SPRINGFIELD – Eighteen judges have overcome Judicial Inquiry Board complaints like the one St. Clair County Circuit Judge Ron Duebbert faces before the Illinois Courts Commission.
In the process, four judges won rulings that permanently limited the power of the board, the commission, and the Supreme Court.
Illinois citizens created the commission and the board when they adopted the Constitution of 1970.
One of the first complaints alleged that Ford County circuit judge George Kaye committed six kinds of misconduct.
JIB prosecutor Kevin Fee and Judge Ron Duebbert
He answered that most of the conduct occurred before he took office, and commissioners agreed, finding that plain language in the Constitution limited the board to matters that occur while a judge holds office.
They dismissed four charges against Kaye, found no jurisdiction over one, and censured him for receiving money to convene a special jury.
The board suffered its first rejection in 1974, when the commission dismissed a complaint that DuPage County circuit judge George Bunge used body attachment and contempt powers for collection of civil judgments.
With a single rejection in its first 20 complaints, the next one the board filed against Woodford County circuit judge Samuel Harrod in 1976 backfired.
The board alleged that Harrod ordered male defendants to cut their hair as short as his, that he ordered those on probation to surrender their driver licenses and take a card identifying them as probationers and that he directed defendants with alcohol violations to pick up cans and bottles beside the road.
Commissioners dismissed the complaint as to bottles and cans but suspended Harrod for a month on hair and licenses.
Harrod appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that he didn’t break its rules.
The Justices issued a writ of mandamus vacating his suspension in 1977.
Justice Thomas Moran wrote, “To suggest that only the commission can interpret and determine the scope of its own authority is to imply that this court is without the power to determine whether the constitution’s grants or limitations of authority have been exceeded.
“The mere fact that the commission is a constitutionally created office does not prevent this court from issuing its original writ of mandamus against it.”
The ruling further held that any other construction of law would jeopardize the integrity and independence of the judiciary, and that if the commission’s interpretation differed from that of appellate courts, judges who followed the guidance of appellate courts would be subject to sanction by the commission.
Harrod ultimately prevailed, but later harassed his accusers, earned another complaint, and resigned in 1980.
Around that time, commissioners regularly rejected the board’s complaints.
In 1977, they dismissed a complaint that Will County circuit judge Angelo Pistilli embarrassed and ridiculed an attorney.
Also in 1977, they dismissed a complaint that retention advertisements of Cook County circuit judge Paul Elward gave a false impression of a bar association recommendation.
In 1979, they dismissed a complaint that Stephenson County associate judge Dexter Knowlton sentenced a court spectator to three days in jail for wearing a shirt with the word “bitch” on it three times.
Also in 1979, they dismissed a complaint that Greene County circuit judge Keith Hubbard refused to grant substitutions or venue changes.
In 1980, they dismissed a complaint that Cook County associate judge Eugene Ward let a clerk conduct court calls and enter orders, refused to consider relevant evidence, acknowledged his procedures and principles were contrary to determined law, gave judgments for plaintiffs where defendants weren’t present, and gave judgment to plaintiffs who presented no evidence.
Also in 1980, they dismissed a complaint that McLean County circuit judge Keith Campbell rudely expelled reporters from a trial, had the doors locked, and excluded the public from the rest of the trial.
An investigation that started in 1977 took three years to turn into a complaint and two more years to resolve. It began after Cook County associate judge Charles Alfano encountered Lake County deputies issuing a citation to his son.
They charged the son with misdemeanor offenses.
Alfano asked Lake County judge Harry Hartel to grant him discovery of the inquiry board’s file for purposes of his criminal defense.
Hartel granted it and the board appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Justices vacated Hartel’s order in 1978, finding an express constitutional mandate for confidentiality.
Justice Robert Underwood wrote, “Its intent is unmistakable, it is impervious to legislative or judicial change, and it must be implemented except as overriding federal due process requirements compel us to do otherwise.”
The ruling further held that if the board came into possession of evidence that plainly negated defendant’s guilt, it would be contrary to due process to deny production.
The board at last filed a complaint against Alfano in 1980. Commissioners dismissed it in 1981 and denied reconsideration in 1982.
Another complaint from 1980 turned the board and the commission into adversaries before the Supreme Court.
The board alleged that Winnebago County associate judge John Nielsen threatened to order defendants to sign jury waivers, and that he announced in open court that all present were witnesses that the signatures were voluntary.
The board alleged that he told the chief judge he talked them into signing.
Commissioners dismissed the complaint, finding the board didn’t show a general attitude of arbitrariness or evidence of gross abuse. They relied on a rule providing that occasional and inadvertent violations of standards may be too insignificant to call for official action.
The board moved for reconsideration, and commissioners denied it in 1981. The board then sued them at the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus requiring them to impose discipline.
The Justices backed up the commission in 1982.
Justice William Clark wrote, “The board is actually asking that we review the correctness of the commission’s application of the rule in a particular decision.
“This we cannot do…The finality of the commission’s decision is an important part of a constitutional arrangement designed to create an independent and autonomous system of judicial discipline that would be both effective and fair.”
In 1983, commissioners dismissed a complaint that DuPage County circuit judge John Teschner regularly used intemperate and injudicious remarks and addressed defendants in vile, obscene, and demeaning language.
A complaint the board filed against First District appellate judge Robert Buckley in 1991 exposed constitutional error at the Supreme Court.
The board alleged that his literature for a Supreme Court campaign cast doubt on his capacity to impartially decide issues that might come before him. It relied on a Supreme Court rule that a judicial candidate should not make pledges of conduct other than faithful and impartial performance of duties.
Commissioners dismissed the complaint, finding Buckley’s violation insignificant, but that didn’t satisfy Buckley.
To vindicate his right to speak freely as his campaign continued, he sued the board at U.S. district court in Chicago. District Judge James Alesia dismissed his suit in 1992, finding the rule balanced the state’s interest with Buckley’s interest.
Seventh Circuit appellate judges reversed him in 1993.
Justice Richard Posner wrote that the rule gagged the judicial candidate.
“He can say nothing in public about his judicial philosophy,” Posner wrote. “He can’t express his views about substantive due process, economic rights, search and seizure, the war on drugs, the use of excessive force by police, the conditions of prisons, or product liability.”
The only safe response to the rule was silence, Posner wrote.
The Supreme Court later rewrote the rule.
Also in 1993, commissioners dismissed a complaint that St. Clair County circuit judge Roger Scrivner directed a clerk to give jurors credit for days they didn’t serve and to certify to employers that jurors were serving when they weren’t.
They dismissed a complaint that Cook County associate judge Arthur Rosenblum used the prestige of his office to advance his private interests and assumed an active role in managing an investment.
In 1994, they dismissed a complaint that Cook County circuit judge Michael Close made derogatory and demeaning comments about defendants and witnesses.
In 1998, they dismissed a complaint that Winnebago County associate judge Steven Vecchio intervened in police matters on behalf of friends.
In 2002, they dismissed a complaint that Cook County circuit judge Susan McDunn tried to thwart adoptions by lesbians.
In 2011, they dismissed a complaint that Sangamon County associate judge Christopher Perrin fixed a ticket for his daughter.
Since its creation, the Judicial Inquiry Board has filed complaints against 93 judges; the commission imposed discipline on 63.
Eleven escaped jurisdiction by resigning while under investigation.
One resigned after the commission suspended him, and one escaped jurisdiction when voters denied his retention.
Commissioners plan to hear the complaint against Duebbert on Feb. 27.
The board alleges that he made false and deceptive statements to police investigating the murder of Carl Silas. The board alleges that he made false statements and omitted relevant facts in sworn testimony before the board in 2017.
The suspect tried for the Silas murder, David Fields, was found not guilty by St. Clair County jurors in December, nearly two years after Silas was shot and killed.