Baricevic elected temporary chief in 20th Circuit

Ann Knef Dec. 13, 2006, 10:13am

John Baricevic

Jan Fiss

St. Clair County Circuit Judge John Baricevic was elected interim chief judge in a meeting today of the court's 12 circuit judges.

"It is important that the citizens of the 20th Judicial Circuit see the judiciary as acting to ensure the fair administration of justice while a judge of this circuit is facing a DUI charge," Baricevic said in a statement. "I pledge to carry out that direction given to me by the circuit judge of this circuit."

Circuit Judge Michael O'Malley had been acting as chief judge since Chief Judge Jan Fiss stepped down last week over the DUI arrest of Circuit Judge Patrick Young on Dec. 3.

Fiss was a passenger in Young's vehicle which crashed into an oncoming vehicle as the judges were returning from a St. Louis Rams game at about 5 p.m. The other driver suffered serious injuries.

O'Malley described the mood of judges as somber.

"Judges are human," he said. He added, "There is pain, there is suffering and disappointment."

St. Clair County State's Attorney Robert Haida has said he will ask a special prosecutor to investigate Young's case. Haida could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Baricevic, a former state's attorney and St. Clair County Board Chairman, was elected to a six-year term as circuit judge in 2004.

A press release issued by the court on Wednesday indicated Baricevic's appointment is temporary and will be reviewed by the judges at their next quarterly meeting.

The day before he was to be sworn in as St. Clair County Circuit Judge, Young, 58, was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol and failure to yield by a Belleville Police Department patrolman.

According to the Dec. 3 police report, Young -- northbound on Frank Scott Parkway in Belleville -- turned left onto Dutch Hollow Road in front of a southbound vehicle driven by Abel Muhammed, 40, of Swansea. Young was driving a 2005 GMC Yukon.

Muhammed, who had to be extricated from his 2006 Toyota Tundra, was treated and released from Memorial Hospital's emergency room.

According to the police report, Muhammed suffered facial lacerations and complained of a broken leg.

Fiss, 64, also was set to take an oath of office the morning after the accident after winning retention in the Nov. 7 election.

According to the police report, Young was "unstable in his stance, swaying forward and backwards...when the suspect walked to the rear of the vehicle I noted he was staggering side to side in an unbalanced motion," Patrolman Shane Brown wrote in a report.

Brown wrote that Young refused to answer whether he had been drinking.

Young, who ran unopposed in the general election Nov. 7, won a six-year term as a circuit judge.

"I smelled a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from the suspect and noted he had slurred speech when talking to me," Brown wrote in his report.

The report stated that Fiss was seen emptying a can of Bud Light at the scene of the accident.

"After pouring out the beer, Fiss made several attempts to conceal the can in an inside pocket on the front of his coat before finally sweeping," Patrolman Jeffrey Sheary, who assisted Brown, stated in a supplemental report.

Brown asked Fiss what he did with the beer can.

"Witness #2 (Fiss) stated, 'I was told to get rid of it'," Brown wrote. "I asked witness #2 who told him to get rid of the beer can and he refused to answer my question. I then asked him where he disposed of it and he stated, 'along the road.'"

After refusing a field sobriety test, Young was arrested, handcuffed and taken to police headquarters. He posted a $100 cash bond.

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