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February 27, 2014

Federal judge rejects as too lenient plea deal for Illinois state judge guilty of drug and gun charges

This local sentencing story from Illinois is notable both for its participants and as a rare example of a federal judge rejecting a plea deal in a drug case for calling for a sentence deemed too low.  The article is headlined "Judge rejects plea deal for former St. Clair County judge in drug case," and here are just some of the interesting particulars:

A federal judge refused Wednesday to accept terms of a plea agreement that would have sent former St. Clair County judge Michael N. Cook to prison for 18 months on drug-related charges.  U.S. District Judge Joe Billy McDade called the sentence “not sufficient” and said the facts of the case supported a longer sentence.  But McDade also said that he would not “throw the book at him” just because Cook was a judge.  He did not suggest what an appropriate sentence would be.

McDade gave Cook and prosecutors until March 19 to try to strike a new deal.  On March 28, Cook is again scheduled to be in court — either to be sentenced on a new agreement or have a date set for trial....

Cook’s plea deal Nov. 8 to a misdemeanor charge of heroin possession and a felony charge of being a drug user in possession of a firearm was made under an unusual provision.  It carried an agreed-upon penalty that took the sentencing discretion away from McDade.  His only option was to accept or reject the deal.  In January, McDade filed an order warning both sides that he disagreed with a pre-sentence report that said there were no reasons to go above sentencing guidelines, which called for six months or less behind bars.

McDade wrote that Cook’s status as a judge, his longtime drug use and the disruption of governmental functions were reasons to go higher.  He also ordered a supplemental report on how Cook’s actions may have affected cases in front of him, and whether it had affected public confidence in the judicial system.

Cook resigned after exposure of a drug scandal that cost the life of Associate Judge Joseph Christ, who died of a cocaine overdose March 10 in the Cook family hunting lodge in Pike County, Ill., about 65 miles northwest of St. Louis.  The scandal also ensnared former probation worker James K. Fogarty and others.  Cook, of Belleville, admitted at his guilty plea that he was a heroin addict.  After his arrest in May outside of the house of his heroin dealer, Sean McGilvery, he entered an intensive in-patient treatment facility.

But authorities were investigating rumors of Cook’s drug use long before Christ’s death. Search warrant affidavits released since the guilty pleas accuse Cook of abusing a variety of illegal and prescription drugs.  One confidential informer claimed in 2012 that Cook had used drugs for a decade.  The affidavits also show frequent and familiar contact between McGilvery and both Cook and Christ....

Cook and McGilvery were arrested May 22.  Fogarty was charged May 24.  McGilvery is serving a 10-year prison term on charges of conspiracy to distribute, and possession with intent to distribute, more than a kilogram of heroin.  Fogarty is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday and faces a five-year term on charges of intent to distribute cocaine and being a drug user in possession of a firearm. He admitted selling drugs to both Cook and Christ.  His sentence could be affected if he can be explicitly linked to Christ’s death.

Cook is the son of Bruce Cook, of Belleville, a well-known personal injury lawyer and major behind-the-scenes player in local and national Democratic Party politics.  Cook was an assistant public defender and former member of his father’s practice.  He was selected as an associate judge in 2007, appointed to a vacancy to be a circuit judge in 2010 and elected to a six-year term, as a Democrat, later that year.

Two men convicted in front of Cook of murder have won retrials after raising concerns about the judge’s drug connections, and some other criminal defendants who appeared before him have been allowed to withdraw guilty pleas.

February 27, 2014 at 05:06 PM | Permalink

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Comments

If the only charges against the former judge are mere possession (just misdemeanor possession) of H and possession of a gun, why is actual prison time even being contemplated?

Now, if this judge and the prosecutor who used to supply dope to him, handled dope cases in court together and doled out harsh sentences, it may be a different story.

Posted by: Phil Jensen | Feb 27, 2014 5:23:53 PM

This just makes the sentence given to Camp appear all the more inexplicable.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Feb 27, 2014 6:28:07 PM

The worst part of Judge camp's case was that the Federal prosecutors gave him a pass for "use or carry" of a firearm while committing a drug crime. That gun charge alone would have required a 5-year mandatory consecutive sentence. Judge camp brought a 9 mm pistol and a .40 Glock to a drug deal, where he gave his stripper girl friend the $$$ to buy the drugs. They had him on her wire tape saying that he had her back, and would use the pistols if anything went wrong. Giving him a full pass on the gun charges as part of his plea deal showed favoritism because he was a member of the "Federal Family" of Article III judges.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Feb 27, 2014 9:03:00 PM

Jim:
"Giving him a full pass on the gun charges as part of his plea deal showed favoritism because he was a member of the "Federal Family" of Article III judges" is not accurate.
Cook was never a federal judge. He was an Illinois State Court judge. The feds did not have to charge him at all.
Cook’s plea deal was to a misdemeanor charge of heroin possession. A 18 USC 924(c) charge requires possession in furtherance of drug trafficking. Buying for personal use is not drug trafficking. He also pled to a felony charge of being a drug user in possession of a firearm.
The simple answer is the prosecution and defense entered into a Rule 11(c)(1)(C) agreed sentence plea deal and the district judge rejected it. I suspect the district judge rejected the plea deal because he views Cook's crimes and other known facts as undermining the perception that the legal system is legitimate which concomitantly requires a more severe sentence.

Posted by: ? | Feb 27, 2014 10:00:03 PM

?

Jim and I were discussing Jack Camp, a federal district court judge who got an incredibly sweetheart plea bargain accepted after behavior that was certainly no better than that described here for Cook

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Feb 27, 2014 10:09:02 PM

@ Soronel Haetir: Thank you for clarifying that issue for the ???? (unnamed commentator) who didn't realize that we were referring to a different case involving the former Chief U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Georgia, Jack Camp.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Feb 28, 2014 11:29:05 AM

out of what federal asshole was this pulled?

"He also pled to a felony charge of being a drug user in possession of a firearm."

Since when is it a FELONY for any non-convicted CITIZEN of the UNITED STATES of AMERICAN to have a firearm?

unless we're talking about possession of a weapon during the commission of a crime.

Posted by: rodsmith | Feb 28, 2014 12:50:21 PM

please see 18 USC 922(g)(3).

Posted by: HGD | Feb 28, 2014 3:30:22 PM

why would I want to look at a piece of govt bullshit. Based on the 2nd amendment to the United States Constitution it's basically an illegal law anyway so who cares. the only close to possible hooks for anything like that to be even close to legal under that amendment is the two examples stated above.

Convicted felon and that's iffie.

and using the weapon during the commission of a crime.

other than those the govt is talking out of it's ass again. Trying bullshit when the law is lacking.

Sad thing is the fuckups on the bench just keep buying the lies. Considering the United States record for the past 200+ years of lies and fraud. Why would anyone believe any govt agent AT ANY TIME.

Posted by: rodsmith | Mar 1, 2014 2:10:32 AM

rodsmith -

I agree. Gov't officials should not be trusted. Members of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches have all earned distrust.

If this former judge, who has apparently used drugs for many years, harshly sentenced people for doing the same thing he was doing, it's hard to have sympathy for him. But, regardless of what any BS piece of Congressional legislation may provide, this former judge should not be facing prison time by applying that Congressional excrement to "enhance" a misdemeanor drug use sentence.

And, by the way, why are the Feds. prosecuting this case? It's a misdemeanor drug case. Yes, the fed. courts allow for fed. prosecution of drug cases by perverting the Commerce Clause, but don't the Feds. at least claim that they don't prosecute small-time drug cases?

Posted by: Karen Fitchett | Mar 1, 2014 5:06:07 PM

rodsmith:

"why would I want to look at a piece of govt bullshit."

Karen:

"And, by the way, why are the Feds. prosecuting this case? It's a misdemeanor drug case. Yes, the fed. courts allow for fed. prosecution of drug cases by perverting the Commerce Clause, but don't the Feds. at least claim that they don't prosecute small-time drug cases?"

Ask Bill, the great truthteller, in his own misguided mind.

Posted by: albeed | Mar 1, 2014 5:44:22 PM

"who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 802))"

The provision cited in the comments. The current doctrine might be wrong, but it is dubious if it is unconstitutional under it to make it unlawful to own a gun when you are breaking the law. The part about addiction is more dubious to me but don't think he is merely an addict.

The drugs here covers the "commission of a crime" -- he was using the drugs illegally and possessing a gun is particularly dangerous when you are high on heroin. So, we ARE talking about that unless the gun was far away.

Posted by: Joe | Mar 1, 2014 8:36:49 PM

Saint Claire County has a tradition of being on the slippery slope of law and order. Fifty years ago, East Saint Louis, IL was run by some mob guys and allowed all sorts of bars, gambling, hooking, you name it. Things got cleaned up. But, tradition remains. Bruce Cook had a personal injury law practice in the county. Son here is off the reservation but not far from the broken stream.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Mar 2, 2014 8:26:15 PM

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