Among 39 St. Clair County search warrants that changed from confidential to public record between Dec. 20 and Jan. 17, two that pertained to Circuit Judge Ron Duebbert changed the quickest.
And on the day a court clerk stamped those two as open records on Jan. 12, the contents of Duebbert’s warrants were the subject of a local news article at 5:25 p.m.
While Duebbert has not been charged criminally, a special prosecutor has been called to investigate whether the newly elected judge obstructed an investigation into the murder of Carl Silas, who was shot in the face with a long gun at an apartment on West Boulevard in Belleville before dawn on Dec. 30.
On that date, sheriff’s deputies took suspect David Fields into custody.
Fields had spent time in prison and, upon release, had stayed at Duebbert’s Belleville home.
Duebbert, a Republican, defeated incumbent Democrat judge John Baricevic in the Nov. 8 election, and was sworn into office Dec. 5.
Controversy related to Fields has overshadowed Duebbert’s tenure as judge from the beginning.
Chief Judge Andrew Gleeson assigned Duebbert to hear traffic cases and specifically not first appearance felony cases that typically would go through his assigned courtroom. Gleeson indicated that Duebbert’s sheltering of a parolee listed as a violent offender gave the appearance of impropriety.
On New Year’s Eve, sheriff’s investigator Justin Biggs applied for warrants to search Duebbert’s phone and Sprint’s records for it.
In one of the warrants, Biggs wrote that witnesses identified Fields as the shooter and that one of them provided his phone number.
Biggs wrote that Sprint identified the account subscriber as Ronald Duebbert.
According to the warrant, Duebbert told investigators he met with Fields on Dec. 29, around 8 p.m., and that he had no further contact with Fields.
However, Biggs wrote that a request to Sprint provided nine text details between their phones on Dec. 29, from 8:10 p.m. to 10:47 p.m.
He wrote that special agent Patrick McGuire took custody of Duebbert’s phone.
Associate judge Stephen Rice signed the warrants around 6 p.m. on Dec. 31.
At 7:11 p.m., Biggs wrote, “Warrant served by fax, return of records pending.”
On Jan. 3, State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly charged Fields with first degree murder.
Gleeson set bail at $2 million.
On Jan. 4, Kelly requested appointment of a special prosecutor for Duebbert.
On Jan. 7, Kelly sent the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board “documentation containing allegations of violations of the Illinois code of judicial conduct.”
“Specifically, Judge Duebbert allegedly did not uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary,” Kelly wrote.
Kelly alleged that candidate Duebbert did not maintain the dignity appropriate to judicial office.
He wrote that Duebbert’s conduct included the use of a racial epithet.
Kelly wrote that he filed an identical report with the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.
The phone records that investigator Biggs sought from Sprint arrived on Jan. 9. Although search warrants normally stay with one judge, Gleeson took charge of the warrants Rice had signed.
Gleeson signed a return at 4:27 p.m.
“Warrant was also sent to lawyer on 01-01-17 6:30 p.m.,” Gleeson wrote.
“Confirmation was received on 01-03-17 9:30 a.m.”
Biggs never returned the warrant for Duebbert’s phone.
On Jan. 12, an envelope full of warrants moved from Kelly’s office on the second floor of the courthouse to Circuit Clerk Kahalah Clay’s office on the third floor.
It contained the pair of warrants for Duebbert’s phone, a similar pair for Silas’s phone, and four warrants from separate cases.
The contents of Duebbert’s warrants were the subject of a news article at 5:25 p.m.
No other warrant that the clerk received from Dec. 20 to Jan. 17, entered the public record at such high speed.
A warrant on Scott Credit Union reached the clerk 12 days after execution.
A warrant on First Western Inn in Caseyville reached the clerk in 13 days.
Warrants on Sprint in other cases reached the clerk in 15, 62, and 68 days.
Four other warrants on phone providers in a single case reached the clerk in 21 days, and four in another case reached the clerk in 68 to 71 days.
-For a drug search reached the clerk in 21 days.
-On Snapchat reached the clerk in 33 days.
-On a stolen vehicle in Washington State reached the clerk in 60 days.
-On child pornography reached the clerk in 67 days.
-On a laptop reached the clerk in 90 days.
About half the warrants expired without anyone executing and returning them.
Searching for search warrants
Anyone searching for a particular warrant at the St. Clair County Courthouse needs help finding it, for three reasons.
-First, the envelope that holds the warrant doesn’t identify the suspect.
-Second, no regular schedule governs the movement of a warrant from the investigator to the state’s attorney, or from that office to the circuit clerk. One of the 39 warrants that became public record between Dec. 20 and Jan. 17 reached the clerk after five years, another after 11 months.
-Third, warrants don’t appear in the public record of any ensuing criminal case.