Jury Selection Underway in ‘ComEd Four’ Trial

(WTTW News)(WTTW News)

Jury selection is underway in the trial of four ex-Commonwealth Edison officials who stand accused of scheming to bribe indicted former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors

Dozens of potential jurors were brought in for questioning as the case against the so-called “ComEd Four” — ex-CEO Anne Pramaggiore, ex-ComEd lobbyist Mike McClain, retired ComEd executive John Hooker and ex-City Club of Chicago president and former ComEd consultant Jay Doherty — got underway.

Tuesday’s hearing marked the first time the four defendants set foot in the Dirksen Federal Building downtown since they were indicted in 2020.

Potential jurors who filled out a questionnaire last week were quizzed Tuesday about whether they’d seen any media coverage of the case and if they can set aside enough time to hear the trial — which is expected to last up to two months. The remaining questions were done in a sidebar so that potential jurors could not overhear others’ answers.

Of the first batch of 69 jurors questioned, 23 were excused, while the remaining 46 will be brought back for another round of selection Wednesday. Among those coming back is a Cook County assistant state’s attorney assigned to the office’s felony review division and a man who said his ex-wife also works in that office.

After a second batch was questioned Tuesday afternoon, a total of 63 possible jurors remain. Prosecutors and defense attorneys will resume the selection process Wednesday morning in hopes of seating a 12-person jury plus alternates.

Prosecutors alleged the four defendants tried to bribe Madigan — who controlled what proposals the Illinois House of Representatives would consider and approve — from 2011 until 2019 in order to advance legislation favorable to ComEd and kill bills the firm opposed.

Once impaneled, the jury will hear the evidence that scheme included efforts to arrange bribes for associates in the former speaker’s circle, including political allies and those who performed political work for him, such as no-show jobs, contracts and monetary payments.

Pramaggiore and Hooker are accused of cooking ComEd’s books as they conspired to pay Madigan loyalists for doing little or no work, while Doherty was allegedly used as the pass-through.

McClain allegedly helped to make the arrangements and otherwise worked with ComEd’s leadership to make Madigan — whom the defendants allegedly referred to as “our friend” or “a friend of ours” — happy by getting ComEd to hire interns from the 13th Ward and having ComEd give Juan Ochoa a lucrative seat on ComEd’s board of directors.

One 13th Ward precinct captain is expected to testify they began receiving $45,000 per year around May 2012 in exchange for calling a list of legislators provided by McClain “to determine if they had any issues relevant to ComEd.” Prosecutors said that captain will testify this work was a “joke,” as there was no substance to it, and understood they were actually being paid for their work on political campaigns.

Wiretapped Recordings Will Be Made Public

Before jury selection got underway Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber ruled that audio recordings of wiretapped conversations that will be played at trial will be made public.

That marks a reversal for the judge, who earlier this month said those tapes would not be released so as not to “sensationalize” the trial any further. McClain’s attorney, Patrick Cotter, argued that media representatives only wanted the audio in order to play the “greatest hits” from the recordings.

“It seems to me the only issue here is of ratings. … They want it in the most entertaining form possible,” Cotter said.

But attorneys for Chicago Public Media, which owns WBEZ radio and the Chicago Sun-Times, said there is both common law and First Amendment precedent that supported the release of the tapes, adding it’s not an issue of ratings, but rather “of good journalism and understanding of the matters presented.”

Leinenweber agreed, and said case law supported the release of the tapes — after they’re admitted into evidence and published in court.

Contact Matt Masterson: @ByMattMasterson[email protected] | (773) 509-5431

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors