gair said.

The commission declined public comment on that outline of events and on Burke’s changed status as a lawyer.

Upon criminal sentencing, Supreme Court rules dictate that the Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission initiate disciplinary proceedings against lawyers convicted of misconduct.

Gair said a move like that would be a mistake.

“It would be preposterous to do so given that he’s 80 years old, he’s not ever going to practice again, and he’s facing criminal sentencing,” Burke’s lawyer said.

Dave McKinney covers Illinois politics and was the Chicago Sun-Times long-time Springfield bureau chief. Jon Seidel covers federal courts for the Sun-Times.

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