BELLEVILLE, IL (KTVI) - Embattled 20th Illinois Circuit Chief Judge John Baricevic faced members of the Belleville Chamber of Commerce Wednesday morning. He wanted to answer any questions about a drug scandal that landed one judge in Federal custody and left another dead.
"What's really goin’ on? Is it a case of the fox watching the chicken coop?”
On a hot day on July 9, 2013, Lee Otis Griffin yelled this question over a microphone set up on the steps of the St. Clair County Courthouse in Belleville, Illinois. He led about a hundred protestors who called for Judge Baricevic to quit. Federal agents had already arrested Circuit Judge Michael Cook on drug and weapons charges after his friend Judge Joe Christ died of a cocaine overdose at Cook's hunting lodge.
"If the Feds don't force them out,” Griffin demanded. “We've gotta vote them out."
Baricevic said he previously prosecuted Griffin for murder and that the conviction was overturned on a technicality in the mid-1990’s.
"Nonetheless, a jury found him guilty of murder,” Baricevic explained. “And prior to his release, he did about 17 or 18 years in prison."
Still, others at the July rally called for mandatory testing of everyone holding an elected office.
"The United States Supreme Court has said that we cannot do surprise testing of government officials. The Constitution prohibits that,” Baricevic said. "At this point, we have had one judge in the history of the county charged with a misdemeanor."
He mentioned the misdemeanor possession charge against former Judge Cook. The weapons charge is a felony. Still, Baricevic said he would not support a change in the drug-testing law.
"It does not appear to me that the gravity of the problem would require a Constitutional amendment."
But after all of this, Baricevic said he tries to keep a close eye on judges for any problems. He says he simply did not see any problems with Cook or Christ.
"They did good work outside their addiction. They were wonderful people,” he admitted that he missed Christ. "I would love if there would be something to say, 'Boy! I missed that, and I could have saved Joe's life.'"
Baricevic said he is still looking through cases handled by both judges, and that there is no evidence of wrongdoing related to the current drug scandal. Baricevic said he will continue to check those cases. He said he will also continue to check on all judges under his supervision.