Illinois Courts Commission to decide future of Duebbert’s seat on 20th Circuit bench

St. Clair County Circuit Judge Ronald R. Duebbert might lose his judgeship if the Illinois Courts Commission decides he lied to police during a murder investigation in 2016 and misled the state’s Judicial Inquiry Board under oath in 2017.

The Illinois Judiciary Board accused Duebbert of lying to them and police about his contact with his former roommate David E. Fields, who was acquitted of murder in the death of Carl Z. Silas in December 2018, in the days following the shooting.

The commission is made up of seven members: one Illinois Supreme Court judge, two appellate court judges, two circuit judges and two members of the public. The judges are selected by the court and members of the public are selected by the governor.

On Oct. 1, Duebbert testified at a disciplinary hearing at the Illinois Courts Commission in Chicago. There, the commission considered his statements, as well as the Judiciary Board’s allegations that Duebbert “made statements he knew to be false and deceptive, and omitted facts that he knew were relevant to the matters the officers were investigating” on two separate occasions.

The commission will make the final decision on whether Duebbert gets to keep his judgeship. According to commission spokesman Chris Bonjean, that decision could come any time.

“Just like for a Supreme Court decision, there is no time frame for a decision from the Courts Commission,” he said.

Duebbert, a Republican, was elected to the 20th Judicial Court on Nov. 8, 2016, defeating Democrat John Baricevic for the position. After learning of his connections to Fields, however, Chief Judge Andrew Gleeson placed him on administrative duties in January 2017, where he remains.

Police investigation

The Judiciary Board alleges that the first effort to obscure the truth came during Duebbert’s interview with two investigators from the Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis on Dec. 30, 2016. The law enforcement officers who interviewed Duebbert at his home asked what contact he had with Fields, who had been paroled to Duebbert’s home following time served for a battery on a pregnant woman charge.

Duebbert told police in the interview that he had not heard from Fields on Dec. 30, and that the last time they had talked had been the evening of Dec. 29, the night before the shooting. Duebbert had actually received a call from Fields that morning, according to cell phone records.

During that phone call, Fields told Duebbert he had “nothing to do” with the Silas’ murder, but Duebbert insisted Fields turn himself in, court documents from Duebbert’s defense state. Fields did so and was in police custody no later than 10:30 a.m.

A St. Clair County jury acquitted Fields of the murder charge on Dec. 10, 2018.

Duebbert states in a May 17 response to those claims that he understood the purpose of the police interview “to be an effort being engineered by powerbrokers disturbed by his election to link him personally with the Silas’ murder.” Those “powerbrokers” include St. Clair County judges, lawyers and media members, according to court documents.

“(Duebbert) was shaken, he was feeling vulnerable and defensive, and he was not thinking clearly, but he had no intention of misleading police, and instead, was intent on convincing them that any effort to link any weapon of his to the homicide they were investigating would fail,” the response states.

According to Duebbert, a then-BND reporter had asked him several questions about the firearms he owned, as information was circulating that the Silas murder weapon belonged to Duebbert. That made him “petrified,” the document states.

Judiciary Board complaint

The Judiciary Board also said in its complaint against Duebbert that he “falsely recounted” what he told police in the taped 2016 interview during its investigation of his actions in May and June 2017.

According to the Judiciary Board’s complaint, Duebbert said in his testimony to them that he told the officers he thought a cell phone he had let Fields use was in Fields’ possession the night of the murder. Instead, police said, the phone was in Duebbert’s possession.

When Duebbert found the phone in his garage, he said he was “totally and utterly in shock and stunned” to find the phone, according to the complaint against Duebbert. He allegedly told police, “I had given (Fields) the phone before.” Police say, however, that Duebbert had known he had the phone all along.

The Judiciary Board also says Duebbert lied when he testified to them that he had told police he texted Fields the night of Dec. 29. In the taped interview with police, there is “no such thing,” the complaint states.

Lawsuit continues

Duebbert, meanwhile, is suing the county and the state of Illinois in federal court for $10 million for being prosecuted on charges that were eventually dropped.

Duebbert was charged with criminal sexual abuse and intimidation of a former client. Those charges were dropped more than a year ago.

He faced two felonies and two misdemeanors after a 26-year-old man accused Duebbert, who was then his lawyer, of fondling him and offering to reduce his legal fees by $100 if the man performed oral sex. The man said it happened in Duebbert’s law office in the days before Duebbert defeated then-Chief Judge John Baricevic in an election.

Duebbert is suing for malicious prosecution, depriving his due process, failing to intervene, depriving his constitutional rights, civil conspiracy, and infliction emotional distress.

In the lawsuit, Duebbert says Belleville Police personnel did not follow proper procedure, and fabricated evidence.

Hana Muslic has been a public safety reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat since August 2018, covering everything from crime and courts to accidents, fires and natural disasters. She is a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Journalism and her previous work can be found in The Lincoln Journal-Star and The Kansas City Star.