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 Andrew Liefer.
Goldenhersh found Liefer’s handling of the motion to withdraw the plea “especially egregious” in light of Cook’s failure to ask about promises.
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 his pants.
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 advisement.
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 years.
He wrote that the state made the offer to Keeley and never retracted it.
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 the plea.
Robinson meanwhile filed further motions about the three year offer.
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 and withdrawn.
Liefer agreed, and Cook asked Robinson if that was his understanding.
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 the proceedings.
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 wrote.
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 wrote.
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.
Circuit Judge Robert Haida overturned jury verdicts finding two murder suspects guilty, on no grounds but prejudice due to Cook’s heroin addiction.
A second murder trial for suspect William Cosby resulted in acquittal.
Fifth District appellate judges have reversed several of Cook’s judgments, not on account of his addiction but on account of errors he committed.