(This story has been updated).
St. Clair County Circuit Judge Michael Cook has been charged with heroin-related offenses in federal court in East St. Louis.
He waived indictment on charges of possessing heroin and being an unlawful user of a controlled substance in possession of firearms, according to documents filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois.
Cook has consented to a prosecution by information rather than indictment.
He waived formal arraignment on the information and entered a plea of not guilty to all charges.
Cook was present today for a hearing before Magistrate Judge Clifford Proud. It began at 9:55 a.m. and ended at 10:10 a.m.
The case was initially assigned to U.S. District Judge Michael Reagan, but Reagan recused himself. It has been reassigned to U.S. District Judge William D. Stiehl.
A trial is scheduled to begin July 15.
Cook was released on an unsecured recognizance bond. His release came with some conditions, among them he was ordered to surrender his passport, submit to drug testing and participate in substance abuse therapy if deemed advisable.
In related developments, Pike County Sheriff and Coroner Paul Petty confirmed that former St. Clair County Associate Judge Joseph Christ died in March of cocaine intoxification.
A statement released by the Coroner’s office states that Christ was found in a cabin in rural Pleasant Hill by Cook.
The statement released from Pike County says that cocaine and paraphernalia were taken into custody by the coroner at the time Christ’s body was discovered and was submitted to the Illinois State Police Forensic Lab in Springfield.
Cook was the only other person on the property at the time of the incident, according to the statement.
It also says that the Pike County 911 system received a call from the cabin at 6:18 p.m. on Sunday, March 10, indicating that a white male, age 49, had been found unconscious on the floor of a bathroom.
Warrants were executed Wednesday evening at Cook’s Belleville home, court chambers and the hunting cabin in Pike County
Cook is being represented by J. William Lucco of Edwardsville and Michael J. Nester of Belleville.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys James L. Porter and Suzanne M. Garrison are prosecuting the case.
The case against Cook was revealed Thursday morning, when State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly filed close to 500 motions for the substitution of judge in pending criminal cases before Cook. Kelly stated in those motions that he has assisted in and advanced a federal investigation of Cook.
Chief Judge John Baricevic said Thursday that the motions were moot because he had already reassigned all of the criminal felony cases Cook presided over. Baricevic said Cook had between 200-225 cases on his docket. A handwritten sign posted on Cook’s chambers stated that cases had been reassigned to Circuit Judge Robert Haida.
Kelly elaborated on the reasons for seeking substitution from Cook in only two of the hundreds of motions. He cited the cases of Deborah A. Perkins, 65, and Douglas Oliver II, 47, of Fairview Heights who were charged in September with concealment of the homicidal death of Jessica M. Williams of Collinsville.
Investigators identified Perkins and Oliver as responsible for moving the body of Williams - who died of a heroin overdose – from Fairview Heights to Washington Park to conceal her death.
Kelly stated in the Perkins and Oliver motions that he had filed complaints Thursday with the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board and the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC).
In the other hundreds of motions Kelly filed, he referenced the reasons enumerated in Perkins and Oliver.
Kelly has been contacted for comment, but has not responded.
Christ’s death came less than two weeks after he had been appointed an associate judge. He had been assigned to hear domestic violence cases. Prior to joining the judiciary, Christ served as a prosecutor for nearly 18 years and worked on cases involving violent crime and homicides.
Baricevic told the Record in March that Christ died of natural, but unknown causes. U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin in a March 18 Congressional tribute to Christ also noted that the judge died “from natural–though certainly unexpected–causes.”
Cook became an associate judge in 2007 and was appointed a circuit judge in 2010, filling the vacancy created by Annette Eckert’s retirement.
Before becoming a judge, Cook practiced law with his father, Bruce Cook, at the Belleville law firm of Cook, Ysursa, Bartholomew, Brauer & Shevlin. He also previously served as an assistant public defender.
Baricevic said on Thursday that it would be inappropriate for him to comment on when he became aware of the investigation of Cook.
“It could interfere,” he said. “I have had prior communication.”
When asked if any of the cases resolved in Cook’s court could be in jeopardy or prejudiced, Baricevic said, “Until we know the outcome, we don’t know the answer to that.”
“My first concern is to ensure in the minds of citizens that their system is honest and responsive.”
He said there would be a complete investigation and that “no stones” would be “unturned.”