No deal: Judge rejects 18-month sentence for ex-judge Cook

News-DemocratFebruary 26, 2014 

— - It's back to the drawing board for former St. Clair County Circuit judge Michael Cook after a federal judge rejected a plea bargain that would have sent Cook to prison for 18 months on heroin possession and weapons charges.

U.S. District Judge Joe Billy McDade rejected the plea agreement during a hearing in federal court on Wednesday.

"I can't accept the contemplated 18 months as serving the purposes of sentencing," McDade said. "The facts set forth in the pre-sentencing report and that are unobjected to would support a higher sentence."

A new sentencing hearing will be held in 30 days, McDade said. Cook must decide within 21 days whether to withdraw his guilty plea or advise McDade that he made a new deal with federal prosecutors.

The sentence should balance being fair to Cook and the public, McDade said

"The sentence should reassure the public that the judiciary is in fine shape, in good hands and warrants their respect," McDade said.

McDade said both sides may talk about his decision to reject the plea.

"I do my best to impose a sentence that I believe is fair," he said. "Just because he's a judge doesn't mean that I should throw the book at him."

Under the terms of the plea agreement, McDade couldn't impose a stiffer sentence, but only accept or reject the agreement.

After the hearing, U.S. Attorney Stephen Wigginton and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Suzanne Garrison and James Porter met in the judge's chambers with Cook's lawyers, Bill Lucco and Thomas Q. Keefe III.

After that meeting, Lucco and Wigginton declined comment.

Cook, 43, then a sitting St. Clair County Circuit judge, was arrested May 22 outside Sean McGilvery's home on North 38th Street in Belleville. He later was charged with possession of heroin and being the user of a controlled substance in possession of weapons. Cook resigned from the bench after his arrest, turned in his law license and entered drug treatment after he was released on bond.

McGilvery pleaded guilty to heroin distribution charges and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

In January, McDade ordered an additional pre-sentence investigation on Cook's case after the original investigation found that there were no "factors that would warrant a departure from the applicable sentencing guideline range."

McDade identified three factors that might warrant a longer sentence:

* The extensive duration of Cook's criminal conduct while acting as a judge and without any effort to obtain treatment for his drug addiction.

* The disruption of governmental functions.

* The loss of public confidence in the judicial system caused by Cook's criminal conduct.

The additional investigation was completed Jan. 24. It is sealed by a court order.

Circuit Judge Robert Haida, who replaced Cook on the felony docket, ordered retrials in the case of two men who were convicted of murder. Cook presided over both those trials. The defense argued prosecutors should have disclosed Cook was under federal investigation at the time of the trials.

Former St. Clair County Probation Officer James Fogarty told FBI agent Joe Murphy that he sold an eighth of an ounce of cocaine to Cook and Joe Christ, a new associate judge and longtime prosecutor, days before Christ died March 10 from cocaine toxicity at Cook's Pike County hunting cabin. The judges paid $280 for the drugs.

Fogarty pleaded guilty to cocaine distribution charges in November in exchange for a five-year prison sentence. He is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Michael Reagan on Thursday. Reagan wrote in an order that barring an unusual change in the case, he will accept the plea agreement.

Contact reporter Beth Hundsdorfer at bhundsdorfer@bnd.com or 618-239-2570. Contact reporter George Pawlaczyk at gpawlaczyk@bnd.com or 618-239-2625.

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