Criminal trials in this country are supposed to be public. It's the American way.
On Friday, in a 17th floor courtroom at the Dirksen building, spectators could hear but not see an entire day of the government's case against John Ambrose, the suspended deputy marshal who allegedly provided sensitive law enforcement to mob bosses, about a major witness against them.
Witnesses have been allowed to testify before with their identities hidden. Chicago mobster Ken Eto was seen in 1985 at a Senate hearing in Chicago, shortly after he survived a gangland hit.
Covering or disguising witnesses has always been the conventional way to protect them or putting them behind a screen so no one can see them.
But on Friday in a federal courtroom here in Chicago, authorities used a new technique. They brought in a portable 8 foot wall and extended it from one side to the other, effectively, cordoning off family members of the defendant, spectators and the media from what was happening.
On the other side of the screen, was Judge John Grady and the jury, government prosecutors, Deputy Marshal John Ambrose and his lawyers.
The unprecedented secrecy was to keep the public from seeing officials of the U.S. Marshal service who were in charge of protecting mob killer and prosecution witness Nick Calabrese.
Ambrose, who also guarded Nick Calabrese in 2002 and 2003, is accused of leaking information about Calabrese to mob boss Jimmy Marcello and his brother Mickey. The Marcello brothers allegedly discussed Ambrose's information in the visiting room of a Michigan prison that had been secretly wired by the FBI.
Ambrose's attorneys on Friday objected to the use of a wall, telling the judge that saying it would sway the jury by sensationalizing the case.
But Judge Grady okayed the government's use of the screen because he didn't want to compromise the secrecy of the marshal service's witness security program even though one of Friday's secret witnesses is now retired.
Ambrose is the first deputy in the history of the U.S. Marshal service to be charged with leaking information to organized crime.
On Monday, there will be one more witness to testify from behind the screen and then U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald will be on the stand along with FBI agent in charge of Chicago Robert grant-both of them questioning Ambrose while he was under investigation.