Indicted Cook County judge rushing to trial in federal court

SHARE Indicted Cook County judge rushing to trial in federal court

Cook County Judge Jessica Arong O’Brien, at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse last year | Sun-Times file photo

A criminally indicted Cook County judge could face trial as soon as August — and maybe even sooner.

Cook County Judge Jessica Arong O’Brien appeared in federal court for the second week in a row Thursday, where her lawyer said she hopes to get the case quickly behind her.

U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin obliged by setting her trial for Aug. 7, but he seemed to leave open the possibility of a trial in July to comply with speedy trial laws.

“Nobody requests a speedy trial,” Durkin noted near the end of a status hearing in O’Brien’s case.

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors said they expect O’Brien’s co-defendant, Maria Bartko, to plead guilty and testify against the Cook County judge at trial.

Bartko’s lawyer declined to comment.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Madden said O’Brien’s trial will likely last about a week and consist mostly of testimony from banking and property experts, in addition to Bartko.

Madden said he earlier overestimated the amount of evidence he had to turn over to O’Brien’s attorneys, but he has now delivered roughly 35,000 pages of mostly financial records.

He still argued the records make the case against O’Brien complex. But O’Brien’s attorney, Ricardo Meza, downplayed the documents and said he wants the case resolved quickly — one way or another.

The prosecutor also told the judge that Meza hopes to meet with Acting U.S. Attorney Joel Levin.

O’Brien, 49, has been charged with one count of mail fraud affecting a financial institution, and one count of bank fraud. O’Brien’s alleged crimes occurred before she was elected the first female Filipino-American judge in the Circuit Court of Cook County in 2012, filling the seat vacated by the retirement of Judge Harry Simmons Jr.

She has been reassigned to administrative duties in the office of Judge E. Kenneth Wright Jr., the presiding judge of the first municipal district.

Federal prosecutors allege O’Brien got lenders to provide loans “by making false representations and concealing material facts in documents submitted to the lenders.” An attorney at the time, she used the loans to buy and refinance about $1.4 million in mortgage and commercial loans, including the purchase of an investment property in the 600 block of West 54th Street in the Back of the Yards, prosecutors said.

She then allegedly fraudulently refinanced the mortgage on that property and a second investment property in the 800 block of West 54th Street.

O’Brien obtained a commercial line of credit through fraud to maintain the properties, before selling them to Bartko, 49, of Chicago, and a straw buyer who fraudulently obtained the mortgage loans, prosecutors said.

The Latest
A grand jury in New York votes to charge the ex-president in a case involving payments made in the 2016 presidential campaign to silence claims he had sex with a porn star. ‘He did not commit any crime,’ a Trump lawyer said.
Living up to the Big 3 of Frank Thomas, Paul Konerko and Jose Abreu has been at the top of Vaughn’s to-do list — whether he puts it there or not — since the Sox drafted him third overall in 2019.
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., sitting on millions of dollars of campaign cash, used Trump’s indictment to raise more money for his already abundant congressional campaign fund.
Abreu said he was up to emotional “challenge” of facing former team