Judge Patrick O’Shea beat the rap the first time around — on a technicality.
The second time proved to be a tougher nut to crack. The veteran DuPage County jurist was found guilty of violating judicial conduct rules. Now his future as a judge is hanging in the balance.
So let us remember once again — for those who occupy positions of great respect in our society and on down — oh, what a tangled web people weave when first they practice to deceive.
If O’Shea had been more forthcoming at the beginning, he wouldn’t be sweating bullets over his future at the end. Or, to put it another way, anyone can have an accident, but lying to police is no accident.
O’Shea got himself in trouble with the law in September 2017.
He was handling one of the many firearms in his apartment when the gun he was holding — and apparently believed was not loaded — discharged.
The bullet went through the wall of his apartment and into an empty apartment next door.
Upon returning home, the neighbors found a hole in the living room wall and, later, a spent bullet on the floor. They called Wheaton police, and after looking into the matter, police knocked on O’Shea’s door in search of an explanation.
O’Shea lied to them about what happened before eventually fessing up.
He was charged with reckless conduct in connection with the fired shot. But his defense lawyer, Terry Ekl of Naperville, successfully argued that O’Shea’s unintentional firing of the shot did not meet the statutory requirements to be found guilty of reckless conduct.
The prosecutor was not happy.
“This ruling seems to indicate that firing a weapon into an empty apartment does not endanger people under the law the way it is written. As such, our office will be taking this issue up with the General Assembly,” said state appellate prosecutor Dave Neal.
O’Shea later filed legal papers to have his arrest expunged from the record. But he eventually had bigger things to worry about.
For starters, his fellow judges were not exactly impressed with his behavior. So he was removed from the courtroom and assigned to administrative duties.
Then the state’s Judicial Inquiry Board stepped in to examine the judge’s conduct.
In October 2018, it filed a multi-count complaint against O’Shea. Not only did it allege he violated judicial rules of conduct in connection with the accidental shooting, it also filed allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation by O’Shea against courthouse employees.
The JIB not only alleged that O’Shea lied to police about the shooting, but it alleged that he lied to the inquiry board about misleading the police.
The inquiry board tries cases involving judges who misbehave before a special tribunal called the Illinois Courts Commission. It’s a body made up of Supreme Court, appellate court and trial court judges plus two citizen panelists.
The courts commission recently held a three-day trial on the misconduct charges. O’Shea testified that police misunderstood him when they said he denied firing the weapon, alleging the officer intentionally misrepresented what he said.
“He was wrong. And he knows he was wrong,” O’Shea told the court commission panel.
That, obviously, was not the right thing to say.
As for the complaining staffers, O’Shea acknowledged bursts of temper, suggested his offensive remarks were misunderstood and said one accuser “just had a bad attitude.”
There was little sign of contrition, except for an admission by O’Shea’s lawyer that O’Shea made “foolish comments when he was mad” and excused it by saying that “judges are people, too.”
That’s certainly true, although some would suggest their humanity is well-disguised.
But judges also hold exalted positions that require them to act with probity at all times, even if they’re in a jam for firing a shot through a neighbor’s apartment wall.
In O’Shea’s case, telling the truth would have been the smart move, allowing him to get out front of a problem, take his medicine and avoid the bigger problem of the judicial inquiry board case. But he was too smart to make the smart — and responsible — move.
After reviewing the evidence, the courts commission found O’Shea guilty of all the misconduct charges, but withheld a written decision.
The court’s explanation for its ruling — plus the penalties it imposes — will come at an unspecified date. The 69-year-old O’Shea faces sanctions that range from verbal chastising to suspension and removal from the bench.
In addition, the commission should — but won’t — require him to wear a dunce cap.
Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is email@example.com.