Madison - St. Clair Record

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Circuit judge candidate seeking election rather than retention reassigned last year after 38 substitutions in 102 days

By The Madison County Record | Mar 16, 2016


Robert P. LeChien, running for six more years as a St. Clair County circuit judge, hasn’t carried a circuit judge’s workload for a year.

A review of court records show that Chief Judge John Baricevic stopped assigning civil law actions to LeChien last March, after litigants moved for substitute judges 38 times in 102 days.

Illinois law gives any party the right to move for substitution once, without cause, if a judge has not made a substantive ruling.

Few litigants exercise the right, and not a single one moved to substitute Circuit Judge Vincent Lopinot from a civil law case while dozens sought to substitute LeChien. Two litigants substituted Circuit Judge Andrew Gleeson in the same review period, 

Baricevic assigned LeChien to chancery court, where mortgage foreclosures dominate the docket, but court records show that move backfired.

LeChien has disqualified himself from at least 200 chancery cases in the last year, due to the heavy involvement of his family’s law firm in foreclosures.

The Illinois Supreme Court requires a judge’s disqualification if a person within the third degree of relationship acts as a lawyer in a proceeding.

Baricevic routinely issues reassignment orders on a standard form stating that, “one of the parties is represented by the LeChien Law Firm.”

Baricevic issued 10 such orders on Feb. 11, and 16 more on Feb. 18.

Baricevic and LeChien won nomination without opposition as Democrat candidates for circuit judge in the March 15 primary.

Their status for the November general election remains in doubt, pending review at the Fourth District appellate court in Springfield and the Illinois Supreme Court.

Baricevic, LeChien, and circuit judge Robert Haida could have stood for retention in the general election, but they resigned so they could run for election.

Belleville city clerk Dallas Cook filed an objection with the state election board, claiming the judges must stand for retention if they wish to keep their jobs.

The judges prevailed at the election board and in Sangamon County circuit court.

St. Clair County court records show LeChien lost jurisdiction over civil law cases after a steady stream of substitutions turned into a flood.

In 2014, litigants filed five substitution motions in August, seven in September, seven in October, and two in November.

The flood began with three motions from Dec. 8 to Dec. 15, three on Dec. 16, one on Dec. 18, two on Dec. 19, two on Dec. 23, two on Dec. 26, and one on Dec. 31.

Litigants filed six motions in January 2015, and nine in February.

Two litigants filed motions on March 5, two on March 9, one on March 13, two on March 16, one on March 17, and one on March 18.

Litigants who moved for substitution included Union Pacific, State Farm, East St. Louis, Fairview Heights, Lebanon, Cahokia, and Bi-State Development Agency.

Records show that on March 25, Baricevic pulled LeChien from the regular rotation of civil law cases among LeChien, Lopinot and Gleeson.

Baricevic gave LeChien’s spot in the rotation to associate judge Randall Kelley.

Baricevic assigned chancery cases to LeChien on March 26, but had to reassign two to associate judge Heinz Rudolf due to the LeChien firm’s involvement.

Baricevic reassigned 27 of LeChien’s chancery cases from April to June, 53 from July to September, and 63 from October to December.

This year, through March 8, Baricevic reassigned 56 of LeChien’s chancery cases.

Meanwhile, litigants in nine chancery cases more complex than home mortgage foreclosures have exercised their right of substitution against LeChien.

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