NASHVILLE — Dennis Hatch retired from his circuit judge job on a Friday, then went back onto the public payroll the next Monday when he was appointed by his former judicial colleagues as the Washington County public defender.
Hatch, 59, a Democrat who is formerly of Belleville, earns $120,977 a year from his pension with the Judicial Retirement System, plus $51,500 from the county to represent the indigent accused of felonies and serious misdemeanors.
"The job came open and I applied," Hatch said.
Hatch's move from the bench to the defense table isn't without conflicts.
The Illinois Supreme Court Rules of Professional Conduct state, "a lawyer shall not represent anyone in connection with a matter in which the lawyer participated personally and substantially as a judge ... unless all parties to the proceeding give informed consent."
Since Dec. 1, the public defender's office was assigned 10 cases. Hatch was not appointed in four of those, said Circuit Clerk Cindy Barczewski. In those cases, an outside lawyer would be appointed to serve as public defender. There are about 80 felony cases a year filed in Washington County.
Washington County State's Attorney Heath Hooks, a Republican who was elected in November, formally objected to Hatch's appointment to several pending cases where Hatch served as judge.
Hooks could not be reached for comment.
St. Clair County Chief Judge John Baricevic and Hatch maintained Hooks could have waived the conflicts and Hatch could have served as the public defender in those cases.
"For whatever reason, he did object," Baricevic said.
"I didn't ask to come off any of those cases," Hatch said.
Those objections could be for good reason, said William Hodes, a former University of Indiana law professor who co-authored the American Bar Association's Code of Judicial Ethics in 2007.
Hatch may have knowledge from seeing the case as a judge that he wouldn't have if he only served as a the public defender, Hodes said. Also, if Hatch made any substantive rulings, such as setting bail, signing an information, or making evidentiary rulings in the case as a judge before becoming the defense attorney, Hodes said an appeals court could find that the defendant or the state didn't get a fair trial.
"It would be much wiser, cheaper and more ethical for him to come off of any pending case," Hodes said.
Hatch was selected from four other applicants, said Baricevic, one of the eight circuit judges who approved Hatch's hiring. He declined to name the other candidates, citing confidentiality.
Hatch formerly earned $179,654 as a circuit judge, but retired, effective Dec. 1. Baricevic and Circuit Judges Jan Fiss, Andrew Gleeson, Michael Cook, Zina Cruse, Bob Haida, Bob LeChien and Vincent Lopinot voted on Dec. 3 to appoint Hatch the county's public defender.
"We met and discussed the applications," Baricevic said. "We decided he was the best qualified candidate."
Hatch took over for former Public Defender Brian Trentman, who ran to replace Hatch on the bench. Trentman lost to Republican Daniel Emge.
Hatch served as Washington County State's Attorney from 1992 until 2000. He does not get a pension for that service because he was not vested. He was elected as a circuit judge in 2004 in the 20th Judicial Circuit which includes St. Clair, Randolph, Perry, Monroe and Washington Counties. Hatch took over the vacancy created when voters selected then-circuit judge Lloyd Karmeier for the Illinois Supreme Court.
Contact reporter Beth Hundsdorfer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2570.