Jim Dey | Voters to rule on judge accused of lying to police

Jim Dey | Voters to rule on judge accused of lying to police

Witnesses who appear in court to testify must swear to tell the truth and the whole truth, often directly to the judge presiding over the case.

Judges take it very seriously when witnesses lie. But what happens when judges lie?

For starters, it's bad public relations. How bad?

Voters in DuPage County will find out soon enough.

A circuit judge there who is accused of intentionally making false statements in official proceedings is on the retention ballot in today's election.

Elected in 2012, Patrick O'Shea faces dismissal by the voters if at least 60 percent do not vote to keep him on the job. If they retain him, O'Shea faces misconduct charges before the state's Judicial Inquiry Board that could cost him his job.

At the same time, another circuit judge — Ronald Duebbert of St. Clair County — also faces JIB charges stemming from his alleged multiple misstatements involving a murder investigation.

Duebbert's legal woes have been the subject of previous columns.

But O'Shea's case is a new one that grew out of an accident O'Shea could not bring himself to acknowledge. If he had fessed up at the beginning, his problems could easily have been avoided.

But people's first instinct when caught in ticklish situations often is to lie, and that was his.

Here's what happened.

On Sept. 15, 2017, O'Shea was home alone in his apartment.

Violating common-sense gun-safety rules, according to the JIB, he took a .38-caliber handgun from "a dresser in his bedroom, removed the revolver from its holster and fired the revolver."

The gun was loaded, and the bullet O'Shea fired went through a mirror and into his neighbors' apartment. Fortunately, O'Shea's neighbors were not home.

The bullet "traveled through the (neighbors') living room and damaged the east wall of the room before stopping its trajectory and falling into the living room."

O'Shea initially misled apartment building managers, telling them he damaged the wall of his apartment with a screwdriver. That's sleazy, but not illegal.

But the situation grew more serious when his neighbors found the hole in their wall and then the spent bullet. They notified Wheaton police.

Authorities quickly figured out what happened, but detectives didn't tell O'Shea that they knew the score when they asked to speak with him. The judge proceeded to tell a series of lies, including blaming his son for the fired shot.

O'Shea said he caused the damage to his wall with either a nail gun, a screwdriver or both. He also suggested that perhaps his "son must have come into (O'Shea's) bedroom and accidently fired" the shot into the neighbors' apartment.

Noting police skepticism, O'Shea said "If you want me to say I shot the gun, then I shot the gun." Finally, with nowhere to turn, O'Shea admitted firing the shot.

O'Shea was charged with reckless conduct. But a judge presiding in a bench trial found him not guilty of reckless conduct because O'Shea's neighbors were not home.

In the meantime, the JIB was investigating. It took a statement from O'Shea in which it alleges that, again, he repeatedly lied about what had happened.

This time O'Shea contended that he admitted from the beginning that he fired the shot.

He also said he "never told the detectives that his son may have fired a bullet through the wall."

O'Shea's misconduct, the JIB charged, is prejudicial to the administration of justice and "brought his judicial office into disrepute."

Like Judge Duebbert, Judge O'Shea has been removed from his judicial duties. They're both assigned to administrative tasks.

O'Shea's access to the courthouse also has been limited.

Both cases are pending before the JIB and, most likely, will take many months to resolve. Their alleged misstatements could cost both men their jobs.

Duebbert's case is far more serious than that of O'Shea.

Police were looking for a friend of Duebbert's — a murder suspect — when he reportedly made false statements to investigators about his contact with his friend.

O'Shea's problems stem from a simple accident — mishandling a firearm — for which he should have taken responsibility.

But in both cases, the consequences these two apostles of justice face demonstrate the truth of the old adage, "What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive."

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 217-3561-5369.