Lawyer for Ald. Burke warns of ‘stag­ger­ing’ amount of ev­i­dence, long cross-ex­am­i­na­tion — if trial ever starts

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - BY JON SEIDEL,

A lawyer for Ald. Ed­ward M. Burke said Wed­nes­day the cross-ex­am­i­na­tion of a sin­gle wit­ness in Burke’s fed­eral crim­i­nal case could last more than a week if the long­time politi­cian ever goes to trial.

He also said the amount of ev­i­dence pros­e­cu­tors have yet to turn over to them about po­ten­tial wit­nesses in the case is “stag­ger­ing” and “un­prece­dented.”

Which means it could still be quite some time un­til the 14th Ward al­der­man goes to trial on a block­buster rack­e­teer­ing in­dict­ment lev­eled against him more than a year ago. U.S. District Judge Robert Dow told lawyers dur­ing a hear­ing in the case Wed­nes­day that it’d be pre­ma­ture to set a trial date us­ing any­thing other than a “very erasable pen­cil.”

That’s in part be­cause of a flurry of re­cent de­fense fil­ings in the case aimed at dis­miss­ing counts, sup­press­ing ev­i­dence and sev­er­ing the de­fen­dants. Dow said Wed­nes­day that “it’s go­ing to take awhile to re­solve those mo­tions” and he said a hear­ing might even be needed.

At the same time, the COVID-19 pan­demic has dis­rupted jury tri­als across the coun­try. Tri­als have slowly re­sumed at the Dirk­sen Fed­eral Court­house, but Dow ques­tioned Wed­nes­day whether the build­ing has a court­room large enough to ac­com­mo­date Burke’s trial. An­other judge in an un­re­lated case has said three-de­fen­dant tri­als are not pos­si­ble at Dirk­sen un­der cur­rent COVID-19 pro­to­cols, which in­volve masks and strict so­cial dis­tanc­ing.

One of Burke’s lawyers, Charles Sk­larsky, told the judge that he planned to raise “con­sti­tu­tional is­sues” if Burke gets any­thing “other than a nor­mal trial.” Sk­larsky told the judge the trial should wait un­til the COVID-19 pan­demic passes and a vac­cine is de­vel­oped.

“Then we can have a nor­mal trial,” Sk­larsky said.

Dow sched­uled an­other hear­ing in the case for Feb. 5, but he an­tic­i­pated com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the lawyers about var­i­ous is­sues in the mean­time. Among them is a sched­ule for the dis­clo­sure of what is ap­par­ently an over­whelm­ing amount of ev­i­dence by pros­e­cu­tors about their wit­nesses. Sk­larsky told Dow he’d been asked by pros­e­cu­tors not to share the ac­tual amount of that ev­i­dence pub­licly.

The other is­sue is the court’s abil­ity to put Burke and his co-de­fen­dants, po­lit­i­cal aide Peter An­drews and de­vel­oper Charles Cui, on trial. Though a pros­e­cu­tor sug­gested Wed­nes­day that Burke’s trial could last only three weeks, Sk­larsky ques­tioned that and made note of the lengthy es­ti­mated cros­sex­am­i­na­tion of one wit­ness.

Sk­larsky did not name that wit­ness, but for­mer Ald. Danny Solis (25th) is known to have played a key role in the case, co­op­er­at­ing with fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors and se­cretly record­ing Burke. Last month, Burke’s at­tor­neys said Solis struck what’s known as a de­ferred-pros­e­cu­tion agree­ment with pros­e­cu­tors early in 2019 af­ter ad­mit­ting he so­licited cam­paign do­na­tions in ex­change for tak­ing of­fi­cial ac­tion on the City Coun­cil zon­ing com­mit­tee he once led.

Solis could po­ten­tially avoid a crim­i­nal con­vic­tion un­der that agree­ment, though the terms of the deal are un­known. The U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice has de­clined to com­ment.

Burke is ac­cused of us­ing his seat on the Chicago City Coun­cil to steer busi­ness to­ward his pri­vate tax law firm amid schemes that in­volved the Old Post Of­fice, a Burger King at 41st and Pu­laski Road, and a re­de­vel­op­ment project on the North­west Side.

Flanked by his at­tor­neys, Ald. Ed Burke (14th) walks out of the Dirk­sen Fed­eral Court­house on June 4, 2019.

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