Illinois Supreme Court suspends law license of former St. Clair County judge
Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.
The Illinois Supreme Court has suspended the law license of former St. Clair County Circuit Judge Ronald Duebbert for at least a year.
Justices followed a recommendation of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC), which is tasked with helping the court regulate the state’s legal profession.
“In 2016 and 2107, (Duebbert) made false statements to the police and to the Judicial Inquiry Board about his contacts with a friend of his who was the subject of a criminal investigation,” according to an ARDC summary of recent cases.
“He has been suspended on an interim basis since July 13, 2020. A suspension until further order of the Court is an indefinite suspension which requires the suspended lawyer to petition for reinstatement after the fixed period of suspension ends. Reinstatement is not automatic and must be allowed by the Supreme Court of Illinois following a hearing before the ARDC Hearing Board.”
The Illinois Courts Commission already had stripped Duebbert of his judgeship in 2020, stating that he “demonstrated an utter disregard for the integrity and respect of the judiciary” by lying to authorities.
Duebbert couldn’t be reached for comment on the Illinois Supreme Court decision, which was handed down last month.
Here is a timeline of events leading up to his legal problems:
- Duebbert obtained his Illinois law license in 1990 and worked as an attorney for more than 25 years.
- Duebbert allowed David Fields to live at his house in the fall of 2016, after Fields was released from prison. Duebbert had become friends with Fields, who served time for aggravated battery of a pregnant woman in 2013.
- St. Clair County voters elected Duebbert, a Republican, as a 20th Judicial Circuit court judge in November 2016. He defeated Chief Judge John Baracevic, a Democrat.
- Belleville resident Carl Silas was shot and killed in December 2016, leading to an investigation by the Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis, which interviewed Duebbert. Investigators later reported that he had falsely claimed he didn’t speak to Fields on the day of the murder.
- The office of former St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly subsequently charged Fields, then 20, with first-degree murder.
- Chief Judge Andrew Gleeson limited Duebbert to administrative duties in January 2017, citing his connection to Fields.
- Around the same time, Kelly asked for the appointment of a special prosecutor to decide whether Duebbert should be charged with obstruction of justice. No obstruction charges were filed.
- Kelly’s office filed four charges against Duebbert in November 2017 related to alleged sexual assault of a client while he was still working as an attorney. All were dismissed in July 2018.
- The Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board filed a complaint in April 2018 with the Illinois Courts Commission, alleging that Duebbert had lied to police during the murder investigation and later to board members reviewing his conduct.
- A St. Clair County jury acquitted Fields of murder in December 2018.
- Duebbert stated in a May 2019 response to claims against him that he thought the Major Case Squad interview was “an effort being engineered by power brokers disturbed by his election to link him personally with the Silas murder.”
- The Illinois Courts Commission stripped Duebbert of his judgeship in January 2020, stating that he violated the Code of Judicial Conduct.
- In March 2020, ARDC staff filed a complaint against Belleville attorney Margaret Lowery, alleging that she had made false or reckless statements about Gleeson on an anti-retention website and Facebook page and in a telephone conversation with a customer-service representative during the chief judge’s 2018 reelection campaign. The complaint mentioned that Duebbert also was allegedly involved with the website.
- An ARDC hearing board agreed with some allegations against Lowery but not others in November 2021 and recommended a 60-day suspension of her law license.
- An ARDC review board reduced that recommended suspension to 30 days in October of this year. The Illinois Supreme Court hasn’t yet considered the case.
Teri Maddox is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.