It's been three years since the St Clair County Courthouse was shaken by a drug scandal - leaving one judge dead from a cocaine overdose, another in prison for heroin possession and a probation officer pleading guilty to supplying the judges with illegal drugs - but the issue of drug testing has been revived for two candidates in the 20th Judicial Circuit.
The rivals, chief Judge John Baricevic, Democrat, and Belleville attorney Ron Duebbert, Republican, are at odds not only on public positions taken by one another on the issue of drug testing, but also whether a program actually exists in the St. Clair County court system.
Since earlier this month, Baricevic and Duebbert have sparred back and forth in personal communication regarding statements made by Duebbert in a campaign video. In the video, Duebbert says his opponent has had three years to eradicate drug use and abuse in the judiciary, but that the chief judge does not believe judges should be drug tested, "and that is unacceptable."
Baricevic was chief judge at the time newly appointed associate judge Joe Christ overdosed while in the company of then circuit judge Michael Cook at a Cook family hunting lodge in Pike County, Ill., in March 2013. Former probation officer James Fogarty later admitted to providing drugs to Christ and Cook prior to their weekend trip to the lodge.
Baricevic has asked Duebbert to remove his campaign video and replace it with a retraction and an apology.
The chief judge also said on Tuesday that he is not against drug testing.
“I am not and never have been against drug testing judges,” Baricevic told the Record. “The United States Supreme Court and federal court prohibit mandatory random drug testing of judges and any elected official."
Duebbert released letters shared between the two.
In a second letter dated Aug. 9, Baricevic told Duebbert that he supports random drug testing. He also stated that the "20th Circuit has a voluntary drug screening program in which I participate."
Baricevic said a program has been in place three years. He would not comment on the number of judges having participated, saying that information was confidential. He also said he would be "happy" to show results of tests he has taken to "anybody."
Duebbert said the only way to restore faith in a judiciary "held in low regard" is to implement a drug testing program for all judges.
"It's not his private positions that matter," Duebbert said. "It's his public actions."
Republican Circuit Judge Stephen McGlynn, who won election in 2014 running on a platform of restoring integrity to a judicial system damaged by the drug scandal, said he was not aware of a voluntary drug screening program as described by Baricevic.
McGlynn said that he asks applicants seeking associate judgeships or those re-applying for associate positions to drug test. He said he does not vote for applicants who decline to be tested.
He said that he does not require applicants to make results public.He also said that he continues to submit to drug tests and makes his records publicly available.
Meanwhile, Baricevic said that Duebbert is "misinformed" on his position.
“When I was telling people on TV and in the press there would be no drug screens, I was talking about the direction of the U.S. Supreme Court saying that we can’t do it,” Baricevic said. “Deubbert once again misinformed of my position as a chief judge required to follow that law versus my opinion that I think the Supreme Court ought to make judges do random mandatory drug screens. They’re absolutely two different things. There’s a bright line between the requirements for I have to do as a judge versus what I prefer the law to be.”
He said that for blood or urine drug tests to be effective, they have to be mandatory and random.
“The person supplying the specimen can’t know when it’s going to happen, otherwise if it's voluntary it means that the person giving the sample gets to pick when he’s going to give it," he said. "Voluntary quite frankly is a waste of time. We do it to try to keep the confidence of the citizens up. A judge could be an absolute heroin addict, not take it for two days, go give his blood, give me the results and I would never know.”
Duebbert has challenged Baricevic to a series of debates, which Baricevic said he would be interested in participating but didn’t see any real value.
“I’m more than happy to talk about the issues," he said. "But, I don’t know that anyone pays attention to debates.”
Baricevic criticized Duebbert for boasting that he supports following the constitution..."then at the same time he suggests that I do mandatory drug screens which are against the law."
"Ron Duebbert has a history of making things up," he said. "He’s been censored by the Illinois Supreme Court for doing so and he’s making things up again.”