When St. Clair County Circuit Judge Ronald Duebbert met with detectives investigating a murder in Belleville, he had David Fields' cellphone, but he didn't tell them that Fields, the prime suspect and a former roommate of Duebbert's, had it the night before when a man was gunned down in his east Belleville apartment, according to a complaint issued Thursday by the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board.
That complaint could be the first step in removing Duebbert from the bench through the filing of civil charges that he lied to detectives investigating a murder, then lied again to the judicial board.
Neither Duebbert nor his attorney — Scott Rosenblum of St. Louis — could be reached for comment. Dan Fultz, Duebbert's other attorney, declined to comment.
The Judicial Inquiry Board investigates complaints involving Illinois state court judges and judicial candidates. Kevin Fee, the board's attorney, could not be immediately reached for comment.
The phone in question was an iPhone 6 that Duebbert gave to David Fields in 2015 before Fields went to prison for beating a pregnant teen at Belleville East High School, the complaint stated. Duebbert retrieved the phone in 2016, when Fields was released from prison.
But it was the whereabouts of the phone in the hours before and after the shooting of Carl Z. Silas, of Belleville, in an east Belleville apartment on Dec. 30, 2016, that is the basis for the JIB complaint.
According to the complaint:
- Duebbert met Fields in a gas station parking lot in Belleville the evening of Dec. 29, 2016. Duebbert gave Fields a bag of his belongings that had been stored at Duebbert's house. The iPhone was returned to Fields at or just before that meeting. Duebbert did not tell the investigators about that meeting.
- Duebbert and Fields communicated on their respective phones throughout the night.
- Hours after Silas' murder, Duebbert received a call from one of Fields' friends, informing him that Fields was involved in a murder. Later, Fields called Duebbert and the two talked for three minutes.
- Investigators met with Duebbert at about 3:45 p.m. on Dec. 30, 2016. He told them that he took the phone back from Fields in late November or early December because "the phone, I determined it wasn't smart to let him have that phone. So I took it back. Actually, I didn't. My sister had it, so he doesn't have it right now."
- Duebbert told police that if he talked to Fields he was going to encourage him to turn himself in, but he hadn't talk to him. Duebbert did not tell police that he had talked to Fields by phone before the interview.
Major Case Squad investigators requested that obstruction of justice charges be filed against Duebbert, who they said lied to them during their questioning of him. A special prosecutor was appointed to review the facts, but no criminal charges were issued.
A year and a half later, Duebbert appeared before the Judicial Inquiry Board to testify about the case and whether he had acted improperly.
According to the complaint, during the testimony before the board on May 12 and June 9, Duebbert testified:
- He believed Fields had the iPhone at the time he was interviewed.
- After the interview he found the iPhone sitting in his garage and was "totally and utterly in shocked and stunned" to find the phone, and that he thought, "this is surreal. This is like a bad nightmare."
- He told police about the exchange of texts between him and Fields the night before the murder.
- That he told police about his conversation with Fields the morning after the murder.
- That he was truthful with the police and told them everything he knew that was relevant.
The charges allege that Duebbert lied to police officers on Dec. 30, 2016, during the investigation of Silas' murder.
"(Duebbert) made statements he knew to be false and deceptive and omitted facts that he knew were relevant to the matters they were investigating. (Duebbert's) misrepresentations, deceptions and omissions concerned facts that were relevant to an active murder investigation," according to a press release issued by the board.
The complaint also alleges that Duebbert lied when he testified before the Judicial Inquiry Board on May 12 and June 9.
Fields was released from prison in 2016. He asked his parole officer for permission to move into Duebbert's house near Belleville, but the request was denied because Duebbert kept guns there. On Nov. 4, 2016, the request was approved after Duebbert agreed to move the guns to another location.
Duebbert, a Republican, beat longtime Democrat John Baricevic for his seat on the bench on Nov. 8, 2016.
On Dec. 2, 2016, Fields moved out of Duebbert's home, just three days before Duebbert was sworn in. St. Clair County Circuit Judge Andrew Gleeson, who took over for Baricevic as chief judge, quickly took Duebbert off criminal cases due to Duebbert's association with Fields.
When the murder occurred on Dec. 30, 2016, Gleeson barred Duebbert from hearing any cases. Since then, Duebbert has remained a circuit judge collecting $193,600 in salary.
"He's entitled to due process as the prosecution takes place before the Illinois Courts Commission. Until there's an adjudication by the Courts Commission, he will remain on administrative duties," Gleeson said Thursday.
Duebbert, who is gay, has also been charged with sexual abuse and intimidation related to allegations that he fondled a former client, offered to reduce his legal bill by $100 in exchange for oral sex, then threatened him to keep quiet. Those charges are pending.
Fields remains in the St. Clair County Jail on the murder charges.