St. Clair County Chief Judge John Baricevic said Wednesday that the way to restore the public's confidence in the judiciary in the wake of a courthouse drug scandal is for the judges to do their jobs.
Baricevic responded in an interview with the BND after he addressed the Belleville Chamber of Commerce's monthly Issues & Eggs event at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows.
"We do our jobs. We get there in the morning and respond to the needs of the citizens," Baricevic said after the breakfast. "Our opportunity to interact is in the courtroom."
Baricevic did not mention the scandal during his speech. No one asked him about it when he opened the floor for questions.
Former Circuit Judge Mike Cook was arrested May 22 outside a Belleville home. Cook was charged in federal court with possession of heroin and being a user of a controlled substance in possession of a firearm. Cook is in a drug rehabilitation facility and the charges are pending. He has surrendered his law license.
Former St. Clair County probation officer James Fogarty also faces drug charges after he told an FBI investigator that he used cocaine with Cook and Joe Christ, a longtime St. Clair County prosecutor who was appointed an associate judge shortly before his death. Christ died as a result of a cocaine overdose at Cook's hunting cabin in Pike County in central Illinois, according to a coroner's report.
Federal drug charges against Fogarty also are pending.
Circuit Judges Zina Cruse, Robert Haida, Andrew Gleeson, Vincent Lopinot and associate judges Randy Kelley, Heinz Rudolf, Ellen Dauber, Julie Katz and Walter Brandon attended the breakfast.
Baricevic told the chamber members that judges most often see people who are unhappy to be in court, whether in a misdemeanor or traffic case, divorce or custody matter or a litigant in a civil suit.
Baricevic pointed to tightening state and county budgets leading to reductions in staff and stretched services.
But the judiciary continues to try to address needs by courtroom renovations that allow the courtrooms to be handicapped accessible and implement more technology.
The court also created drug court, veterans court and mental health court to offer more chances at rehabilitation and a reduction in incarceration and the resulting costs, Baricevic said.
Arbitration is reducing caseloads and cutting costs for litigants, Baricevic said.
The county is moving toward electronic filing of documents to save storage space, add public access to court documents and save litigants legal fees.
Baricevic said the judiciary and the county also are trying to facilitate the return of the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission hearing to the courthouse in Belleville. The hearings were moved to Collinsville after the arbitrator who presided over the Belleville docket, Jennifer Teague, resigned in the wake of a scandal over access to a high-profile workers' compensation case and her handling of her own workers' comp case. She is now known as Jennifer Carril.
"Right now, it's not an absolute. All the details are worked out," Baricevic said. "We just need the governor's office to make a decision."
Baricevic ended by addressing judicial discipline, which he noted was handled by the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board.
He urged attendees to "be good citizens" and if they see something they think is inappropriate to report it either to him or to the Judicial Inquiry Board. He added that when citizens are involved in the judicial process, they become the conscience of the community.
"You are the eyes and souls of the community," he said.
Contact reporter Beth Hundsdorfer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2570.