Four years ago, in the course of a single year, Katherine O’Malley, daughter of former St. Clair County Circuit Judge Michael O’Malley, was charged with felony drug possession, shoplifting, and 14 traffic violations, but fined only $1,000 after pleading guilty to shoplifting, improper lane usage, and a seatbelt violation.
An anonymous judge expunged the record of her felony drug case, another judge vacated her fines, and a third dismissed one ticket and reduced the other charge. That third judge was Vincent Lopinot.
Never offered any explanation for the indulgent treatment of O’Malley, the citizens of St. Clair County could hardly be blamed for concluding that there are two systems of justice in these parts – a lenient one for the well-connected, a stern one for everyone else.
In 2015, Lopinot decided that it was proper for Macoupin County residents to sue a Macoupin County pig farm in St. Clair County Court, even though Macoupin County Court was the obvious and appropriate venue. Fifth District appellate judges remanded the case back to Lopinot for an explanation of his bizarre jurisdictional decision. When that explanation didn't satisfy, they overturned him.
Illinois has more than its share of problems, and judges playing favorites and making up their own rules as they go along is one of them. If you're not part of the solution, as the saying goes, then you're part of the problem, and Lopinot has clearly not been part of the solution. Maybe his replacement will be.
Lopinot will step down from the Twentieth Judicial Circuit next December and St. Clair County Associate Judge John O’Gara, Democrat, will face off against O'Fallon attorney Paul Evans, Republican, in the November 6 general election to replace him.
Another Democrat judge seems unlikely to fix problems created by previous Democrat judges. Evans, on the other hand, promises to change the status quo and address the public’s “frustration and concern about the headlines that have been coming out of the Belleville courthouse for several years.”
He could be part of the solution.