CHICAGO — The Illinois Courts Commission has removed St. Clair County Circuit Judge Ronald R. Duebbert from office after concluding he “demonstrated an utter disregard for the integrity and respect of the judiciary” by lying to police during a murder investigation in 2016 and to Judiciary Board members in subsequent interviews.
The Courts Commission announced its decision Friday. The seven-member commission includes one Illinois Supreme Court judge, two appellate court judges, two circuit judges and two members of the public.
Duebbert could not immediately be reached for comment on the decision.
On April 19, 2018, the Illinois Judiciary Board filed a complaint with the Courts Commission accusing Duebbert of lying to its members and to police about his contact with his former roommate David E. Fields, who was acquitted of murder in the death of Carl Z. Silas in December 2018, in the days following the shooting.
Duebbert, a Republican, was elected to the 20th Judicial Court on Nov. 8, 2016, defeating Democrat John Baricevic for the position. After learning of his connections to Fields, however, Chief Judge Andrew Gleeson limited Duebbert to administrative duties in January 2017.
In its complaint to the Courts Commission, the Judiciary Board stated that Duebbert’s first effort to obscure the truth came during his interview with two investigators from the Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis on Dec. 30, 2016.
The law enforcement officers who interviewed Duebbert at his home asked what contact he had with Fields, who had been paroled to Duebbert’s home following time served for a battery on a pregnant woman. The two had been friends since 2013.
Duebbert told police in the interview that he had not heard from Fields on Dec. 30, and that the last time they had talked was on the evening of Dec. 29, the night before the shooting. Duebbert had actually received a call from Fields that morning, according to cell phone records obtained by the Belleville News-Democrat.
During that phone call, Fields told Duebbert he had “nothing to do” with the Silas’ murder. Duebbert insisted Fields turn himself in, court documents from Duebbert’s defense stated. Fields did so and was in police custody no later than 10:30 a.m.
Duebbert stated in a May 17, 2019, response to those claims that he understood the purpose of the police interview “to be an effort being engineered by powerbrokers disturbed by his election to link him personally with the Silas’ murder.” Those “powerbrokers” included St. Clair County judges, lawyers and media members, according to court documents.
“(Duebbert) was shaken, he was feeling vulnerable and defensive, and he was not thinking clearly, but he had no intention of misleading police, and instead, was intent on convincing them that any effort to link any weapon of his to the homicide they were investigating would fail,” the response stated.
According to Duebbert, a then-Belleville News-Democrat reporter had asked him several questions about the firearms he owned, as information was circulating that the Silas murder weapon belonged to Duebbert.
That made him “petrified,” the document stated.
Judiciary board complaint
The Judiciary Board also said in its complaint against Duebbert that he “falsely recounted” what he told police in the taped 2016 interview during its investigation of his actions in May and June 2017.
According to the Judiciary Board’s complaint, Duebbert said in his testimony that he told the officers he thought a cell phone he had let Fields use was in Fields’ possession the night of the murder. Instead, police said, the phone was in Duebbert’s possession.
When Duebbert found the phone in his garage, he said he was “totally and utterly in shock and stunned” to find the phone, the complaint against Duebbert said. He allegedly told police, “I had given [Fields] the phone before.” Police said, however, that Duebbert had known he had it all along.
The Judiciary Board also said Duebbert lied when he testified before it that he had told police he texted Fields the night of Dec. 29. In the taped interview with police, there is “no such thing,” the complaint stated.
Illinois courts commission decision
In its order, the Courts Commission found that the Judiciary Board presented clear and convincing evidence that Duebbert had violated the Code of Judicial Conduct. It also states he “engaged in conduct that that was prejudicial to the administration of justice and brought the judicial office into disrepute” by lying under oath.
In its decision against Duebbert, the Courts Commission found that Duebbert’s misconduct was not an isolated incident, as he had lied multiple times throughout the course of the investigation. No matter if Duebbert had acted in or out of the courtroom, the misconduct was “intolerable” for a sworn officer of the court, the commission wrote.
“Respondent’s behavior was repugnant to our truth seeking system of justice,” the decision stated.
The decision also claims that Duebbert has never acknowledged his own wrongdoing and that he “exploited his position to satisfy his personal desires” by shifting the focus away from his involvement with Fields and discussed press coverage and that reporters had contacted him.
“Respondent placed a higher value on his reputation and position as a judge over providing truthful statements to the police, which we cannot overlook,” the Courts Commission states.
Duebbert’s removal from office is effective immediately.
Hana Muslic is a reporter at the Belleville News-Democrat, a reporting partner of St. Louis Public Radio.
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