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The [Wednesday] Papers

"A Cook County judge on Tuesday threw out the conviction of a South Side man imprisoned for decades for a 1980s rape, concluding that two of disgraced former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge's top lieutenants had tortured him into confessing and then covered up the abuse," the Tribune reports.

"The two former detectives, John Byrne and Peter Dignan, asserted their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination when called to testify during a hearing Monday, according to lawyers.

"Wrice had alleged that Byrne and Dignan beat him in the basement of the Area 2 police headquarters on the South Side after his arrest in a brutal gang rape. Byrne hit him with a flashlight, while Dignan struck him with a length of rubber hose, Wrice said."

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"Prosecutors sought to block that hearing in an appeal to the State Supreme Court, claiming that the torture inflicted by Burge's notorious 'Midnight Crew' was 'harmless error,'" Northwestern's Bluhm Legal Clinic notes.

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From the John Conroy/Reader archives:

John Byrne: Has known Burge since childhood and admitted to being his "right-hand man" at Area Two. Accused of cattle prod torture and numerous attacks aimed at genitals. Left CPD after he got his law degree but subsequently disbarred for taking money from clients - including police officers and firefighters - for whom he did no work, an ethical lapse he attributes to clinical depression. He collects a police pension and works as a private investigator.

Peter Dignan: Accused of torture, often with John Byrne. Named in 17 of the [Peoples Law Office's] list of 105 cases, accused of mock execution, electrical torture, suffocation, and beatings with flashlights and phone books. Promoted to lieutenant by Superintendent Terry Hillard in 1998 despite being named a "player" in an internal police investigation of torture in 1990. Retired, pension intact, from the force, he now works for the Cook County sheriff.

According to the Sun-Times, Dignan now works as a "security supervisor."

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Previously:

"Former Mayor Richard Daley won't have to testify at a hearing next month for a longtime inmate who alleges he was tortured into confessing to a 1982 rape, a Cook County judge ruled Wednesday," the Tribune reported last month.

"Attorneys for Stanley Wrice wanted to call Daley to testify about his knowledge of allegations of torture under disgraced former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge while Daley was state's attorney in the 1980s. Wrice, 59, is seeking to overturn his conviction for taking part in the gang rape of a woman, saying he falsely confessed after being tortured by two detectives working under Burge."

From Conroy:

"Richard M. Daley: More than 50 men alleged that they were tortured by Burge and his detectives during Daley's term as Cook County state's attorney, from 1981 to 1989. He was put on notice several times, most dramatically in the case of Andrew Wilson. Photographs of Wilson's stitches, burns, and alligator-clip wounds made compelling evidence in court, underlined by [assistant state's attorney Lawrence] Hyman's failure to ask if Wilson had given his statement voluntarily. Received copy of letter from Dr. John Raba, who as medical director of Cermak Hospital examined Wilson's injuries, urging police superintendent Richard Brzeczek to investigate. Brzeczek told Daley he had promised to investigate all cases of police brutality but did not want to jeopardize Wilson's prosecution and asked for guidance. Daley sent no reply."

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Pension Richness
"Despite bipartisan acknowledgement that state workers as well as K-12 teachers and higher education employees are not responsible for Illinois' pension problems, a bare majority of members of the General Assembly have decided they have to strip those employees of promised income to save the retirement plan. The previous plan, they said, was 'too rich' for the citizens of the state," University of Illinois labor professor Bob Bruno writes to the Sun-Times.

"Another barely hidden way of thinking about the cost claim is that advocates of the recent change believe that Illinois' public employees are 'overpaid.' But are Illinois' future and current pensioners really overpaid? In a 2013 study (Working in Illinois' Public Interest) my colleague Frank Manzo and I attempted to answer the cost-benefit question. Drawing from the study's pension findings reveals that despite the cacophony of claims about Illinois' unfunded liability something essential has been missed."

I can't tell you anything more about Bruno's letter because it's behind the Sun-Times's new crappy-ass paywall, but I can go directly to Bruno and Manzo's study. I'll go right to the conclusion.

"When accounting for an array of factors, assertions that state and local government workers in Illinois are 'overpaid' are not sustained. Illinois state and local government employees are much more highly educated than their counterparts in the private sector and, with less job turnover, acquire more job-specific human capital skills. It is therefore reasonable for economists, researchers, policymakers, and taxpayers to expect Illinois public servants to be compensated more on average than private sector workers.

"However, when controlling for education and other demographic factors, an apples-to-apples comparison shows that state and local government workers actually earn lower salaries than their private sector counterparts.

"As a matter of fairness, state and local government employment in Illinois is also more equitable across income and socioeconomic characteristics than working in the private sector.

"Comparisons to state and local government employees in other states also largely refute claims that Illinois state and local government employees are overpaid.

"On pensions, mismanagement by state officials and politicians has created an insecure environment. It is clear, though, that Illinois state and local government sector workers do not inherently fare better than their counterparts in other states.

"Additionally, while Illinois state government employees do earn more in health benefits than those in comparable states, this difference can be attributed to lower income from wages and salaries in Illinois than in those states (i.e., the composition of how Illinois public sector workers are paid is simply different than other states).

"It is also noteworthy that when compared to private unionized industries and occupations in Illinois, the health benefits' premium for Illinois state workers is less advantageous.

"Finally, state and local government employment and retirement payments provide large contributions to the Illinois economy. About one-sixth of the Illinois economy is driven by expenditures made by active state and local government workers and state pension recipients.

"Nearly two-fifths of the jobs in Illinois are attributed to expenditures made to public sector workers, including over 300,000 private sector jobs, or 6 percent of all private sector jobs.

"While there has been a lot of commentary about the impact of Illinois' public workforce on the state's fiscal health, this report concurs with a growing body of research which rejects the notion that state and local government employees are overcompensated for equal work.

"State and local government workers provide substantial measured and unmeasured benefits to the residents of Illinois, are not obviously better off than their counterparts, and in general face a wage and salary penalty by working in the public sector.

"Ultimately, Illinois public servants earn an average compensation package expected for a highly-educated workforce in a high-wage state."

*

One of the problems public-sector workers face is that their image is defined by corrupt pols, bungling bureaucrats and the proverbial long lines at the DMV and similar offices - which could be eliminated by investment in additional staff and technology. But the public sector is comprised of far, far more than just that thin slice of the workforce.

*

Does that mean the public sector doesn't really suck after all? No. It just means it only sucks as much as the private sector.

*

I received the following e-mail from a reader last week:

"If I am reading this information correctly, it seems as though the pensions mentioned are more than equal to the current salaries of the individuals. I read of a school teacher receiving $48,000/year for their pension. I thought when a person retired they could expect to live off of less than75% of their salary. If these figures are correct I wish I had moved to Illinois much sooner. I would be rolling in dough."

My reply:

"First, this was money negotiated for just like other employee contracts and guaranteed by the state constitution. Part of this fight is to preserve the sanctity of collective bargaining and to reinforce the notion that, in a nation of law, contracts matter. As it stands now in America, contracts are used to handcuff ordinary people but essentially meaningless to corporations with hordes of lawyers who can always reinterpret to get what they want. Beyond that, the CEOs seeking taxpayer subsidies have much richer "retirement" packages - by magnitudes - and while only some of that money can be traced directly to taxpayers, utlimately we all pay for it anyway.

"Second, there are examples that seem to be quite generous, as you note. There are also examples that aren't. And the money grows because it's invested - just like a 401(k).

"Third, the new bill has factors like increasing the retirement age. That's pretty big.

"Fourth, I just find it odd that because so many others have had their retirement funds wiped out by Wall Street and/or severely downsized by Corporate America that we want to therefore punish those who still have pensions so we can make them less financially secure too. The goal should be to make us all more financially secure, and make sure people can live decently in retirement.

"Finally, I have no problem with public employees securing a middle-class and even upper middle-class existence from which to raise their families and contribute to society. It's one of the few ways civil service can be an attractive job opportunity, and certainly the best workers could make much more in the private sector.

"So I reserve my anger at the upper reaches of the income ladder who are basically shitting on everyone else."

*

Finally, as a few others have pointed out, the language in the state Constitution that is now front-and-center was added precisely to prevent pensions from being underfunded and creating this exact mess! Now legislators who ignored the law want to reinterpret that clause in order to make up for their wrongdoing? It's madness.

*

"If this thing is declared unconstitutional and there's no immediate 'Plan B' on the table, the bond houses are gonna freak, as S&P made perfectly clear today," Rich Miller writes on his Capitol Fax blog.

"Of course, we could've had a 'Plan B' measure included in the pension bill, as Senate President John Cullerton agreed to do well over a year ago. But Speaker Madigan, the Chicago newspaper editorial boards and the Civic Committee were all against that idea. I'll never fully understand why, either."

*

See also: Bad News, Illinois: Pension Deal Didn't Actually Solve Anything.

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Posted on December 11, 2013


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