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Prosecutor files complaint against judge linked to murder defendant

New St. Clair County Circuit Judge Ron Duebbert sworn in

Ron Duebbert was sworn in on Dec. 5 as a St. Clair County Circuit Judge. Duebbert, a Republican, defeated former Chief Judge John Baricevic, a Democrat, in the Nov. 8 election.
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Ron Duebbert was sworn in on Dec. 5 as a St. Clair County Circuit Judge. Duebbert, a Republican, defeated former Chief Judge John Baricevic, a Democrat, in the Nov. 8 election.

St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly has filed a complaint with the state’s Judicial Inquiry Board against Circuit Judge Ron Duebbert, accusing him of lying to police, talking to the press about a murder investigation and using a racial epithet.

The complaint was obtained by the News-Democrat under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

Duebbert, 55, declined to comment Thursday afternoon.

“Specifically, Judge Duebbert allegedly did not uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary...” Kelly wrote.

Kelly, who declined to comment, is required to report violations of the Illinois Code of Judicial Conduct to the Judicial Inquiry Board. His complaint is dated Jan. 7.

Earlier this month, Kelly requested a special prosecutor to review evidence presented by the Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis, which had asked for obstruction-of-justice charges against Duebbert. No charges have been filed against Duebbert.

The Major Case Squad was investigating the shooting death of Carl Silas.

The complaint involves Duebbert telling a reporter in the hours after the Dec. 30 killing that he had been interviewed by police and that David Fields, a 20-year-old man who had lived with Duebbert, was a “person of interest” in the death of Silas, 28. Court records state that Duebbert told Major Case Squad investigators he did not have any contact with Fields since 8 p.m. on Dec. 29 — the night before the killing, but his cell phone records showed he texted Fields nine times and Fields returned his texts twice after that time. The complaint also alleges that Duebbert used a racial slur, but it was unclear where or when that is alleged to have happened.

Duebbert, who is gay, has said he did not have a romantic relationship with Fields. Duebbert has said he was trying to be a good Christian by allowing Fields, who was on parole for a 2013 aggravated assault charge, to stay with him. Duebbert said he hoped it would help Fields straighten out his life.

In early December, Fields listed his address at Duebbert’s home on Powder Miller Road near Belleville. Fields was required to register on the Illinois State Police’s Murder and Violent Offender Against Youth Registry after he admitted to assaulting a 17-year-old pregnant girl at Belleville East High School. In exchange for his guilty plea in that case, prosecutors dropped a criminal sexual assault charge against Fields. He was sentenced to six years in prison.

Duebbert, who was elected in November, has said that he told Fields to move out before he was sworn in as a circuit judge. St. Clair County Chief Judge Andrew Gleeson removed Duebbert from felony cases after he learned Fields listed his residence at Duebbert’s house.

The 2013 case against Fields also refers to a juvenile case against Fields. In the juvenile case, Fields was accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old in his mother’s home. Just days before Fields pleaded guilty in the adult case, prosecutors had won in their efforts to present evidence from the juvenile case against him.

Fields and Duebbert met in 2013 in the parking lot of Duebbert’s law office. Fields was admiring Duebbert’s car, and the two men struck up a conversation, Duebbert has said. At the time, Fields, then 17, was free on bond on the assault charge.

Fields has posted videos on Facebook showing himself and Duebbert together. In one video, from May 19, 2015 — about four months before Fields went to prison — Fields is seen riding in Duebbert’s Porsche while Duebbert is driving. Fields uses gang language, threatens violence, refers to his Versace pants and tells Duebbert the two “look like millionaires.” In one of the videos, he calls Duebbert “Dollar Bill.”

In August 2015, after Fields pleaded guilty, a phone log from the St. Clair County jail showed Fields called Duebbert’s cell phone twice. The calls were recorded by the sheriff’s department, but the department has declined a BND request for a copy of the recordings. The calls, made on Aug. 14 and 15 of 2015, lasted six and nine minutes respectively, according to the phone log, which was obtained under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

An inmate interview form from Aug. 12, 2015, also showed that Duebbert visited Fields at the jail for about 40 minutes. Duebbert listed himself as an attorney for Fields, which would have allowed him a face-to-face visit with Fields, instead of conversing over phones on recorded lines with plexiglass between them.

Sheriff Rick Watson said Duebbert could have signed in as a regular visitor, but he chose to sign in as an attorney. Sometimes lawyers are sent by family to visit an inmate and sign in as an attorney even if they are not the attorney of record, according to the sheriff. Watson said that would not have been the case with Duebbert and Fields because Fields had already been convicted and sentenced and was just awaiting transport to prison.

“I believe it’s a violation of professional conduct because that’s what it comes down to,” Watson said.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Duebbert visited Fields when he was in prison at Graham Correctional Facility in Hillsboro. The Department of Corrections denied an information request seeking Fields’ visitor logs.

Fields was paroled from DOC on Oct. 24, 2016. The terms of his parole stated he was to be under close supervision, meaning that he was to have phone contact with his parole officer twice a day for the first 60 days after his release. He was also required to undergo an evaluation for anger management and mental health counseling. Fields was required to seek employment and stay away from his victim.

Duebbert, a Republican, defeated longtime Democrat and former Chief Judge John Baricevic in the Nov. 8 election. Gleeson, the new chief judge, has ordered that Duebbert not preside over any cases for now, and instead perform administrative duties. Duebbert continues to receive his $194,500 annual salary. He was sworn in on Dec. 5. Silas was shot 25 days later.

Beth Hundsdorfer: 618-239-2570, @bhundsdorfer

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