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If Patrick Daley Thompson trial goes ahead, public won’t be allowed in courtroom

Instead, the Chicago alderman’s corruption trial would be streamed for the public in an overflow room due to COVID-19 protocols, a judge said Wednesday.

Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) is set to go on trial in two weeks.
Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) is set to go on trial in two weeks.
Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times file

If the trial of Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) goes forward in two weeks as planned, it will be the latest criminal trial at Chicago’s federal courthouse that members of the public won’t be allowed to view in person, a judge said Tuesday.

Instead, the proceedings will be streamed for the public in a separate overflow room, according to U.S. District Judge Franklin Valderrama. That’s because of COVID-19 protocols the judge laid out to lawyers during a status hearing in the case.

Those rules could mean members of Thompson’s family and federal agents who worked the case will have to watch the proceedings in the overflow room, too.

The protocols for Thompson’s case are roughly the same as others. At least three criminal trials underway at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse are only viewable by the public in an overflow room. But if Thompson’s trial goes forward, it’s likely to draw more interest than any other federal trial in Chicago since the pandemic began.

Court officials explained in a statement Tuesday that courtrooms have been reconfigured to leave six feet between each person. In Thompson’s case, 14 jurors will be seated in the courtroom gallery, “leaving no extra seats in the courtroom.”

“The court continues to monitor the public health crisis and is in regular consultation with public health authorities,” the statement read. “The court looks forward to the day things ‘return to normal,’ and more individuals can be seated safely in each courtroom.”

Thompson — a grandson and nephew of Chicago’s two longest-serving mayors — is charged with lying to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and filing false income-tax returns in which he lied about paying more than $170,000 in mortgage interest over five years. He has pleaded not guilty.

Thompson is also the highest-profile figure to face criminal charges in connection with the clout-heavy Washington Federal Bank for Savings in Bridgeport, which federal regulators shut down in 2017 over what they say was a massive fraud scheme.

Chicago’s federal courthouse first resumed jury trials amid the pandemic in August 2020 under strict protocols praised by jurors. Jury trials were suspended again last fall but then got back underway in April. Until recently, it was common under those rules for a small handful of seats to be available to the public.

The public was also restricted to overflow rooms for the recent federal racketeering trial of R&B superstar R. Kelly, which took place in New York. Several news outlets wrote to U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly to complain about the arrangement.

Contributing: Tim Novak