An attorney who claims to have witnessed a courthouse employee celebrating troubles that embattled Circuit Judge Ron Duebbert would face in the days ahead says she wishes she had never seen and heard what she did on the night of Friday, Dec. 30, 2016.
After ordering dinner at the St. Clair County Country Club in Belleville, Margaret Lowery claims in a statement released last week that an employee at the St. Clair County courthouse entered the club and said:
"We got him. We set up Duebbert and his gay black lover. The faggot and his black lover are going down."
Elected in November, Duebbert had only served about one month as a judge before he was reassigned to administrative duties on Jan. 3. He was reassigned by Chief Judge Andrew Gleeson who had stated the move was due to Duebbert’s connection to murder suspect David E. Fields, 20, black, charged with the Dec. 30 killing of Carl Z. Silas, 28, at an apartment in the 2900 block of West Boulevard in Belleville.
Duebbert allowed Fields to live at his Belleville home after he was released from prison on parole on Oct. 24. Fields served prison time for aggravated battery of a pregnant woman in September 2013. He stayed with Duebbert through the Nov. 8 election until Dec. 2, three days before he was sworn into office.
“I wish I had not been sitting there,” Lowery said of the country club encounter. “My life would be a whole lot easier.”
Lowery’s written statement further says that after the courthouse employee’s pronouncement, a group of individuals then "began high-fiving each other" and they talked about the Democratic Party leaking information to a newspaper that "Duebbert's gay lover used his gun to kill someone."
In an interview Tuesday, Lowery said there were lawyers in the group of individuals, but she declined to identify them “at this time.”
She said that the country club would have records of who was in the establishment at the time of the alleged incident.
In last year’s controversial election, Duebbert, a Republican, defeated long-time circuit judge John Baricevic, a Democrat, who had served as chief judge for more than 10 years.
After Duebbert was sworn in, Gleeson assigned him to hear traffic cases and specifically not first appearance felony cases that typically would go through his assigned courtroom. Gleeson indicated at the time that Duebbert’s sheltering of a parolee listed as a violent offender gave the appearance of impropriety.
As to why Lowery waited nearly four months to issue a statement, she said it was because she thought “things would work out” and “justice would be served.” Another reason for the delay she said was due to recent health issues she has experienced.
The courthouse employee, whose name was misspelled in Lowery's statement, was contacted for comment on Friday.
The employee strongly denied having made the statements Lowery alleges. The employee could not recall for certain attending the country club that evening, but said, "I could have been there."
"I would never have said such a thing," the employee said. “I did not make such a statement.”
The employee also said that “no high fiving occurred.”
Investigation of Duebbert
On Jan. 4, Gleeson approved a request for the appointment of a special prosecutor to decide whether Duebbert should be charged with obstruction of justice related to the Silas murder case.
Potential obstruction of justice charges were outlined in a letter St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly sent to the Judicial Inquiry Board on Jan. 7.
Among other things, Kelly wrote that Duebbert made “untruthful statements to law enforcement.”
In the early stage of Silas’s murder investigation, Duebbert told authorities he met with Fields on Dec. 29, around 8 p.m., and that he had no further contact with Fields.
However, after a search warrant was produced, investigators learned there were nine text messages between Fields’ and Duebbert’s phones on Dec. 29, from 8:10 p.m. to 10:47 p.m.
Kelly also wrote that Duebbert made statements to the media on the record “about police activities in an on-going major case squad murder investigation while a suspect remained at large, revealing details not authorized to be released to the public, including the identity of a suspect and to whom police had spoken.”
In early February, Pat Delfino, director of the State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor's office in Springfield, said that prosecutors Charles Colburn of Morgan County and David Neal of Grundy County would lead the Duebbert investigation.
Initially, the St. Louis Major Case Squad led the investigation.
It is not clear whether Colburn’s and Neal’s appointments have officially been made. Delfino was contacted Tuesday for comment, but he had not returned a call by 5 p.m.
On Tuesday, Kelly provided a statement regarding the allegations made by Lowery:
“It’s a matter of public record that the Sheriff activated the St. Louis Major Case Squad in response to the homicide of Carl Silas, a grand jury indicted defendant David Fields on the charge of first degree murder as a result of that investigation, the Major Case Squad submitted applications for review on a variety of charges on multiple suspects including Judge Ronald Duebbert, Judge Duebbert’s conduct including providing untruthful statements to law enforcement and statements to the media about the investigation while it was still ongoing was appropriately reported to the judicial inquiry board, and a special prosecutor was appointed to pursue any and all matters that may be criminal in nature.
“Those are the facts and these serious matters are now before the Judicial Inquiry Board and a special prosecutor. We need to let them do their job, so any speculation or comment beyond that would be inappropriate.”
Gleeson also responded to a request for comment, in part saying he was hesitant to do so if it gives Lowery’s statement any credibility. He called it irresponsible and potentially libelous.
“There’s not a scintilla of truth to it,” he said. “The statement on its face is preposterous.”
More of Lowery’s statement
Having lived through the Oklahoma City bombing of a federal building that killed 168 people and injured hundreds in April 1995, Lowery said she came through it a “very different person.”
“It weighs heavily on my heart,” she said. “People did nothing and said nothing then and a lot of people got hurt.”
She said she “just wants justice to be served.”
Before Dec. 30, she said she did not know Duebbert very well, other than to say hello on occasions when they were in the same place.
She “doesn’t know what the truth is” regarding the potential charges of obstruction of justice that Duebbert faces, and is not calling for his exoneration or for Fields’ exoneration.
“If Ron Duebbert did something wrong, I will be first to stand up and say he should be off the bench,” she said.
Lowery said that after she heard the alleged statements at the country club she made "several" phone calls, including to a former law partner in Oklahoma, attorney Ron Wilkinson.
Wilkinson, she said, advised her to contact Duebbert. During a conversation she had with Duebbert that night she claims to have overheard an exchange between a Belleville police officer and Duebbert.
"...[A]n officer came in and said, 'we need your phone.' Judge Duebbert said do you have a warrant...I'm on the phone with my attorney.' The officer said 'we don't need a warrant, this conversation is over' and the phone went dead,'" Lowery's statement reads.
Lowery said that what she heard was a violation of Duebbert’s due process, and as egregious as seizing a computer without a warrant because of the potential work product and privileged communications that can be stored on a phone.
Wilkinson, a Tulsa attorney, on Tuesday confirmed that Lowery contacted him on the evening of Dec. 30.
He said that he and Lowery often discuss “what do you do” in certain legal situations.
“So, I was in a sense acting as an advisor on what had occurred,” he said.
Lowery indicated in her statement that she hoped by releasing it, “the Department of Justice will take a second look at what is going on here, including whether individuals have planted evidence, set people up for the purpose of political gain and to insure (sic) that tenets of our constitution are being upheld for all," she wrote.