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Ald. Carrie Austin’s lawyers seek to halt her prosecution over medical issues, say the court should not ‘risk the loss of a life’

Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) attends a Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, Monday, Nov. 7, 2022. (Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times, Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times)

Indicted Chicago Ald. Carrie Austin’s lawyers told a federal judge Friday that her deteriorating medical issues — including an inability to walk even short distances — have left her unfit to stand trial, and she plans to resign from the City Council on March 1. 

Thomas Anthony Durkin, Austin’s defense attorney in the federal bribery case pending against the 34th Ward City Council member, promised last week to “fully explain her medical condition” in a motion aimed at halting her prosecution in front of U.S. District Judge John Kness.

The 10-page motion arrived Friday, with an attached resignation letter from Austin to Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Durkin and his co-counsel wrote if Austin had resigned before the approval of a new ward map and the city budget, “press scribes would have been criticizing her” for letting the mayor make an appointment while crucial issues faced the city.

The attorneys also derided recent speculation about Austin’s ability to attend City Council meetings but not withstand a trial as “blatant rhetorical foolishness.” The lawyers wrote they had threatened to withdraw from the criminal case if Austin had not allowed them to file the new motion, calling her a “proud and good woman.”

“Neither this court, nor the government, should risk the loss of a life over these charges,” the lawyers wrote. “Failing to resolve them may disappoint both parties, but such a failure will not cause the collapse of our Republic.”

Durkin, along with defense attorneys Joshua Herman and Elisa Lee, wrote Austin has been “under the constant care” of specialists for serious health problems ever since her indictment. They pointed to her collapse during a December 2021 City Council meeting that led to her being taken by ambulance to Northwestern Memorial Hospital. They said doctors there found she had a condition caused by a partial collapse of the lungs.

Austin’s breathing issues then worsened, the lawyers wrote, as did pain in her legs and chest. She also has a condition that makes her feel like she is drowning when she is lying down, so she can only sleep in a recliner, according to the filing.

The lawyers wrote Austin could not pass a six-minute walk test last September, and she struggles even with the help of a portable oxygen concentrator.

“At a recent meeting, Ms. Austin’s oxygen concentrator malfunctioned, and she could not get enough oxygen to make the short walk from the elevator to counsel’s office,” the lawyers wrote.

Austin missed a City Council meeting Wednesday because she had to check into an urgent care center in Oak Lawn for evaluation of a potential kidney infection, they wrote.

“While her stubbornness and grit may permit her to try, as she truly wishes to defend these charges, counsel do not wish to be part of an episode in the courtroom similar to what occurred at the December 2021 City Council meeting,” the lawyers wrote. “This time when the paramedics are not able to revive her.”

Austin is accused of taking home improvement materials — sump pumps, a dehumidifier and kitchen cabinets — as kickbacks from a developer overseeing a $50 million development in her ward.

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