MOUNT VERNON – Former St. Clair County circuit judge Michael
Cook accepted a guilty plea without making sure the defendant understood it,
Fifth District appellate judges ruled on May 11.
They ordered a circuit court hearing for Floyd Robinson,
currently serving 10 years for shoplifting and escaping from a police station
to a nearby bush.
Justice Richard Goldenhersh wrote that Cook failed to ask
Robinson whether any promises were used to obtain his plea.
“If the trial court asked defendant whether any promises had
been made and defendant denied any such promises, then we might be inclined to
rule differently,” Goldenhersh wrote.
He wrote that an exchange between Cook and Robinson at a
plea hearing showed a clear communication problem between Robinson and counsel
Goldenhersh found Liefer’s handling of the motion to
withdraw the plea “especially egregious” in light of Cook’s failure to ask
Justices Melissa Chapman and Thomas Welch concurred.
Cahokia police took Robinson into custody in 2012, after a
Wal-Mart loss prevention officer charged that he stuffed ink cartridges into
Police took him to the station, but he fled. They found him
behind a bush.
The state’s attorney pressed two counts of burglary, one
count of retail theft, and one count of escape.
Public defender Anne Keeley represented Robinson at first,
but public defender Alex Baker replaced her.
Baker negotiated an agreement to dismiss the burglary counts
in exchange for an open plea of guilty on retail theft and escape.
At a plea hearing, Cook told Robinson the possible penalty
for escape included an extended term sentence of three to 14 years.
Robinson said he understood.
At a sentencing hearing, Baker asked for probation, the state
asked for 14 years on escape and six on retail theft, and Cook took it under
Next day, acting without his lawyer, Robinson filed a motion
to withdraw his plea.
Robinson wrote that if he had known about the extended term
on the escape charge, he would have accepted the state’s early offer of three
He wrote that the state made the offer to Keeley and never
He wrote that he told Baker about the offer and Baker told
him to plead guilty with a “no cap” plea to get probation.
Baker then filed a motion to reconsider the sentence.
At a hearing Cook found a conflict of interest between
Robinson and Baker.
Cook then appointed Andrew Liefer to represent Robinson.
Liefer filed a motion to withdraw the plea and vacate
judgment, writing that the plea was not knowing and voluntary.
He filed with the motion a certificate stating he consulted
Robinson in person and ascertained his contention of error in the sentence and
Robinson meanwhile filed further motions about the three
At a hearing on Oct. 17, 2012, a prosecutor said he wanted
to make sure Liefer’s motion would go forward and Robinson’s would be waived
Liefer agreed, and Cook asked Robinson if that was his
Robinson said, “This is the first time I’ve known about it
but I guess so, yes sir.”
At the close of the hearing Cook denied the motion.
Robinson then filed motions alleging Liefer was ineffective.
At a hearing Cook told him he entered his plea knowingly
with advice of counsel.
Cook found Robinson didn’t show that any errors by Liefer
made a difference.
He imposed 10 years on the escape, concurrent with three
years on retail theft.
Appellate defender Jacqueline Bullard of Springfield
appealed for Robinson, challenging Liefer’s certificate and Cook’s judgment.
Robinson won both points.
Goldenhersh wrote that Liefer failed to certify that he
amended Robinson’s motion as necessary for adequate presentation of defects in
He wrote that Liefer failed to raise any of the numerous
claims that Robinson set forth about Baker’s ineffectiveness.
“While we would not expect Liefer’s motion to necessarily
recite all allegations defendant made in his pro se motions, we would expect
the motion to contain at least one of defendant’s contentions,” Goldenhersh
He wrote that Cook’s exchange with Robinson showed a clear
communication problem between Liefer and Robinson.
“From this exchange we can only surmise that attorney Liefer
and defendant never discussed the fact that issues defendant attempted to raise
in his numerous post plea pro se motions were being waived, and they were only
proceeding on this issues raised in Liefer’s motion,” he wrote.
Liefer’s failure to certify that he amended the motion was
“especially egregious” in light of Cook’s failure to ask about promises, he
As for Cook, he quoted a Supreme Court rule providing that,
“The court shall not accept a plea of guilty without first determining that the
plea is voluntary.”
Goldenhersh wrote that where Robinson repeatedly alleged
that Baker promised probation if he pleaded guilty, and the record fails to
rebut the allegation, a question remains as to whether he voluntarily and
intelligently pleaded guilty.
Cook resigned in 2013, after his arrest on misdemeanor
charges that he possessed heroin and used it while possessing firearms.
He pleaded guilty and served two years in prison.
Since his arrest and
prosecution, Cook’s record as a judge has been repudiated.
Judge Robert Haida overturned jury verdicts finding two murder suspects guilty,
on no grounds but prejudice due to Cook’s heroin addiction.
second murder trial for suspect William Cosby resulted in acquittal.
District appellate judges have reversed several of Cook’s judgments, not on
account of his addiction but on account of errors he committed.