Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Newly elected downstate judge benched after parolee-roommate arrested for murder

Ronald Duebbert, pictured at right, was elected to the Circuit Court in the far Downstate 20th Judicial Circuit just this past November. He began his judicial career in December -- and was banished to administrative duties in January.

Why? His sometime roommate, David E. Fields, a convicted felon, paroled after serving time for the battery of a pregnant woman, was arrested on a new charge of first degree murder in connection with the December 30, 2016 shooting death of one Carl Z. Silas. At the time, according to a January 6, 2017 story by Robert Patrick in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the St. Clair State's Attorney requested the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate possible obstruction of justice charges against Judge Duebbert.

The Duebbert saga is in the news again this month because the Belleville News-Democrat, after a FOIA suit against the Prisoner Review Board and the Illinois Department of Records, has obtained records showing that Duebbert regularly visited Fields in jail prior to Fields' October 2016 release -- with some visits lasting up to eight hours.

Fields wanted to move in with Duebbert upon his release from prison, but that request was initially denied because Duebbert had guns in his home that he was, at that point, unwilling to relinquish. Then Fields did move in with Duebbert on November 4 -- just days before Duebbert was elected -- only to be "instructed to move from Duebbert’s home Dec. 2," according to Beth Hundsdorfer's article in the News-Democrat, "'because it was a denied host site.'"

According to Hundsdorfer's article, "St. Clair County Chief Judge Andrew Gleeson learned of Fields' residency situation and told Duebbert that he would not allow him to take the bench if Fields continued to reside at Duebbert's home." Duebbert, in turn, according to Hundsdorfer, did tell Fields he needed to move.

What is unclear, at least to me, after reading the various news accounts, is whether Fields in fact had moved from Duebbert's home by December 30, when Fields allegedly shot Silas in the face. Hundsdorfer's April 15 article quotes Duebbert's lawyer as saying, "They [parole authorities] knew where he [Fields] was. No one was trying to hide that."

As for the guns that had been in Duebbert's home, Hundsdorfer's article quotes Duebbert's lawyer as explaining that, after the shooting, Duebbert took police to the location where the guns were stored -- and all were present and accounted for.

The candidate that Duebbert defeated to win election last November was former 20th Circuit Judge John Baricevic. Baricevic and two other 20th Circuit judges, Robert Haida and Robert LeChien, resigned their posts effective December 4, 2016 (the last day of their terms) and entered the 2016 Democratic Primary, seeking to return to the bench in a new term beginning December 5. This maneuver was challenged on the basis that a sitting judge could only seek retention, not run in a partisan election, and the case went all the way to the Appellate Court which decided, in the case of Cook v. Illinois State Board of Elections, 2016 IL App (4th) 160160, that Baricevic et al. were free to do as they did.

In Baricevic's case, the maneuver failed. (Haida and LeChien were reelected; Duebbert beat Baricevic by just 839 votes out of 163,411 votes cast).

Why did these three jurists eschew the retention ballot in favor of running in a partisan primary and potentially contested election? (Haida was not opposed last November.)

Tim O'Neil, in a January 20, 2016 article for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (accessed today on Lexis), explained Baricevic, Haida and LeChien were motivated by a "scandal involving former judges Michael Cook and Joe Christ.... Christ, a new associate judge, died of a cocaine overdose on March 10, 2013, at Judge Cook's family hunting lodge. Judge Cook later was sentenced to two years in federal prison for possession of heroin and for being a drug user in possession of a firearm." [See, Death of a Downstate judge, downfall of another (FWIW, May 31, 2013).] Barecevic and his colleagues wanted to respond to anticipated "smear campaigns" and Baricevic told O'Neil that they would not have the freedom to do this if they only stood for retention.