By Leisa Zigman I-Team Reporter
ST. CLAIR COUNTY, Ill. (KSDK) - The St. Clair County Circuit judge at the center of a drug scandal and charged with heroin possession, handled 90 percent of the circuit's drug court cases. Judge Michael Cook decided if felons were complying with their rehabilitation efforts. Ironically, it is the judge who is in rehab right now.
His boss, Chief Judge John Baricevic can't stop questioning if there were signs he might have missed?
"How come we didn't know about Judge Cook? His office is 25 feet down the hall from mine. I saw him every day. He is in a courtroom everyday with lawyers, police officers, and every Wednesday morning when he did drug court there would be five, six, or seven professional drug rehabilitation people in his courtroom. Nobody saw anything," said Baricevic.
Baricevic continued, "Judge Cook was able to fool not just me and not just judges but everybody that came in contact with him. At least everyone that came in contact with him in this building."
On Friday, federal prosecutors charged 43-year-old Cook with possessing heroin and having a gun while illegally using controlled substances. He's pleaded not guilty and is out on bond, in a drug rehabilitation facility. Wednesday, he tendered his resignation through an attorney.
Federal authorities raided Cook's home and hunting cabin in Pike County where his colleague, Judge Joe Christ died of a cocaine overdose in March.
In this ever widening drug scandal, the U.S. attorney also charged probation officer James Fogarty with selling cocaine to both judges.
"Joe Christ had six children. I think Jim Fogerty has three, Mike Cook has two. That doesn't excuse them from criminal acts but the collateral damage in these types of cases is very tragic," said Baricevic.
Judge Cook had about 225 current cases and they've all been transferred to another judge. According to Baricevic, since 2010 he's handled more than 500 criminal cases ranging from shoplifting to murder. Now, those found guilty can come back and demand new trials.
"I don't believe at this point the question is was the judge an addict. The question is, did his addition affect the outcome of the case in any particular fashion," said Baricevic.
In Illinois the Judicial Inquiry Board handles complaints against active Illinois Supreme Court justices, Appellate Court justices, and Circuit Court judges.
Pursuant to Article VI, Section 15 (e) of the Illinois Constitution, the Courts Commission hears complaints filed by the Judicial Inquiry Board. After notice and public hearing, the Courts Commission is authorized to remove from office, suspend without pay, censure or reprimand a judge for willful misconduct in office, persistent failure to perform his or her duties, or other conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice or that brings the judicial office into disrepute; or to suspend, with or without pay, or retire a judge who is physically or mentally unable to perform his or her duties. The penalty assessed by the Courts Commission lies solely within its discretion and is final.
In Missouri, the Commission on Retirement, Removal, and Discipline investigates complaints.
The Commission on Retirement, Removal and Discipline was created in 1972 when voters approved Article 5, §24 of the state constitution. The new article, which subsequently was amended in 1976, established the commission as an independent state agency responsible for investigating complaints against justices and judges on the Supreme Court, court of appeals, circuit and associate circuit courts, municipal courts and members of judicial commissions.
The Missouri commission has authority to investigate complaints involving the following:
• Willful misconduct in office.
• Willful and persistent failure to perform duties.
• Habitual intemperance (e.g. alcohol or drug abuse).
• Permanent disabilities that interfere with judicial duties.
• A violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
• Conduct that brings the judiciary into disrepute.