It was newly elected St. Clair County Circuit Judge Ron Duebbert’s first meeting with his new boss, Chief Judge Andrew Gleeson, on Dec. 1.
Duebbert, a Republican, defeated former Chief Judge John Baricevic, a Democrat, in the Nov. 8 election. But now there was a problem.
Gleeson discovered that David E. Fields, 20, a parolee listed on the state’s Violent Offender Registry, was living at Duebbert’s home address.
“It’s that potential behavior that puts it into question. It has the appearance of impropriety. And that’s the standard judges live by,” Gleeson said.
Duebbert acknowledged Fields lived there, but Duebbert said he was moving out on Friday, Dec. 2 — three days before Duebbert would don the robe on the judicial bench.
“The plan was that he was always going to stay for a short period of time. I have done nothing illegal,” Duebbert said. “I have done the proper and Christian thing. He is my friend.”
Duebbert, who is gay, was adamant that he and Fields are not in a romantic relationship. He said he was just trying to help out a troubled youth.
Fields could not be reached for comment.
Fields was 17 when the two met on the parking lot Duebbert’s law office in 2013. Fields had stopped to look at Duebbert’s car, and the two struck up a conversation. Fields was facing a charge of aggravated battery to a pregnant woman and was also accused of sexually assaulting her at Belleville East High School.
The plan was that he was always going to stay for a short period of time. I have done nothing illegal. I have done the proper and Christian thing. He is my friend.
St. Clair County Circuit Judge Ron Duebbert
Police said the attack occurred in an area used for the high school’s alternative program. During the attack, Fields allegedly grabbed the 17-year-old girl by the hair and the back of the neck.
Fields, of Belleville, pleaded guilty to aggravated battery of a pregnant woman, but the state dropped the criminal sexual assault charge. He was sentenced as an adult to six years in prison and served about half his sentence at the Menard Correctional Center. Duebbert did not represent Fields in his criminal proceedings.
Fields was paroled Oct. 24.
Duebbert offered Fields a place to stay at his home on Powder Mill Road near Belleville. It was a short-term solution, Duebbert said, to help Fields get back to school, into a home and recover custody of his child.
Duebbert said Fields did move out last Friday — three days before Duebbert was sworn-in as judge. But Gleeson pointed out that Fields’ address still is listed at Duebbert’s home on the Violent Offender Registry.
“At the time of the plea, we could no longer prove the sexual aspect of the case beyond a reasonable doubt. The victim was brave, but she did not want to go through a trial,” State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly said. “This defendant had been elusive to law enforcement, so we moved forward with the stronger violent charges to send him to prison and get him on the offender registry to track his whereabouts once he was paroled.”
I no longer think it is appropriate under the current circumstances. I have to protect the integrity of the court and do my due diligence.
20th Circuit Chief Judge Andrew Gleeson
So now, Duebbert is assigned to hear traffic cases, Gleeson said, in a courtroom that was used for first appearances in felony cases. With questions persisting around about whether Fields is still living with Duebbert, Gleeson has reassigned all the felony cases on the docket out of Duebbert’s courtroom.
“I no longer think it is appropriate under the current circumstances,” Gleeson said. “I have to protect the integrity of the court and do my due diligence.”
Kelly didn’t outright object to Duebbert, who as a lawyer formerly represented criminal defendants, hearing criminal cases, just ones where Fields may be involved.
“We’ll have to look at potential conflicts on a case-by-case basis to see if the parolee (Fields) has connections with defendants coming before the court,” Kelly said. “It’s not a situation we’ve encountered before.”
Reassigning the felony cases should reduce such conflicts, Kelly said.
Gleeson said he intends to write a letter to the Administrative Order of the Illinois Courts and the Judicial Inquiry Board, informing them of the situation.
“This isn’t a political thing. This is about protecting the integrity of the court,” Gleeson said.
Duebbert said he has done nothing wrong: The issue is driven by politics, he said.
“I didn’t violate any ethical rules. He (Fields) was there before the election. He left before I was sworn in,” Duebbert said. “I was trying to do the right thing. I was trying to do the appropriate thing.”