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Lawyers for ex-Ald. Ed Burke move for mistrial over 'corrupt' comment from witness

Jason Meisner, Megan Crepeau and Ray Long, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

Lawyers for former Chicago Ald. Edward Burke have filed a formal motion for a mistrial in his high-profile corruption case, arguing a witness’ off-the-cuff remark that Burke’s actions seemed “corrupt” has tainted the jury and violated Burke’s due process rights.

The motion by attorneys Joseph Duffy and Chris Gair filed shortly before 7 a.m. is expected to be discussed in court before the trial resumes Thursday for an 8th day of testimony. Co-defendants Peter Andrews Jr. and Charles Cui have joined in the motion.

The lawyers argued in the filing that the comment violated a pretrial ruling by U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall and “…put incurably prejudicial opinion testimony on the critical, ultimate issue in the case before the jury.”

In response, prosecutors argued in a filing that a mistrial was excessive and that the proper remedy for a lay witness making an errant statement had already been applied when the judge ordered that the testimony be stricken and told the jury to disregard it.

The controversy began during the testimony Wednesday of Amtrak executive Ray Lang, who was asked by prosecutors about comments he made in an email to colleagues that the developers of the Old Post Office had made an “old school” move in hiring Burke’s private law firm to do tax appeal work.

At the time, Burke had intervened in an issue the developer, Harry Skydell of the New York-based 601W Companies, had in gaining access to tracks under the Old Post Office site where Amtrak owns tracks leading into Union Station.

 

When asked about what he’d meant in the email, Lang testified, “A developer hiring an alderman to do property tax work, I thought, was symbolic of the Chicago Way of doing business.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Diane MacArthur then asked Lang to expand on that answer, and he blurted out, “I thought it was very corrupt.”

Gair, jumped up and loudly objected, and Judge Kendall ordered jurors to disregard that comment.

But after the jury was excused for the day, an infuriated Gair asked the judge to declare a mistrial, saying Lang at one point had been specifically instructed not to use the word “corrupt.”

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