What happened to former Circuit Judge Patrick O’Shea must have sent shivers down current Circuit Judge Ronald Duebbert’s spine.
Although they come from different parts of Illinois — O’Shea from DuPage County near Chicago and Duebbert from St. Clair County near St. Louis — they share a common bond.
O’Shea was accused of lying to police about a gun mishap (I wrote about that in an Oct. 1 column), while Duebbert is accused of lying to police regarding a homicide investigation.
The Illinois Courts Commission recently called evidence against O’Shea “clear and convincing” and threw him off the bench. The commission charged that O’Shea’s false statements demonstrated a “failure to respect and comply with the law.”
The courts commission last week heard the case against Duebbert and is weighing his fate. In his defense, Duebbert testified that his inaccurate statements resulted from confusion, fear and the cold medication he was taking.
“It’s clear my answers could have caused some misperception — and I’m aghast about that,” Duebbert testified.
In one sense, O’Shea and Duebbert displayed a common human flaw — almost everyone will lie if caught in a ticklish situation and given little time to think it over.
But not everyone is a judge talking to police officers investigating suspected crimes.
Deceit goes harder on judges who tell whoppers because, as the courts commission noted in O’Shea’s case, “Of those to whom much is committed, much is demanded.”
The facts in the two cases couldn’t be more different.
Duebbert alleges his problems stem from a political conspiracy against him for being a Republican in St. Clair County, a onetime Democratic stronghold.
His complicated story boils down to this:
In November 2016, he defeated longtime Democratic Circuit Judge John Baricevic.
As a seated judge, Baricevic should have run on a retention ballot. Instead, he and two colleagues gamed the system by submitting phony resignations as circuit judges and filing to run for the positions they’d just vacated.
They figured it would be easier to get 50.1 percent of the vote, thereby winning election in their scandal-plagued county, than getting the 60 percent majority required for retention.
Baricevic didn’t plan on losing to Duebbert, and his defeat outraged his fellow circuit judges. All but one — who was needed to issue the oath of office to Duebbert — subsequently boycotted Duebbert’s swearing-in.
Unfortunately for him, Duebbert gave his enemies a club with which to beat him.
He was friends with an ex-convict named Ronnie Fields whom he allowed to live with him for a time. That came out after the election.
Fields became a suspect in a December 2016 murder (he was later acquitted by a jury). When police came to Duebbert for help in finding Fields, Duebbert allegedly lied to them about his recent contacts with Fields.
It was widely reported in the media that police suspected Duebbert of misleading them, a suspicion that prompted a separate investigation of Duebbert for possible obstruction of justice.
Duebbert was never charged with obstructing justice regarding Fields. But rumors circulated that Duebbert, who is openly gay, had a reputation for propositioning male clients, allegations he vehemently denied.
He was subsequently charged with felony and misdemeanor offenses in connection with a former client. But on the eve of trial, prosecutors dismissed the case, acknowledging their reputed victim “may” have been lying.
In July, Duebbert filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit against St. Clair County and the state of Illinois seeking $10 million that alleges that the criminal charges filed against him were retaliation for his defeating Baricevic in the election.
So nearly three years after being elected a judge, Duebbert has yet to preside in court. He’s on administrative duty.
During last week’s hearing, Duebbert’s lawyer said her client was less than forthcoming with police because “he really did believe it was an effort to set him up and to tie him to a murder.”
But the defense has another problem, and it’s a big one. Duebbert also testified about his interactions with police before a hearing panel of the Judicial Inquiry Board, which prosecutes discipline cases before the courts commission, and he allegedly also lied there about what he told police.
One misstatement might be explained. But two is five times as difficult.
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at 217-351-5369 or email@example.com.
Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.