6/16/2015Illinois: Red Light Camera Bribery Trial Stays In Chicago
Federal judge turns back attempt to move Redflex bribery trial out of Chicago, Illinois.
The trial of the former managing deputy commissioner of the transportation department in Chicago, Illinois, will stay in the Windy City. Judge Virginia M. Kendall on Friday issued a ten-page order rejecting an attempt to move the trial of John Bills to Nevada on the grounds that Chicagoans are so blinded by their hatred of red light cameras that they would take their frustration out on him.
"John Bills cannot receive a fair trial in this town," his attorney, Nishay K. Sawan had argued in January. "He is accused of being a central player in a transaction that helped bring about one of the most unpopular regulatory programs in the city of Chicago's history -- the red light cameras."
Sawan noted that the Chicago Tribune has been "relentless and fierce" in its coverage of the bribery story since 2012, making it difficult to find a juror who has not formed an opinion about the world's most lucrative red light camera program.
"As the city, Cook County, and many other municipalities in the Northern District of Illinois have been subject to this unending press, and as these localities make extensive use of these unpopular cameras, a jury is unlikely to be able to check its bias at the door and dispassionately decide solely on the basis of the evidence before it whether or not Mr. Bills is guilty," Sawan wrote. "They are likely to express their dissatisfaction with the camera system by voting to convict the man who, as the government will argue, bears a great responsibility for the presence of those cameras in the city of Chicago."
Judge Kendall did not buy the argument that twelve impartial individuals could not be found in a judicial district with eight million residents.
"Because the Eastern Division of this district is extremely vast, diverse, and bustling, any potential for prejudice emanating from pretrial publicity is thoroughly mitigated," Judge Kendall ruled. "Here, Bills's trial is just 'one story among many' and will take place in a jurisdiction where, unfortunately, allegations of political corruption are not uncommon."
Judge Kendall also rejected the idea that a camera-hating public would automatically vote to convict Bills.
"There is a big difference between dissatisfaction with a municipal program and a premature adjudication of guilt as to an individual who happens to be associated with that program," she wrote. "Not every potential juror drives a car. Not every potential juror has received a ticket through the red light camera program. These are all questions that may be asked during voir dire... the court concludes that the media coverage and general distaste toward red light cameras does not warrant a change in venue."
Bills is the only individual that is currently scheduled to go to trial over the bribery scandal. The former head of US operations for Redflex, Karen Finley last week indicated she would plead guilty to supplying cash to Martin O'Malley, who pleaded guilty in December to delivering that Redflex cash to Bills, a long-time friend.
It is not yet clear whether federal prosecutors offered plea bargains to Finley and O'Malley in exchange for their testimony against more prominent government officials. Bills has close ties to Mike Madigan, who has been speaker of the Illinois House since 1983 and is known as a kingmaker in state politics.
A copy of the order is available in a 60k PDF file at the source link below.