EAST ST. LOUIS — U.S. District Court Judge William Stiehl said Friday he thought it would be "a lot simpler" if a federal judge from outside the Southern District heard the drug and weapons case against a former St. Clair County circuit judge.
The former judge is Michael Cook, who was arrested in May by federal agents outside a Belleville home and charged with one misdemeanor count of possessing heroin and a felony count of being a drug user in possession of a firearm. Cook, 43, pleaded not guilty and was released on a recognizance bond and was then admitted to a drug rehabilitation center.
"I thought it would be a lot simpler to have someone from the outside," Stiehl said in an interview.
Stiehl signed an order Wednesday removing himself from the case, a legal action that did not require an explanation of why he thought he should not preside.
Chief Judge David Herndon wrote a letter to Frank Easterbrook, the chief judge of the federal Seventh Circuit based in Chicago, asking him to appoint an outside judge to hear Cook's case. A judge from the outside would travel to East St. Louis or Benton to hear the Southern District case against Cook.
Stiehl commented that there has been "no legal activity on the case for a pretty long period," which makes it easier for a new judge to get involved. The case is set for trial on Oct. 1, although delays are common.
Stiehl said he was aware that several of the other judges in the circuit,"... know one of more of the persons involved in the case."
In any court, a judge must consider recusing himself if he believes he knows any of the people involved in the case as defendants or potential witnesses to the extent that his impartiality could be compromised.
In addition to Cook, whose father Bruce Cook is a well-known attorney who practiced widely in state and federal courts in Illinois, the case also involves a former St. Clair County probation officer, James Fogarty. He has been charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, and was released on electronic monitoring.
Contact reporter George Pawlaczyk at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2625.