A special prosecutor was appointed Wednesday to decide whether obstruction-of-justice charges should be filed against St. Clair County Circuit Judge Ronald Duebbert in connection with a murder case.
St. Clair County County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly requested the appointment of a special prosecutor in the case. In the motion, Kelly stated the subject matter of the case involves the offense of obstructing justice.
Duebbert was interviewed Friday by the Major Case Squad, which was investigating the killing of Carl Z. Silas, who was shot in the face in front of two children. The Major Case Squad was called out on Friday at 5 a.m. after a home invasion and shooting at 2913 West Boulevard near Belleville. Duebbert, at the time, told the News-Democrat that his former roommate, David E. Fields, 20, was “a person of interest” in Silas’ killing. Fields was charged with murder Tuesday.
During the course of the murder investigation, the Major Case Squad requested charges against Duebbert, according to Kelly.
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“These events have placed both prosecutors and defendants in an untenable position. The Major Case Squad’s application for charges against Judge Duebbert must be reviewed by a special prosecutor because any past or future decision by this judge, for or against any party, could be perceived as a response to circumstances in his own case,” Kelly said.
Duebbert could not immediately be reached for comment.
Kelly, in his motion seeking appointment of a special prosecutor, stated: “(The state’s attorney’s office) is unable to act on behalf of the People because the charges being sought involve a suspect that is a circuit judge in the Twentieth Judicial Circuit.”
Chief Judge Andrew Gleeson signed the order appointing a special prosecutor early Wednesday afternoon. Gleeson had already removed Duebbert from hearing any cases and placed him on administrative duties. Duebbert will still draw his $185,500 annual salary.
Gleeson’s move, Kelly said, was a “necessary response.”
The order appointing a special prosecutor stated that the prosecutor will serve at the pleasure of the Illinois Attorney General and may substitute her office as the special prosecutor, but the prosecutor will likely come from the Illinois Appellate Prosecutor’s Office.
Gleeson has said that he intends to file a complaint about Duebbert with the state’s Judicial Inquiry Board. The Judicial Inquiry Board has authority to then file a complaint with the Illinois Courts Commission, which can penalize judges or even remove them from office. The Courts Commission’s options include issuing a formal reprimand, suspension with or without pay, and removal from office.
Steven F. Pflaum, chairman of the Illinois Judicial Ethics Committee, said he doesn’t recall any cases involving a judge residing with a parolee or a person accused of a crime. Pflaum has served on the committee since it was formed in 1992.
“I don’t believe we have ever considered any issues having to do with a judge living with someone who was accused of a crime. It’s an interesting question,” Pflaum said.
The Illinois Judicial Ethics Committee — a joint committee of the Illinois Judges Association, the Chicago Bar Association and the Illinois State Bar Association — gives advice to judges and judicial candidates on complying with judicial ethics codes.
In the Duebbert case, Pflaum said, the question probably would come down to whether Duebbert violated a couple of broad areas of Illinois’ Code of Judicial Conduct, such as maintaining high standards of judicial and personal conduct, or striving to maintain public confidence in the judiciary.
What happens if a judge is removed?
In Illinois, a vacancy on the bench is filled by the Illinois Supreme Court. Traditionally, the court accepts the recommendation from the justice whose appellate district covers the vacancy. Chief Justice Lloyd Karmeier, a Republican, is the justice from Southern Illinois.
The appointee serves until the next general election occurring at least 60 days after his or her appointment, at which point the judge must run for election to continue serving.
How often are judges removed from office?
According to the National Center for State Courts’ Center for Judicial Ethics, in 2015, there were nine judges removed from office in the United States as a result of disciplinary proceedings.
- 19 judges or former judges resigned or retired in lieu of discipline pursuant to public agreements with conduct commissions.
- 85 additional judges (or former judges in approximately 10 cases) received other public sanctions. Approximately half of the sanctions were entered pursuant to agreement.
- 15 judges were suspended without pay.
- 11 judges were publicly censured.
- 31 judges were publicly reprimanded.
- 17 judges were publicly admonished.
- 3 judges received public warnings (2 warnings also included orders of additional education).
- Civil penalties were imposed on 2 judges.
- 1 judge was placed on supervised probation with a formal mentorship until the end of her term and other conditions.
- 1 private reprimand and 1 private letter of counsel were made public pursuant to the judges’ waivers.
- 1 former judge’s law license was suspended for 1 year in attorney discipline proceedings for her conduct as a judge.
- 2 judges were found to have violated the code of judicial conduct but no sanctions were imposed.