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Accusation from 1999 can be used in Duebbert's sex abuse trial, judge rules

Judge Duebbert surrenders to police in November 2017

In this BND file video from Nov. 8, 2017, Judge Ronald Duebbert was officially booked on charges that include criminal sexual abuse and intimidation.
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In this BND file video from Nov. 8, 2017, Judge Ronald Duebbert was officially booked on charges that include criminal sexual abuse and intimidation.

A man who accused St. Clair County Circuit Judge Ron Duebbert of fondling him in 1999 can give testimony in Duebbert's upcoming trial on charges of sexual abuse.

The man, Wayne Scott, was 18 when he accused Duebbert of fondling him. He is now 37.

On Friday, a judge ruled that Scott can testify about the 1999 allegation when Duebbert goes on trial for new charges of sexual abuse and intimidation. The new charges stem from a 2016 allegation made by another man, who has not waived his anonymity. Scott has waived his anonymity.

Under Illinois law, "prior bad acts" by a defendant can come into evidence if a judge finds the allegations are similar and the evidentiary value of the testimony is not unduly prejudicial.

Prosecutor David Robinson argued that the incidents were similar — both involving young men in the criminal justice system who alleged they were fondled by Duebbert when he served as their lawyer. Both men allege they were offered discounted legal fees in exchange for sex acts.

Scott Rosenblum, Duebbert's attorney, argued the two allegations were far apart in time and disparate in their facts. He also argued that testimony from Scott could prejudice the jury, keeping them from deciding the new case on the facts alone.

During the hearing, the judge questioned the prosecutor about that possibility.

"A jury could hear this and think, 'He did it before, so he must have did it again.' Then, he's toast. It's over," said Marion County Judge Mike McHaney, who is presiding over the trial.

Robinson, the prosecutor, responded: "He may be toast, but he pushed the lever on the toaster."

Duebbert was charged with battery in 1999, but the outcome of the case wasn't clear. The case, including police reports, was sealed after a judge expunged the charge at Duebbert's request.

His trial for the new case is scheduled to begin July 9.

Duebbert is facing two charges of felony sexual abuse and intimidation, plus two misdemeanors in the new case.

The new charges accuse Duebbert of fondling a 25-year-old man, who was his client, on his genitals, and offering to reduce his legal fees by $100 if the man performed oral sex on Duebbert. The man alleged that it happened in Duebbert's Belleville office on Oct. 14, 2016, just weeks before Duebbert defeated then-Chief Judge John Baricevic at the polls.

The man told police he refused the offer.

“He then reached into my shorts, felt the side of my body and grabbed my penis through my underwear,” the man wrote in a sworn affidavit. “I freaked out. I froze up for a second. I felt disgusted. I told him I’m not gay. Don’t touch me that way.”

The charges allege that Duebbert later told the man that he "better never" tell anyone.

Duebbert continues to sit as a judge, though Chief Judge Andrew Gleeson removed him from handling cases months ago.

During Friday's hearing, Robinson said they were trying to turn over all police reports from 1999 concerning Scott, but, because they were sealed under the expungement requested by Duebbert, they weren't sure what was there.

Robinson noted that a phone taken in another case was recently unlocked by the FBI, and if it contains any information relevant to Duebbert's case, the prosecution will share that information with the defense. Robinson, Lorinda Lampkin and David Neal, all of the Illinois Appellate Prosecutors' Office, were appointed to the case after the Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis asked that obstruction of justice charges be issued against Duebbert in connection with the investigation of a murder case.

The Major Case Squad was investigating the shooting death of Carl Silas, of Belleville, who police allege was murdered by 20-year-old David Fields, Duebbert's former roommate. Duebbert's cellphone records, obtained by police through a judicial search warrant, found that the judge and Fields exchanged nine text messages the night before Silas was shot to death in front of his girlfriend and baby in an east Belleville apartment.

It was not clear whose phone Robinson was talking about in court Friday, as several phones were seized in the Silas murder case.

Also Friday, the Belleville News-Democrat requested to have cameras in the courtroom during the trial. That issue is expected to be decided after a June 22 pretrial hearing.

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