A judge's view: Time for a serious conversation about drugs and our judicial system

November 9, 2013 

As a judge, I preside over cases in which I see, firsthand, how drugs ruin lives, families and communities. There are many good people who have found themselves wrestling with an addiction they never thought they would have. As it turns out, some of those people hold important positions in law enforcement -- some are even judges. That is why I fully support your editorial calling for mandatory drug testing of all judges. It is a great idea and would make for good public policy.

One of the interesting aspects of the tragedy affecting the St. Clair County Courthouse is that so many people claimed to be surprised. No one claims to even have suspected there was a drug problem gripping some in important positions of trust. That suggests that, if we are to re-establish confidence in the judiciary and the legal system, we must act with decisive candor. But while the focus is on St. Clair County right now, the problem is a social and cultural one that affects our entire society. Any county or courthouse that thinks it is exempt is in denial.

I have been studying efforts around the country to require mandatory, random drug tests of judges. Most have encountered problems with state constitutional or statutory impediments along with objections that such testing without probable cause would violate the U.S. Constitution's prohibition of unreasonable search and seizures. Here in Illinois it is clear laws would have to be changed and the constitutional challenges addressed before we can get to universal testing of judges.

Thankfully, there is still a way forward: Have judges pledge they will not vote to appoint or reappoint any applicant or judge who does not successfully pass a detailed screening for illegal drugs.

Associate circuit judges are not elected, they are appointed by a vote of the circuit judges. Every four years their term expires and they have to be reappointed or replaced by a vote of the circuit judges.

I formally pledge that I will not vote to appoint or to retain any associate circuit judge who does not submit to and pass a drug test. If my colleagues would join me, we would advance significantly an important protection against judges serving while impaired by illegal drugs.

The circuit judges could make drug testing de facto mandatory without violating either Illinois or federal law. While this does not get us to where many of us think we need to be -- mandatory testing of all judges -- it does accomplish a great deal and addresses in an important and substantive way our desire to free our courts of the nightmare of judges using illegal drugs.

If the circuit judges would vigilantly honor such a pledge, it would encourage those who have a substance abuse problem to get help now. Had such a policy been in place in the last few years, I am confident we would have saved lives and avoided tragedy.

As someone who has been appointed unanimously by the Supreme Court to serve the public as a judge, three times, I would have been happy to submit to rigorous drug testing as a pre-condition for being considered for appointment.

Illegal use of narcotics is such a scourge. It is directly linked to most of our violent crime. We judges need to step forward to assure the public that our courts are not compromised by illegal narcotics.

Paddy Bauler, the quotable Chicago machine politician of a bygone era, once famously said, "Chicago ain't ready for reform." Some people today say the same thing about St. Clair County and Illinois. I hope differently. That is why I took a voluntary drug test and will release the results to the public. I can tell you I don't abuse, and it is true. But the ones who were abusing would have told you the same. We need to show you.

I hope that my action empowers and gives heart to all those people of both parties and my many honorable colleagues in the justice system who are committed to real reform.

Stephen P. McGlynn is a circuit judge in St. Clair County.

Belleville News-Democrat is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service