When St. Clair County Associate Judge Randall Kelley cleared Board of Review member Michael Crockett, Jr. of corruption charges last week, he cleared the client of a former chief judge who greatly increased his judicial power.
Former circuit judge John Baricevic, who served as Crockett’s defense lawyer, transferred hundreds of big civil actions from Circuit Judge Robert LeChien to Kelley in 2015.
Baricevic transferred about 130 asbestos actions from Circuit Judge Joseph Lopinot to Kelley last September.
Current chief judge Andrew Gleeson reversed both decisions upon taking office.
He handed Kelley’s asbestos docket to Associate Judge Heinz Rudolf, and gave the bigger group of civil suits to Associate Judge Christopher Kolker.
Baricevic elevated Kelley from family court to civil law in 2015, placing him in charge of actions previously before LeChien.
Kelley took LeChien’s spot in rotation of civil actions with Gleeson and Lopinot.
As of Feb. 12, 2016, Kelley presided over 385 civil actions.
Last September, while running for election, Baricevic relieved Lopinot of 279 actions and divided them between Kelley and Gleeson.
Nearly all the actions involved asbestos.
As a matter of form, Kelley presided over those actions for 19 weeks.
As a matter of fact, he left scarcely any print on them while they were on his docket.
In that time, Lopinot signed more orders in those actions than Kelley did.
Gleeson signed orders in some of Kelley’s asbestos actions, before assigning all of them to Rudolf on Feb. 2.
In the broader docket that Kelley had inherited from LeChien in 2015, Kolker took charge without formal notice.
Starting on Dec. 1, lawyers who appeared before Kelley in October and November found themselves appearing before Kolker.
At that point, judges had chosen Gleeson to replace Baricevic in the wake of his November loss to current Circuit Judge Ron Duebbert.
When Gleeson removed Kelley from civil law, he moved Kelley to criminal court.
On Jan. 31, Gleeson assigned to Kelley four felony counts alleging that Board of Review member Crockett took a bribe to reduce the tax on a property.
Circuit Judge Robert Haida had recused himself on Jan. 26.
Kelley set trial on May 11, without a jury.
On May 10, assistant state’s attorney Daniel Lewis moved to continue the trial.
Lewis wrote that the state was made aware of additional defense witnesses on May 5, and appointments were made to speak with them on May 9.
He wrote that after reviewing their statements in conjunction with other discovery, the state needed time to gather more information.
Kelley denied the motion, held trial, and found Crockett did no wrong.