Attorneys for Jason Van Dyke are off to a rocky start with Judge Vincent Gaughan during jury selection for the Chicago police officer’s murder trial, with the judge threatening to hold one lawyer in contempt for obstructing the administration of justice.
Problems began before jury selection even started, with Van Dyke’s team asking if one of three seats allocated for the public during jury selection in a back room be given to someone from the defense’s “side.”
The judge agreed, and an off-duty Chicago police officer walked into the room wearing a bulletproof vest, a sure sign of his profession and a potential violation of a courtroom order barring spectators from wearing clothing indicating support for either party.
“Is that a vest you’re wearing? Get it off,” Gaughan told the officer. “For God’s sake.”
When two black spectators were escorted in to watch the proceedings, Van Dyke’s lead attorney, Daniel Herbert, asked for their names and whether they were relatives of Laquan McDonald, the 17-year-old who was shot by Van Dyke in an on-duty incident that led to the murder charges. The judge declined to make the two spectators answer either question, saying it was a public trial and the public had a right to attend.
Herbert clashed with the judge later when he tried to bring up his outstanding motion to change the trial’s location and use a jury from outside Cook County. The judge told him to quit bringing it up or he was going to hold him in contempt for “obstructing the administration of justice.”
“You keep talking and you’re going to have a record,” Gaughan said.
Gaughan — who has held some spectators in contempt during other big trials — began the proceedings by warning both sides of dire consequences if they mentioned the name of any prospective juror. The judge has declined to make their identities public.
In issuing the warning, the judge said the first incident would result in a $200 fine, the second $500. If a lawyer did it a third time, there would be “severe sanctions” and possibly jail time, he said.
“I know we’ve all got starting-line jitters,” Gaughan said before calling the first juror in. “Relax a little bit. It will come.”
Shortly before a lunch break, Herbert inadvertently blurted out the last name of the woman who had just become the second juror selected on the first day of questioning.
Gaughan immediately ordered that the name be stricken from the record and announced he was fining Herbert $200.
But the judge backed off a bit after special prosecutor Joseph McMahon said that he was not pushing for the fine and suggested that the judge give Herbert a break.
Gaughan said he would take the fine “Under advisement.”