It’s one thing to be a jerk. It’s quite another to be a judge who’s a jerk.
Owing to a recent ruling by the Illinois Courts Commission, the state has one less jerk on the bench as of today.
Last week, the commission ordered that DuPage County Circuit Judge Patrick O’Shea be stripped of his judicial duties. That’s the most serious punishment the courts commission can impose on a judge who steps over ethical boundaries.
“(The Judicial Inquiry Board) has proven by clear and convincing evidence multiple instances of misconduct. (O’Shea) was totally unapologetic with respect to that misconduct, lied under oath and abused his position of power. Based on the facts of this case, and the standard of conduct required of all judges, the only appropriate remedy is to remove and dismiss (O’Shea) from the office of circuit court judge,” members of the Illinois Courts Commission stated in a unanimous opinion.
Elected to the circuit judge post in 2012 and retained for another term in 2018, O’Shea represents a worst-case scenario for judicial misconduct.
O’Shea has been the subject of a couple columns in this space, not only because of the unusual facts of his case but because the prospect of severe discipline made his situation unique.
He, obviously, became a casualty of what’s known as “black-robe syndrome,” a behavior change in which some lawyers who become judges come to view themselves as omnipotent.
For the most part, the only thing restraining a judge’s behavior is a judge’s good judgment. Judges who understand that their important roles in the system require them to always be on their best, most respectful behavior do well. Judges who use their authority to run roughshod over lawyers, court employees and litigants are despised, but mostly tolerated, because they are, after all, judges.
Judge O’Shea got himself in trouble in 2017 because it was not within him to own up to a unintentional mistake he made. That drew the attention of the state’s Judicial Inquiry Board, the body that investigates alleged misconduct and then acts as prosecutor if it finds evidence to prove it.
In September 2017, O’Shea was handling a firearm in his apartment. The gun discharged, sending a bullet through the wall and into a neighboring apartment whose occupants were not home.
Instead of admitting his mistake, O’Shea kept his mouth shut. But the neighbors found the bullet hole in their wall and, eventually, the spent bullet. They called police, who eventually contacted O’Shea. Then he really screwed up.
Even though O’Shea was a judge, he initially lied to police about what happened, at one point suggesting his son was responsible for the shot. After about 15 minutes of dissembling, O’Shea admitted he unintentionally fired the shot.
He was charged with reckless conduct, but acquitted at a bench trial after the trial judge found that his conduct did not match the statutory requirements for the offense that was charged.
That’s when the Judicial Inquiry Board started to look into what occurred. It initially focused on O’Shea’s lack of candor with police, but eventually was informed that O’Shea was twice accused of sexually harassing court employees and twice tried to retaliate against them for reporting his alleged misbehavior to their supervisors.
Eventually, the JIB charged O’Shea with failing to act in the way judges are expected to act, by lying to police and trying to retaliate against the two employees who alleged he sexually harassed them.
Judicial misconduct cases are heard by the Illinois Courts Commission, a multi-member body that consists almost exclusively of state Supreme Court, appellate and trial judges.
It was before them that O’Shea made another mistake, a gigantic mistake. He changed his prior testimony in which he acknowledged misleading police about who fired the errant shot. He insisted he immediately told police he fired the shot and asserted the officers lied when they said he initially denied firing the shot.
Unimpressed with O’Shea’s testimony, the courts commission found the evidence against him to be “clear and convincing” and concluded that O’Shea’s conduct demonstrated a “failure to respect and comply with the law” regarding the gunshot.
Regarding his two employees, the commission stated that O’Shea misused his position “to retaliate against two court employees and to attempt to have them lose their positions.”
In dismissing O’Shea, the commission made it clear that it expected better from him and expects better from all sitting judges because of the lofty positions they hold.
“The role of the judge in the administration of justice requires adherence to the highest standard of personal and official conduct. Of those to whom much is committed, much is demanded,” the commission stated.