The federal judge presiding over ex-Chicago Ald. Edward M. Burke’s corruption trial promised opening statements Thursday afternoon, even though jury selection has yet to be completed after a three-day slog.
Thirty-eight potential jurors survived questioning by U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall and lawyers by the end of the day Wednesday. Nine more need to make it through the process without being struck for cause to round out the panel after lawyers exercise peremptory strikes.
Still, Kendall told lawyers that they would “pick this jury by lunch time” on Thursday, and then “you’re going to do your openings” in the afternoon.
There will be no proceedings on Friday in observation of Veterans Day.
Opening statements will kick off, in earnest, the highly anticipated trial in a case dating back five years. It upended Chicago’s mayoral campaign in 2019 — first through a raid of Burke’s offices, an initial attempted extortion charge against Burke and then the disclosure that then-Ald. Danny Solis spent two years recording Burke for the FBI.
The comments to the jurors will also give Burke’s attorneys a chance to finally outline his defense to a sweeping racketeering indictment brought against him in May 2019. The lawyers spent some time Wednesday working out with Kendall what can be said to the jury about Solis, his cooperation with investigators and the deal he struck with prosecutors to potentially avoid a conviction for his own alleged wrongdoing.
Burke defense attorney Chris Gair again insisted to the judge Wednesday that Burke’s defense team will call Solis to testify. But Gair said he doesn’t intend to tell the jury that.
“I’m telling you,” he told the judge, “because it’s the truth.”
Burke is accused of using his seat on the City Council to steer business to his private law firm amid schemes that involved Chicago’s Old Post Office, a Burger King at 41st and Pulaski, and a Binny’s Beverage Depot on the Northwest Side. He is also accused of threatening to block an admission fee increase at the Field Museum because it didn’t respond when he recommended his goddaughter for an internship.
Also on trial with Burke are his political aide, Peter Andrews, and developer Charles Cui.
Though Kendall insisted opening statements would begin Thursday afternoon — and lawyers began preparing accordingly — it will require jury selection to speed up dramatically. The 38 potential jurors who have survived the questioning amount to about 12 per day. Kendall has given lawyers a half-day to pick nine more.
Seventeen potential jurors were questioned in all Wednesday. They included a Goodwill retail store assistant manager, a man who works for Villa Park, a host at a Naperville restaurant and a man who manages a senior in-home care company.
The man who works for Villa Park told the judge he met his wife decades ago at a Burger King.
“She used to give me free Whoppers,” he said.
“See what Whoppers can do?” Kendall asked.
While Burke’s case is certainly high-profile, many potential jurors have said they’re unfamiliar with Burke or the charges against him. And only 16 people in the jury pool have identified themselves as Chicago residents.
Lawyers have been taking their time questioning each potential juror, prompting Kendall to encourage them to pick up the pace.
Burke has continued to sit through it all, watching from the head of a defense table with his lawyers. His wife, retired Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne Burke, continues to watch from the front row of the courtroom gallery, as well.