EAST ST. LOUIS – U.S. District Judge Joe McDade of Peoria has taken charge of criminal proceedings against former St. Clair County circuit judge Michael Cook.
McDade burst on the scene out of the blue.
The docket of district court in East St. Louis shows that on Sept. 9, he set a telephone hearing for that day at 2:30 p.m., for counsel only. U.S. District Chief Judge David Herndon posted McDade’s appointment on Sept. 10.
The court had not posted advance notice of the hearing nor of McDade’s appointment to replace District Judge William Stiehl.
Stiehl recused himself from Cook’s heroin possession case on Aug. 28, about a month ahead of a trial date he had set.
McDade has lived an astonishing life, according to official records and a biography on the website of Just the Beginning Foundation.
He was born in Texas, in 1937, to a mother who died when he was a year old.
His father raised him and a sister but died nine years later.
His father’s mother then raised them, and Joe helped pay bills by picking cotton and shelling garlic.
Brilliant in studies and sports, he earned a basketball scholarship at Bradley University in Peoria.
Bradley ranked in the nation’s top 10 all three years he played there, and won the National Invitational Tournament in 1959.
That same year he earned a degree in economics with honors, and the next year he earned a master’s degree in psychology at Bradley.
In 1963, he earned a law degree at the University of Michigan.
There he met his future wife, now Justice Mary McDade of the Third District appellate court of Illinois.
They’ve been married 50 years.
Joe helped start Peoria’s first racially mixed firm in 1968, and he started his own firm in 1977.
He gained appointment as associate judge 1982, and won election as circuit judge in 1988.
President Bush nominated him for the federal bench in 1991, and the U.S. Senate confirmed him.
He served as chief judge from 1998 to 2004.
At a hearing in 2009, in a case involving an achievement gap between Blacks and Whites in Champaign schools, he broke a rule against television cameras in court.
He declared the community needed to watch the proceedings.
He later apologized for his decision.
He took senior status in 2010.
Now he presides over a case that has damaged the reputation of the judiciary.
U.S. Attorney Stephen Wiggington charged Cook with heroin possession in May.
The court assigned the case to District Judge Michael Reagan, who recused himself.
The court assigned it to Stiehl, who set trial July 30.
On June 19, Stiehl continued trial to Oct. 1.
He found that Cook required several weeks of drug treatment and could not participate in preparing his defense.
“Defense counsel shall promptly notify the court once the defendant returns to the district after treatment,” Stiehl wrote.
No docket entry shows notice of Cook’s return.
The trial date stands, with Sept. 23 on the calendar for a final pretrial conference at 11 a.m.