Democratic judicial candidates succeeded grandly on Election Day in 2012, but two dead women would come back to haunt their courthouse.
This time, voters know that Jessica Williams and Jennifer Herling died at a house where Deborah Perkins openly sold drugs for 12 years. At first, their deaths were ruled overdose but later changed to drug-induced homicides.
Voters know that one of her dealers delivered heroin to circuit judge Michael Cook, whose addiction ruined his judgment and sent him to prison.
Voters also know that judges who sentenced three drug distributors later cut their sentences in half for reasons no one explained.
The house at 20 Kassing Drive in Fairview Heights, sat near the base of the bluff
Deborah Perkins and son Douglas Oliver resided at 20 Kassing Drive in Fairview Heights, behind hotels at the I-64 interchange in Caseyville.
Fairview Heights police reported 66 incidents there in 12 years, yet not a single drug charge resulted.
Williams, age 30, died at the house in March 2012.
Perkins and Oliver hauled her body to Washington Park and buried her under old tires.
Someone found her months later, and police connected her to Perkins and Oliver.
State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly charged them with concealing the body, yet the house remained open for business.
Herling died in September 2012, after an ambulance took her from the house.
On Election Day, Democrats mopped up in judicial contests.
To fill a vacancy that circuit judge Michael O’Malley left by retiring, 61 percent chose Vincent Lopinot over Ron Duebbert.
To fill a vacancy that circuit judge Milton Wharton left by retiring, 57 percent chose Zina Cruse over Laninya Cason.
Andrew Gleeson, already an associate judge, scored a term of six years without opposition.
Circuit Judge Jan Fiss won 76 percent approval in nonpartisan retention, far surpassing the necessary 60 percent.
County voters boosted Fifth District appellate court candidate Judy Cates with 59 percent against Stephen McGlynn.
County voters favored retention of Fifth District appellate court Justice Melissa Chapman by 77 percent.
At that point, federal drug agents had already started investigating Perkins.
On Jan. 21, 2013, in St. Louis, they watched her get off a bus and into a car.
The car stopped once in East St. Louis and proceeded to 20 Kassing Drive.
Agents arrived with a search warrant and recovered about 20 grams of heroin, a scale, and packaging material.
Agent Neal Rohlfing, now sheriff of Monroe County, filed a complaint stating that Perkins and Oliver sold heroin from their residence.
Rohlfing wrote that Perkins admitted selling it for years, and that she delivered 50 grams to dealer Eric Beckley on the way home.
The arrests didn’t appear to involve the courthouse, where business ran as usual.
In February 2013, circuit judges chose Kelly’s assistant Joe Christ, a prosecutor, as associate judge.
To celebrate, Cook took Christ to his family’s hunting lodge in Pike County.
On Sunday, March 10, Cook awoke to find Christ dead.
Pike County sheriff Paul Petty attributed death to apparent natural causes, a plausible statement in light of Christ’s great size and heart problems.
Business at the courthouse continued running as usual, and Cook presided over a murder trial that very week.
Fifth District judges would later reverse decisions from his last months.
On May 22, Petty attributed Christ’s death to cocaine intoxication.
Agents arrested Cook at the home of Sean McGilvery in Belleville.
They arrested McGilvery as Cook’s heroin source.
They arrested county probation officer James Fogarty as Christ’s cocaine source.
A drug case involving a dead judge, a live one, and a probation officer captured national attention and cast suspicion on the courthouse.
In fact, a Pike County deputy who watched Petty interview Cook wrote that Cook said there were others like him in the courthouse.
Yet in three and a half years since that day, no further arrest has occurred.
Cook waived indictment on misdemeanor charges of possessing heroin and using it while possessing guns, and he gained court approval to enter treatment.
Perkins pleaded guilty and took 27 years.
Oliver pleaded guilty and took 30 years, serving longer than his mother because his conduct caused death.
Fogarty successfully argued that although he provided cocaine to Christ, he did not qualify for sentence enhancement because he did not supply the fatal dose.
He pleaded guilty and took five years.
No one ever established who provided the cocaine that killed Christ.
McGilvery pleaded guilty and took 10 years.
Beckley pleaded guilty and took 11 years and three months.
Cook and then U.S. Attorney Stephen Wigginton negotiated a plea at 18 months, but Senior District Judge Joe McDade of Peoria rejected it.
He told Cook he could withdraw his plea, and Cook didn’t withdraw it.
McDade sentenced him for two years.
Back at the courthouse in Belleville, circuit judge Robert Haida granted new trials to two murder suspects that jurors convicted in Cook’s court.
Gregory Muse, who claimed Cook slurred his speech and was obviously impaired, bargained a shorter sentence.
William Cosby gained acquittal at a second trial.
Voters got their first chance to express themselves on the situation in 2014, when they needed to fill the vacancy Cook created.
McGlynn, who had succeeded Cook by Supreme Court appointment, ran on the Republican ticket against associate judge Heinz Rudolf.
Voters returned a stunning verdict, choosing McGlynn by 51 percent.
County voters, and those throughout the Fifth Judicial District, also shrugged off a Democrat media blitz against retention of Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier, approving him by 63 percent.
That December, Wiggington filed motions under seal concerning Perkins, Oliver, Beckley, McGilvery and Fogarty.
Judges granted the motions for Beckley, McGilvery and Fogarty, and the Bureau of Prisons posted release dates reflecting that the judges cut the sentences in half.
Federal criminal procedure allows a sharp reduction from an original sentence for a defendant who provides substantial assistance to an investigation.
Such an investigation must result in indictment, but no indictment has resulted.
Last year, Chief Judge John Baricevic, Haida, and circuit judge Robert LeChien adopted a bold policy to keep their jobs.
They resigned last August, effective this fall, and registered as candidates for the vacancies they would create.
That reduces their necessary approval from 60 percent to 50 percent.
Circuit judge Lloyd Cueto, now retired, chose election over retention in 2010, but no other Illinois judge had done it.
Baricevic said he and the others preferred a partisan contest to nonpartisan retention because they could freely talk about Michael Cook.
They haven’t said much if anything about him since.
Baricevic supports LeChien for circuit judge after stripping him of a circuit judge’s normal responsibilities.
Baricevic transferred LeChien from civil law to miscellaneous relief and chancery court last year, after parties substituted LeChien 38 times in 102 days.
In Illinois any party can substitute a judge once without cause, if the judge has not made a substantive ruling.
LeChien can’t even carry out his new duties consistently.
Parties substituted him nine times from Sept. 26 to Oct. 28, and Baricevic pulled him from 12 foreclosures due to a family conflict.
Memories of the heroin house returned on Oct. 17, when Perkins moved for a show cause order relating to the motion Wigginton filed in 2014.
U.S. District Judge David Herndon sealed her motion and directed the government to respond.
The government responded under seal, and Herndon denied the motion.
Perkins filed a pro se motion on Oct. 24, and Herndon sealed it.
He denied it as moot on Oct. 26.