Name: Ron Duebbert
Office sought: Circuit Judge for the Twentieth Judicial Circuit (At-Large)
Party affiliation: Republican
Previous elected positions and years served: None
Why are you running?: For many years, I have wanted to serve the public in a capacity other than as a practicing private lawyer. My background in the private practice of law is extensive. I have tried cases and had contested hearings in over 40 counties. In my view, I have more and more varied experience in private law practice than does my opponent. This wide experience will serve the public when I am their judge. The public will have a judge who follows the letter and the spirit of the law-- no controversial resignations to run for election here! I am independent and free from political influence, including influence arising out of judicial election contributions from powerful lawyers, law firms and unions. With my election, the monetary contribution shackles which currently affect the local judiciary will be abated by at least one judge.
Moreover, for many years, and certainly since Spring 2013 with the St. Clair County Judge Drug Scandal, by its seeming lack of public response to that scandal, the judicial leadership in the Twentieth Judicial Circuit has been appeared to be in intensive care on life support. Indeed, the public is crying out for new judicial leadership, and with my election, a new Chief Judge will be chosen.
I will be the judge of the people and for the people, an elected circuit judge who the people will want to respect.
Do you believe judges should be able resign in order to run for election, rather than retention? Why or why not?: No, judges should be able to resign their position to run for partisan, contested election as have the three Democrat circuit judges in the Twentieth Judicial District. (Note that Judge Richard A. Brown, who is a resident judge in Randolph County, is running for retention on Nov. 8.) Since the Illinois Constitution was ratified, every judge--other than four in St. Clair County-- has understood that Article 6, Section 12(d), meant that judges run for retention. The language of Section 12 is clear-- a circuit judge "who has been elected to that office" runs for retention ON HIS/HER RECORD AS A JUDGE, and s/he must get 60 percent of the vote.
In effect, the Illinois Constitution gives a 40 percent plus one person MINORITY of the voters the right to choose a new judge.
In the case of the three resigning St. Clair County Judges, they have taken away the right of VOTER CHOICE which the Illinois Constitution granted to the voters. The judges chose to run for election which requires only 50 percent plus one vote to win, a decrease of TEN PERCENT in the number of votes that they need to stay in office with a retention vote based UPON THEIR JUDICIAL RECORDS.
Note that my opponent, Chief Judge John Baricevic, has said that by resigning, the voters’ choice is "increased," but what he referenced FIRST to the media was the additional 10 percent of the vote required for retention: “When you run for retention you (must) get 60 percent of the vote but the voters don’t have a choice of who it’s going to be. . . * * * *” (Source, BND 26 August 2015).
And, if election instead of retention offered such a better "voice" to the voters, why did not ONE Democrat challenge the resigning judges in the primary? And why did one judge, Richard Brown in Randolph County, run for retention and not election? Perhaps in Randolph County the voters do not "deserve" the same "choice" that the St. Clair County voters deserve?
Last, Article 6, Section 12(c) addresses judicial VACANCIES on the court: "* * * * [V]acancies may be filled by appointment by the Supreme Court." Nowhere does Section 12(c) allow a judge who has resigned to “self-appoint” himself to fill the vacancy he created for his own judgeship. And every one of the St. Clair County judges “self-appointed” to fill the very judicial vacancies which they created. This was the basis of the "judge lawsuit" appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, which the Court refused to hear. The Supremes refusal followed partisan lines, with the four Democrats refusing to hear the case.
The voters are going to have to decide just why the three current “resigned” judges refused to face a retention vote. In my view, the Democrat judges who resigned to run for election have flummoxed the voters. They proved it when Judge Brown in Randolph County ran for retention while they run for election. Where is that "choice" in Randolph County?
Judges should run for retention ON THEIR JUDICIAL RECORD once they have been elected as judge, whether that be circuit, appellate, or supreme. That keeps politics out of the judiciary, just like or Illinois Constitutional Framers intended.
Do you plan to serve your full term?: Yes. And pursuant to the Illinois Constitution-- both the letter and the spirit-- I shall run for retention in 2022. Unlike the current judges who have resigned, to run for re-election, I shall not hoodwink the public and deprive them of the right to retain me based upon my judicial record.
There’s an opioid and drug abuse problem in the area. How should law enforcement approach the issue to stem the tide of drug abuse?: This is both a crime issue and public health issue with which the entire country is dealing; it is clearly not one which can be “settled” by any one judge, nor will law enforcement alone settle the issue. As a lawyer and criminal defense attorney for over twenty-five years, I have some ideas to address the current opioid and other drug abuse crisis.
The tired old issue of increased police investigation into MAJOR drug dealers, along with arrests for drug trafficking and opioid drug sales (as well as sales for other non-recreational use drugs, as well as illegally obtained prescription drugs) must be utilized. The concentration must be on large-scale drug dealers and repeat drug-distribution offenders. Sentences after conviction for major drug dealers and repeat drug distribution offenders must become more severe.
And treatment for drug users-- and that includes first-time drug distributors-- must be markedly increased from current levels. The voters already have the court drug diversion program, and it must be expanded. Lack of funding is clearly a very significant obstacle to all treatment. Current sentencing alternatives such as first offender probation, and treatment as an election of probation, should be expanded as much as is possible.
Public and private education programs must be encouraged and funded-- but again the issue of money rears up.
It is a sad reality that drug use and addiction (along with alcohol addiction) know no socio-economic bounds. Drug addiction is not prejudiced in any manner-- so rich folks, poor folks, folks with lots of education and those with none, inner city and suburban dwellers, white folks and black folks-- ALL may become addicted. And what method can begin to address drug addiction and root it out? Four words-- VOLUNTARY RANDOM DRUG TESTING. Yes, in high schools-- especially in high schools, on college campuses-- especially on college campuses, at work, and yes, even in the courthouse, and even for judges.
And why not? People want to be part of a group, not every group, but some groups. And we all live our lives subject to rules, as well as the rule of law. Those rules allow us all to live with each other even though we have many different views and beliefs. Most of us want to be respected by our peers, as well as "liked" by some. And therein lies the reason why voluntary (and mandatory) drug testing will work-- and work better than nothing.
When leaders agree to a course of action-- like voluntary random drug testing- and when they can identify good reasons for that action, then other group members may follow. Clearly not all members will follow, but for those folks who do not participate, watch can be kept by parents, brothers and sisters, friends, significant others, and other group members for the people who do not participate. It is that simple.
Had a voluntary random drug testing program been in place for Twentieth Judicial Circuit judges (and the St. Clair County State’s Attorney’s Office) when one sitting judge died of a cocaine overdose, and another ultimately went to prison for possession of heroin, maybe that death and that imprisonment may have been prevented. In the end, treatment and prevention are far less expensive for society than are deaths and incarcerations (an issue way too long to address here). I wager that the vast majority of the voters will agree with me that we would have all been better off had the Judge Drug Scandal not occurred. And it may have been prevented had the Twentieth Judicial Circuit been lead by a real leader with reasonable foresight.
Similarly, if society is able to prevent opioid drug addiction and other drug addiction, and to CATCH use and addiction early, we all benefit.
What is the biggest issue facing our court system, and how would you address it?: Clearly, the major issue facing our local court system is the public’s lack of credibility in the judiciary and the courts. This problem arose out of the cocaine death of one judge in March 2013, and the subsequent arrest in May 2013 of another judge for possession of heroin (AMAZINGLY charged by the federal prosecutor as a misdemeanor, but that is another story), and his ultimate conviction and sentence to prison. The very foundations of the local judiciary and courts were rocked and called into question. The drug use and addiction were not caught or addressed by the local judicial leadership despite all the years of general public warning signs about opioid abuse and dependency. The local judicial leadership did not have in place a random, voluntary judge drug testing program. To have one would have been easy-- and smart.
Surely no person can reasonably argue that the public should not have the right to believe that its judges are drug-free. The public has a right to believe that its judges and courts are not sullied by illegal drugs. The public has a right to have its judiciary and courts prove that they are drug-free. Is that too much to ask of our elected (and appointed) officials?
Yet after those two seismic events, the public was apparently not informed by the mass media of the local judicial leadership's actions to address the clear judge drug abuse and/or addiction issues-- at least of those two judges-- through a judge drug testing program. But absent such program, how could the public know that no other judge was similarly addicted and thus compromised? Surely most judges did not and do not abuse drugs-- but two did-- and the Chief Judge told the media that he did not know about it.
The logical way to prove to the public that no other judges were using or do use illegal drugs is to have the judges voluntarily submit to random drug testing. That would be good leadership, and it does not require a law or a constitutional amendment. It merely requires a judge drug testing program in which any judge may participate. If s/he does not, then the public can take that up at retention time-- or a good Chief Judge would take that up at a “come to Jesus” meeting with the non-participating judge(s).
Remember that only in the last three months has the public been informed by the Chief Judge-- but without proof- that a drug testing program for judges even exists. This lack of PUBLIC response to the drug scandal allowed the voters' confidence in its local judiciary to further erode.
To recap, the reasonable and proper judicial leadership response would have been for judges to immediately take drug tests and print the results in local mass media and on a website (with safeguards in place for prescribed drugs, of course). Perhaps had the local judicial leadership, including the Chief Judge, voluntarily submitted to drug testing after these seismic events, the public's faith in the judiciary would have suffered less of a blow.
But while the Chief Judge COULD have put a VOLUNTARY random drug testing program in place for the judges in the Twentieth Judicial Circuit right after the Judge Drug Scandal-- like the State's Attorney's Office did-- that route was apparently not chosen. Note, too, the word “voluntary” as opposed to “mandatory.” ANY GROUP, including judges, may begin a voluntary drug testing program, and participate in it, too.
Unfortunately, I have been informed by two judges present at a judicial meeting in summer of 2013 (after the very sad judge drug-related death and arrest) that voluntary random drug testing of all judges was apparently not approved by the judges. Perhaps this issue demands further investigation.
Currently, the voters' lack of faith in the judiciary has not been diminished by very recent local mass media reports on the issue. In those reports, Chief Judge John Baricevic has stated that a drug screening (not testing) program has actually been in place in St. Clair County and/or the Twentieth Judicial Circuit for about three years, and that he participates in it. John also wrote me the following in a private letter: “The Twentieth Circuit has a voluntary drug screening program in which I participate.”
Contributing even more to the voters' lack of faith in the judiciary and courts are the conflicting statements made by Chief Judge John Baricevic. In his private letter dated August 9, 2016 (conveniently about 90 days before the election), John wrote that "I support random drug testing for judges." Yet he also has made the following statements to the MASS MEDIA relating to the Judge Drug Scandal and judge drug testing: 1-- BND November 19, 2013, “[I]f the Illinois Supreme Court says, “take a [drug] test,” I'll take a test.” And 2-- FOX 2 News (KTVI) video, August 14, 2013, "At this point we have had one judge in the history of the county that's charged with a misdemeanor. It does not appear to me that that gravity of the problem would require a constitutional amendment.” The Chief Judge did not mention in his interview that one judge had died of a cocaine overdose while partying at second judge's family cabin. He did not mention that the misdemeanor for which the second judge had been arrested was possession of heroin (never a misdemeanor under Illinois law). He did not mention that the second judge had been charged with a federal firearm-related felony. Perhaps voters might think that by virtue of the Chief Judge's not telling the public the WHOLE story, the John mislead the public. The voters will have to be the judge of that.
So. . . ., based upon “confidentiality” concerns, the Chief Judge has provided no information (apparently other than his two drug test results) about the drug testing program to the public. It appears that the public may be forgiven for wondering why it has been denied this relevant information, without which the voters' confidence in the judiciary can not be changed in any manner.
Of course, the rules of participation for any judge drug testing program designed to increase the public's confidence in the judiciary MUST be provided to the public. After all, a program apparently kept secret from the public until about three months before the election can have no effect on the public-- because the public does not even know that it exists!
Our Chief Judge laments that mandatory drug testing of Illinois judges is not allowed. But so what??? Nothing prohibits a voluntary program-- AND THAT IS THE SOLUTION TO THE DRUG ABUSE ISSUES HANGING OVER OUR LOCAL COURTS. To address the lack of public's lack of credibility in the their judiciary and courts, the Twentieth Judicial Circuit must release all of the documents pertaining to the current drug screening program to the public, including the rules for participation as well as the rules for removal from the voluntary program. Absent this information, a voluntary random judge drug testing program must be written, and local judges should be allowed to participate, AND THE RESULTS MUST BE MADE PUBLIC. I will write a random voluntary judge drug testing program with help from drug testing experts after I am elected.
After all, the voting public is very often subject to MANDATORY random drug testing at their workplaces. Why should judges be treated different and be "above the laws" for other ordinary people?
Why should people vote for you?: The people should vote for Ron Duebbert as their circuit judge because I am free from the influence of politics-- no more politics in the courtroom. For a period of two years after I take judicial office, I have pledged to disqualify myself from all cases where any party has contributed more than $250 to my campaign.
More importantly, I will strictly follow our Illinois Constitution and laws-- both the letter and the spirit of both. I will not resign my judgeship and then run for re-election, claiming that my resignation offers the public a cockamamie "choice" when I am really taking away their constitutionally granted choice to not retain me with only a 40 percent plus one vote minority.
Most importantly, I will have been and will continue to be the public voice which has consistently and loudly-- and without apology-- given voice to the public's clamor for judge drug testing. I will submit to the public's desire that a judge demonstrate that he or she is certified free of illegal drugs. I will thus continue to make public the results of my own drug tests.
The reasons to elect me over my opponent can not be more clear. The choice is between more of the same with the current ruling elite-- and we all know what that is and what results that has provided-- or a new choice and a new vision, a judge of the people and for the people, a judge who earns the respect of the people.