Firefighter-Turned-Arsonist Won't Get City Pension

A firefighter-turned-arsonist's hopes of regaining the pension denied him by the Chicago firefighters pension fund suffered a fatal blow on Sept. 28 when the Illinois Supreme Court rejected his petition for a hearing on the matter.

The Court's decision means Jeffrey Boyle will not get his city pension - a position that Burke Burns & Pinelli, Ltd. successfully argued to the Illinois Appellate Court on behalf of the Firemen's Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago.

Boyle, 51, filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court to gain his roughly $50,000-a-year pension after the pension board had denied his request based on Section 6-221 of the Illinois Pension Code, which states that no benefits shall be paid "to any person convicted of any felony relating to or arising out of or in connection with his service as a fireman."

Boyle was arrested in 2005 after setting a string of fires on the Northwest Side and Park Ridge over a number of years. He pleaded guilty to eight counts of arson and was sentenced to six years in prison. Boyle served two years, and upon his release unsuccessfully petitioned the Firemen's Board for his pension.

In his original suit, Boyle argued he was entitled to his pension because his activities, though reprehensible, were committed while off duty, without the use of any Fire Department equipment and did not relate to his service as a fireman. A Cook County Circuit Court judge agreed. Citing Illinois Supreme Court precedents, the judge said the facts as presented did not establish a clear and specific connection between the felony committed and the firefighter's employment.

On appeal to the Illinois Appellate Court, however, BBP partner Vincent D. Pinelli was able to show that the Circuit Court had failed to properly weigh Boyle's training and experience as a firefighter in the commission of his felonious acts. While Boyle might not have used any accelerant, Pinelli argued, his overall training and 25 years of experience as a firefighter gave him specialized knowledge of arson techniques and fire response capabilities that he used in committing the arsons. In other words, Boyle's "modus operandi" had established the necessary nexus between the felonious acts and his work as a fireman.

The three-judge Illinois appellate panel agreed, holding that Boyle's own testimony at the pension hearing established that he had a level of knowledge about fires that exceeded the understanding of an ordinary citizen.

For more on the Boyle case, see "BBP Claims Victory in Firefighter Arson Case" under the "In The News" link under the Our Firm tab of this website.

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