Thomas W. Smith drove too fast, didn’t wear his seat belt and beat his wife. Details of his convictions for the traffic offenses and domestic battery are available at the Union County Courthouse for anyone to examine.
But a county judge ruled that his conviction in 2008 for raping an 11-year-old girl should be kept secret, despite provisions in the Illinois Constitution that generally protect juveniles but require court records to be open for adults charged or convicted of crimes.
In Union County, that wasn’t always the case.
At least 39 felony cases, most involving sex crimes, were removed from 2007-13 by court order. Even the circuit clerk’s computerized records, known as a manifest, that include the case number, defendant’s name and description of the crime were hidden from the public.
The sealed cases were discovered during a BND investigation into the lack of prosecutions of felony sex crimes in Southern Illinois from 2005-13. They provided a false picture for the performance of State’s Attorney’s Tyler Edmonds’ office.
Most are cases where Circuit Court Judge Mark Boie was the presiding judge. It is not clear whether Boie personally ordered the cases sealed. He could not be reached for comment.
“It’s not just that they are secreting court files, they were disappearing them. And that’s something the law prohibits,” said Esther Seitz, an attorney for the Donald M. Craven, P.C., law firm in Springfield, which represents the Illinois Press Association.
Edmonds said the 10 felony sex crime prosecutions credited to his office by the BND investigation was far short of the actual total. He provided case numbers and dispositions from his files showing 58 felony sex crime prosecutions where an adult was the defendant.
Sealing felony sex crime files and not listing these cases on the circuit clerk’s felony index occurred regularly in Union County during the seven years ending with 2013, according to Boie and Associate Judge Charles Caveness, who spoke with Seitz.
A record of a judge’s order sealing a case is supposed to be available for public view. Staffers in Circuit Clerk Lorraine Moreland’s office said sealing the cases was done by a verbal ruling and that nothing existed that could be examined by reporters.
Moreland declined to comment other than to say she would do what the judges told her to do.
“There has to be evidence of the verbal order. And that evidence has to be publicly available to some degree,” Seitz said. She added that after talking with both judges, she was assured that they will edit the sealed case files to protect an underage sex crime victim’s name and return them to the public record.
Edmonds, who as prosecutor is not responsible for making sure court records are public, nevertheless said he will assist in the process of getting the removed records back into the public domain.
“I’m confident we can all come up with a resolution that will be satisfactory to everybody,” Edmonds said. “This office is committed to complete transparency while protecting the rights of victims. ... I intend to work fully with the judges and the circuit clerk.”
An Anna Police Department investigative report, obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, stated that Smith was caught in the act of molesting the 11-year-old girl. The girl’s father walked into Smith’s home and found his daughter straddling Smith’s lap with her shorts pulled down and his hands between her legs. The distraught father relayed this to police outside a hospital emergency room where his daughter was examined.
The girl, who had two sisters ages 8 and 9, told an Illinois Department of Children and Family Services investigator that Smith assaulted her four times, including raping her and performing oral sex on her in the family’s laundry room.
According to the police report, Smith placed “bubble gum stuff” on his finger before he molested her. Investigators were able to substantiate the girl’s claim when they found a bottle of lubricant labeled “ID Juicy Lube Bubble Gum Blast flavored water-based lubricating gel” in Smith’s kitchen, near the couch where he was discovered with the girl.
While these types of details are not usually available in a court file, with the file sealed it would be difficult to determine what Smith was even charged with, much less the extent of his crime. Illinois Department of Corrections records show he pleaded guilty to a single count of predatory criminal sexual assault and was sentenced to eight years.
The state considers Smith a sexual predator and requires him to sign up for the Illinois State Police sex offender registry every year for the rest of his life. Smith is serving his sentence at the Big Muddy Correctional Center.