Attorneys for the accused Ald. Carrie Austin, who has previously announced she will not seek re-election, said in a court filing Friday that she was medically unfit for a trial and would step down from the city council after February’s citywide election.
Austin, 73, and her top assistant, Chester Wilson, were charged in June 2021 for guiding a new real estate development through the City Hall approval process from 2016 and receiving home improvement perks from a developer who wanted to influence them. You have pleaded not guilty.
In a filing Friday afternoon, Austin’s attorney, Thomas Anthony Durkin, requested that her case be separated from Wilson’s and that she be declared disqualified due to chronic and worsening heart failure, as well as a respiratory condition “that makes her feel like she drowns if she.” lies down, so she can only sleep in an armchair.”
Durkin wrote that the motion “was made out of a wealth of concern that Ms. Austin simply would not survive the stress of the trial or the difficult pre-trial preparation.”
“Neither this court nor the government should risk the loss of human life on these charges,” the motion said. “If they are not resolved, both parties may be disappointed, but such a failure will not lead to the collapse of our republic.”
Attached to the motion was a letter Austin sent to Mayor Lori Lightfoot announcing that she would be retiring effective March 1, a week after the city council election.
Durkin said in the motion that Austin decided to serve out the remainder of her term on a reduced schedule so voters can decide who will be the alderman of the newly drawn 21st District, rather than stepping down now and letting Lightfoot appoint someone.
Austin, who has served as the 34th Circuit’s alderman for nearly 30 years, was appointed to that position in July 1994 by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley himself to take over the seat from her late husband, Lemuel Austin, who died suddenly of a heart attack at 48
Her health problems came to the fore last December when she collapsed in her seat and was wheeled out on a stretcher during a city council meeting. After the meeting concluded, Lightfoot noted that councilors showed an “outpouring of humanity” for their colleague.
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“Ald. Austin has been through a lot,” Lightfoot said at the time. “I wish her the best of luck, but I really think it spoke to humanity that we can never lose, even as civil servants, even as we go through challenging and contentious issues at times.”
Austin was indicted on a charge of conspiracy to use interstate facilities to promote bribery and other charges, among a number of sitting Chicago councilors who have faced federal criminal charges in recent years. Wilson, 56, of Chicago, has faced allegations of bribery and a count of stealing government funds.
The lead developer in the charge, who has since passed away, was working on a 91-unit development in Austin’s Far South Side. According to the indictment, the developer made improvements to Austin’s home and an investment property that Wilson owns.
Together, they received new kitchen cabinets, granite countertops, bathroom tile, sump pumps, and an HVAC system for free or at a discount, depending on fees.
US District Judge John Kness has not set a hearing date.
Alice Yin of the Tribune contributed.