Conflict between Madison County DUI judge and lawyer flared up last November

By Record News | May 22, 2019

EDWARDSVILLE – On the day a client of traffic lawyer Bryce Joiner allegedly filed a false affidavit with Associate Judge Jennifer Hightower last November, a different Joiner client lost a case in her court. 

She recused herself from all of his cases a month later. 

Now they face double trouble, with a perjury charge against his client and negative reviews against her from the county’s bar.

The bar’s evaluation of applicants for associate judge gave her the lowest score. 

Prior to Nov. 19, as traffic court judge, she regularly dealt with Joiner. 

On that date, he presented a petition to rescind defendant Brent Becker’s suspension. 

He said there was no probable cause to stop Becker and if the court found there was, there was no probable cause to arrest him for driving under the influence.  

“Just to clarify, your honor, has the court already watched the in-car video of this case or no?” Joiner asked. 

“I have watched it but I’m always willing to watch it again for accuracy,” Hightower responded. 

He placed Becker on the stand and asked what he was doing at 12:33 a.m. on Sept. 9 – he answered that he was parked.  

Joiner asked where, and he said Triland Court where he lived. He said he was talking with a friend. 

“A state trooper pulled in, drove past, turned around, pulled up behind me, and turned her lights on,” Becker said. 

Joiner asked if he was doing anything illegal, and he said no. 

“There’s cars parked on that side of the road every day of the week,” Becker said. 

Joiner asked if she called him a liar, and he said yes. 

Assistant state’s attorney John Hanson objected and said he didn’t believe that was in the video. 

Hightower asked Joiner to respond and he said, “I believe it is…If it’s not in the video, I’m asking his memory of what the events were.” 

Becker said he told her he lived there. 

Hightower said, “Stop, stop, stop, the video is not even in evidence at this point.” 

Joiner asked Becker why he denied the tests, and he said it was his right. 

Joiner asked if he was under the influence of alcohol, and he said no. 

Hanson asked Becker what road Triland intersects with, and he said Highway 40. 

Hanson asked him if he was two or three car lengths from Highway 40, and he said, “Back off the stop sign, correct.” 

Hanson asked if he had prior DUI convictions, and Joiner objected. 

Hightower ruled it inadmissible. 

Hanson asked Becker if there was an open container in the vehicle, and he said the passenger had one. 

Becker said, “She gave him a citation for it.” 

Hanson asked how long he sat there, and he said a few seconds. He asked if it would surprise him if they watched the video and saw the windows fog up. 

Becker said, “No, it was cold out.” 

Hanson asked if the vehicle was on, and he said no. 

Hanson asked if it would surprise him to see the lights on, and he said no. 

Becker said, “It was a manual transmission and my foot against the brake. Any vehicle out there would have taillights on if your foot is touching the brake.” 

Joiner said he had no further witnesses. 

He said that Hightower obviously reviewed the video and he didn’t need to go into that. 

Hightower called on Hanson and he said, “Provided the court is reviewing the video, no, your honor, nothing further from the state.” 

She asked for argument and Joiner said, “He was not obstructing the view of flow of traffic which is evidenced by the video.” 

He said the trooper was easily able to get past him. 

“Slurred speech,” Joiner said. “You heard my client speak today, your honor.” 

He said Becker sometimes mumbles and his speech can be hard to articulate. 

“That alone without other factors is not conclusive of impairment,” Joiner said. 

Hanson said he could see headlights and taillights in the video as the officer drives down Highway 40, and he could see the trooper perform the gaze test. 

Joiner objected and said the gaze test wasn’t referenced in the sworn report. 

“Although you’ve seen the video, in no way did we stipulate to viewing the video or stipulate to the admissibility of it,” Joiner said. “We’ve watched it already. We’re fine with that.

 “Without the live testimony of the officer who was asked to be here today, this is all they get. 

“If it’s not in here, it’s not admissible for your consideration.” 

Hanson said Becker made the video admissible by citing it in his case in chief. 

Hightower found it inadmissible from the initiation of field tests to its conclusion. 

Hanson said the admissible section showed the vehicle parked in the roadway. 

“He is not parked off to the side in a residential area,” Hanson said. 

He said the vehicle appeared to be on and Becker was seated in the driver’s seat in operation of the vehicle. 

Hightower said, “Ruling that parts of the video are inadmissible, I’d like the opportunity to go back and review it so I’m going to do that now.” 

Also on Nov. 19, Joiner filed an affidavit for Daniel Sweney on a ticket charging he drove under the influence. 

On Nov. 20, Hightower denied Becker’s petition to rescind his suspension. 

She wrote that a review of the video didn’t show the location of the vehicle made it passable by others cars. 

She wrote that Becker said he lived there and the officer said, “You live in the middle of the road?” 

She wrote that given the clues exhibited by Becker and other circumstances known to the officer, Becker failed to sustain his burden of proof. 

Joiner moved for reconsideration on Dec. 17, writing that Hightower informed counsel shortly before the hearing that she reviewed the video. 

“Defendant is uncertain how Judge Hightower obtained this evidence, but it was obtained without the defendant’s consent or knowledge,” Joiner wrote. 

Two days later, Hightower recused herself from all of Joiner’s cases. 

Chief Judge Dave Hylla assigned the cases to Slemer, who granted Joiner’s petition to rescind Becker’s suspension in January. 

Slemer found the trooper lacked probable cause to arrest Becker. 

This April, the affidavit that Joiner filed for Sweney last November turned into evidence for a felony charge of perjury. 

State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons alleged that Sweney falsely swore he hadn’t spent time under court supervision. 

Associate Judge Neil Schroeder set a May 24 hearing for Sweney. 

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