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No end in sight for Ald. Ed Burke’s slow-moving racketeering case

Prosecutors are expected to file a massive brief by April 19. Though it could shed new light on the case that shook up Chicago politics in early 2019, it will also give the judge more paper to sort through.

Alderman Ed Burke walks into the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019, in Chicago.
Alderman Ed Burke walks into the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019, in Chicago.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia

Nearly two years after federal prosecutors hit veteran Chicago Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) with a blockbuster racketeering indictment, a resolution to his case seems nowhere in sight.

U.S. District Judge Robert Dow had at one point set aside time in May, June and July of this year for a trial in Burke’s case. But that was in early 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic upended the courts.

Then defense attorneys in the case filed hundreds of pages of pretrial motions last summer. Now, prosecutors are expected to respond to those motions in their own massive brief, due April 19. Dow has ordered prosecutors to keep that brief to 300 pages — not including exhibits.

While that document could shed further light on the case that shook up Chicago politics early in 2019, it will also give the judge even more paper to sort through before deciding how to proceed. Defense attorneys will also then have another opportunity to file additional briefs.

Burke is accused of using his seat on the Chicago City Council to steer business toward his private tax law firm.

No trial date was discussed during a status hearing in Burke’s case Thursday morning. Rather, Dow set another hearing for July 29. By then he said he hoped to have sorted through the lawyers’ filings. He said he will likely also hold a separate hearing on the defense’s pretrial motions.

Burke’s lawyers also said they are still waiting for key evidence from prosecutors related to former Ald. Danny Solis, who cooperated with the feds against Burke. The Chicago Sun-Times first revealed Solis’ cooperation in January 2019. After prosecutors turn over the Solis evidence — made up of recordings and text messages — Burke’s lawyers said they will likely need “several months” to go through it.

Meanwhile, Burke is nearly two years through his latest term on the City Council. He was re-elected in February 2019, less than two months after prosecutors first filed criminal charges against him.

The pace of the case has been frustrating to some, including apparently Mayor Lori Lightfoot. POLITICO Illinois Playbook reported that, in a February interview, Lightfoot asked, “Why is he still on the Council? Why has he not been tried? And why do we have to worry about him as an elected official?”

POLITICO also reported that Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor, said, “He’s entitled to his day in court … I just think that that day needs to come sooner rather than later.”