Judge facing drug charges presided over 1,700-plus felony cases

News-DemocratOctober 21, 2013 

Booking photo of former St. Clair County Circuit Judge Michael Cook of Belleville.

WASHINGTON CO. SHERIFF'S DEPT. — Washington Co. Sheriff's Dept.

Former St. Clair County Circuit Judge Mike Cook presided over more than 1,700 felony cases during his tenure, and federal prosecutors say he was buying heroin almost daily toward the end, but it doesn't mean the defendants in his cases will get automatic do-overs.

According to figures provided Monday by St. Clair County court officials, Cook presided over 1,705 felony cases during his tenure.

Some defendants already have cited Cook's alleged heroin use in requests that they be allowed to withdraw their guilty pleas, or get a new hearing or trial. But a judge's drug use alone isn't enough to win a request such as that.

"If the issue in the case is that the judge was under the influence, there has to be a specific error in the record that shows that the judge's usage affected the outcome," said St. Clair County Public Defender John O'Gara, whose office represented many of the criminal defendants.

Federal prosecutors alleged last week that Cook purchased heroin nearly every day before his arrest on May 22 outside his alleged dealer's house.

Cook became a circuit judge in 2010. From Nov. 10, 2010, when Cook was sworn in, until May 22, the day of his arrest, Cook presided over 1,705 cases, including 24 jury trials and eight bench trials, according to St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly.

According to court records, Cook

* had 319 cases pending at the time of his arrest.

* transferred 9 cases to other judge's dockets.

* dismissed 25 cases at the request of prosecutors, plus seven cases that were stricken with leave to reinstate them later.

* dismissed 118 cases.

* reduced 93 cases to misdemeanors.

* accepted 1,102 guilty pleas.

* presided over 24 jury trials, with 20 guilty verdicts and four not-guilty verdicts.

* conducted eight bench trials, with five not-guilty verdicts and three guilty verdicts

O'Gara, who also has a private practice that specializes in criminal defense, said Monday that he was focusing on the review of cases adjudicated by Cook since January -- ostensibly when state prosecutors became aware that Cook was under federal investigation.

Last week, Cook's longtime friend and former client, Sean McGilvery, pleaded guilty to conspiring with Deborah Perkins and Douglas Oliver to obtain heroin. Cook was arrested outside of McGilvery's home on North 38th St. in Belleville on May 22. Cook was later charged with in federal court with possession of heroin. His trial is scheduled for Dec. 9.

"We believe there are a small number of cases in that time frame that should be reviewed, but each case has its own set of facts," O'Gara said.

In May, Kelly requested a Republican former state's attorney and a Democrat former state's attorney to conduct an independent case review. This audit has not uncovered any wrongdoing, Kelly said.

"We are taking each motion for a new trial on a case-by-case basis," Kelly said. "Appeals can surface years later, so we may not know every challenge for some time. It could be many, it could be these few."

Earlier this month, William Cosby received a new trial after his lawyers argued that the state should have told his lawyers that Cook, the judge who was presiding over his trial, was under federal investigation. Cosby was convicted by a jury on April 26 of the first-degree murder of Antwan "Twix" Thomas, who was shot in the stomach outside an East St. Louis bar on April 9, 2012. Cosby was in St. Clair County Jail awaiting sentencing when Cook was arrested.

A jury convicted Gregory Muse of first-degree murder on March 17, in a trial presided over by Cook. Muse is also asking for a new trial. Prosecutors alleged that Muse and an accomplice held up an East St. Louis pawn shop, but his accomplice was shot by the pawn shop's owner and died. Arguments in his case are scheduled for Oct. 30.

Dwayne Tottleben also received a new trial on burglary charges. Tottleben, 21, has since pleaded guilty and received a three-year prison sentence.

Kelly opposed the motions for new trials in these cases.

"My office had a duty to pursue the evidence and professional conduct issues along with the U.S. Attorney. Now, we also have a duty to protect and preserve just convictions," Kelly said.

Tottleben, Muse and Cosby were represented by public defenders. But there also are cases where defendants hired private lawyers.

A jury convicted Kenny Wicks Jr. of the first-degree murder of his coworker James Earl Rogers. Cook accepted the jury's guilty verdict on Jan. 28, then sentenced him to 45 years in prison on April 2.

There has been no motion for a new trial filed on behalf of Wicks. Paul Storment, who represented Wicks at trial, declined to comment.

Though Kelly opposed efforts for new trials, he has agreed to allow some defendants who pleaded guilty before Cook to withdraw their guilty pleas.

"There is no playbook for this, but we'll continue to face it head-on as we do any challenge," Kelly said.

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