Budget constraints across the state's judicial system is blocking any move to replace a deceased judge of the Twentieth Judicial Circuit, according to its Chief Judge Andrew Gleeson.
And the circuit is now finding itself even more short handed as Circuit Court Judge Jan Fiss is currently out of action for health reasons, Judge Gleeson confirmed to the Record, adding that another judge was off for similar issues but is now back on the bench.
In the meantime, Circuit Judge Ronald Duebbert, who was cleared of criminal charges on July 6, remains on administrative duties amid an unrelated investigation by the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board, which is looking into claims that he made false statements to police during a murder probe.
But Gleeson's claim that budget constraints is the reason for the failure to replace Judge Robert LeChien, who died last August, was disputed by the Illinois Supreme Court, whose own chief justice would have the power to help replace the late jurist.
The Supreme Court, in an email, cited comments by Chief Justice Lloyd Karmeier earlier this year.
Karmeier, in a widely circulated message, stated, "The number of authorized judicial positions, the amount judges are paid, and the annual raises judges are given are all dictated by law and cannot be changed by the court.
"The most we can do is defer filling vacancies, a measure we have already begun to implement.”
Its press officer, Chris Bonjean, added that any deferment would be no more than 30 days. LeChien died almost a year ago.
The chief judge in any particular circuit has to ask the Supreme Court to start the process of replacing a circuit court judge who either retires or dies in office. It is up to the justice from that circuit to recommend a replacement.
Bonjean stated Monday that to date Gleeson has not asked to initiate the process for filling the LeChien vacancy.
It is suggested that Karmeier, a Republican, may pick a Republican to fill the LeChien vacancy, according to a previous Record report. The vast majority of judges at the Twentieth Judicial Circuit are Democrats, including Gleeson.
Elsewhere in the state, the Illinois Supreme Court announced on July 6 the appointment of Bruce Phillip Fehrenbacher to serve as resident circuit judge of Stark County in the Tenth Judicial Circuit, effective Sept. 1, 2018 through Dec. 3, 2018, following the resignation of Judge Thomas A. Keith.
Fehrenbacher won a Republican primary and is running unopposed to the seat in November.
Gleeson said LeChien has not been replaced because of larger state-wide budget constraints.
"The reality is that it has nothing to do with political issues," Gleeson said. "There is a moratorium on the Supreme Court filling spots."
Apart from the lack of a replacement for LeChien, there are currently a number of gaps on the Twentieth Circuit bench. Duebbert, elected in 2016, has been on administrative duties since early 2017.
While felony criminal charges of sexual abuse and intimidation against Duebbert were dismissed in St. Clair County, he remains on administrative duties pending a separate investigation.
This separate investigation centers on his connections to an alleged murderer, and claims he gave "false and deceptive" information to police investigating the homicide, Gleeson told the Record.
While the charges in this case were dismissed, Gleeson said he "placed him on administrative duties long before these charges arose."
Gleeson confirmed that Fiss is out for health reasons, but would not give further details, citing privacy.
He also said that Associate Judge Patricia Kievlan was off the bench "for a time," but is now back.
Gleeson said that everyone, including himself, is working "night and day, scrambling" to cover the case load, adding that "hopefully after the election it will settle down."
One judicial position, to replace the retired Associate Judge Randall Kelley, was filled quickly earlier this year. Associate judges are appointed by vote of the circuit judges.
Belleville attorney Alana I. Mejias, 35, a Democrat, is married to Belleville attorney Lloyd M. Cueto, who practices in personal injury, criminal defense and class actions/mass torts, according to a previous report.
Lloyd M. Cueto’s father is former St. Clair County Circuit Judge Lloyd A. Cueto. In a statement, Mejias said her father-in-law was a great resource and helped her throughout her judicial pursuit.
Her application for the seat formerly occupied by Kelley was the fourth time she had sought an associate judge position.