ARDC drops allegation that political ad brought St. Clair County courts into disrepute

By The Madison County Record | Mar 12, 2014

Attorney regulators have abandoned an allegation that a statement Ron Duebbert made in his race against Vincent Lopinot for St. Clair County circuit judge brought the courts or the legal profession into disrepute.

On Feb. 6, Attorney Regulatory and Disciplinary Commission administrator Jerome Larkin removed the charge from a complaint he filed in November.

Charges still stand that Duebbert made a false statement about the qualifications or integrity of a judicial candidate and misrepresented a fact about an opponent.

Along with campaign misconduct, Larkin accuses Duebbert of breaking a professional rule against dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.

Larking set a hearing May 16.

Duebbert mailed almost 100,000 copies of the circular and ran it in newspapers during an unsuccessful campaign for circuit judge against Lopinot in 2012.

It identified Lopinot as supervisor of public defender Brian Trentman in 1989, when Trentman represented murder suspect Rodney Woidtke.

It stated that Lopinot and Trentman “were negligent in their representation of Mr. Woidtke in a 1989 criminal proceeding that resulted in his wrongful conviction of murder of Audrey Cardenas.”

Larkin alleges that Duebbert knew the statement was false or he made it with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity.

Duebbert’s lawyer, Michael Downey of Clayton, Mo. contends that Duebbert made an honest mistake, if he made a mistake at all.

Downey answered Larkin’s complaint on Feb. 18, and called on him to dismiss it.

“While the statements regarding Lopinot’s possible supervision of Trentman are regrettable if inaccurate, they were not made out of malice or with knowledge that they were false,” Downey wrote.

Woidtke himself believed Lopinot supervised Trentman.

After he won a new trial and cleared his name, he sued St. Clair County, Trentman and Lopinot in U.S. district court.

Woidtke never got a chance to tie Lopinot to his wrongful conviction, because a statute of limitations had run out.

The language in the circular was a summary of Woidtke’s allegations, Downey wrote in Duebbert’s answer.

“Duebbert had reason to believe, after an investigation reasonable under the circumstances, that that all the statements in the campaign circular were accurate,” Downey wrote.

“Duebbert assisted the lawyer who defended Dale Anderson, the person sometimes identified as actually responsible for the Cardenas murder.”

Downey wrote that Duebbert and his campaign sought information about public defenders in the relevant period.

He wrote that the county indicated it would provide the records only if it received a formal request.

“Duebbert further notes that recently his counsel attempted to obtain information about the St. Clair public defenders during the relevant period, but has been told that the office of public defender is excluded from the Freedom of Information Act because it is a part of the judicial branch,” Downey wrote.

He wrote that the complaint doesn’t prove that Lopinot didn’t exercise supervision over Trentman when Trentman was defending Woidtke.

The charges in the complaint relate to political speech protected under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Downey wrote.

“Duebbert performed some due diligence to ascertain whether the campaign circular was accurate,” he wrote.

“Such due diligence should be adequate, even if the ultimate statement is or was factually incorrect.”


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