Judge facing trial doesn’t want jurors to hear ‘Englewood,’ ‘South Side’

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Cook County Circuit Judge Jessica Arong O’Brien leaving federal court last year. Jacob Kaplan, the party’s executive director, says O’Brien is a prime example of why the party needs to be more critical in its support of retention candidates. | Sun-Times files

A Cook County judge is preparing to go on trial in federal court next month over an alleged fraud scheme involving two pieces of property on the South Side.

But the judge’s lawyer apparently doesn’t want the jury to know where the properties can be found, aside from a simple address.

Cook County Judge Jessica Arong O’Brien and her lawyer have asked U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin to bar from her Feb. 5 trial any mention that the two properties at issue can be found in “Englewood” or “on the South Side of Chicago.”

O’Brien’s attorney, Ricardo Meza, included that request in a flurry of motions filed in the case late last week.

“Unfortunately, in the minds of some members of the community, the Englewood neighborhood and the south side of Chicago are generally understood to be ‘bad’ areas, with all sorts of accompanying inferences and stereotypes that go along with that assessment: low property values, high crime, gangs, and violence,” Meza wrote.

A City Hall neighborhood map doesn’t actually place either property in Englewood. It puts one property, in the 600 block of West 46th, in Canaryville, and the other in the 800 block of West 54th, in the Back of the Yards, but close to the Englewood border.

Still, Meza said jurors might unfairly assume the properties’ values “were not worth very much, may have been artificially inflated, or that there was some ‘crime’ going on based on the neighborhoods in which the properties are located” if the words “Englewood” or “South Side” are used.

O’Brien is accused of fraudulently causing lenders to issue and refinance $1.4 million in mortgage and commercial loans before she became a judge by lying in documents submitted to the lenders.

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