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A Quincy judge was under fire for reversing his sentence. Then he took it out on the prosecutor

Adams County Judge Robert Adrian is facing backlash after reversing his own conviction of an 18-year-old accused of sexual assault.
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Adams County Judge Robert Adrian is facing backlash after reversing his own conviction of an 18-year-old accused of sexual assault.

Adams County Judge Robert Adrian has recently found himself in the middle of a firestorm. The judge had made the extremely unusual decision to throw out a criminal conviction that he himself had handed down just months before — and then he blasted a prosecutor for “liking” a Facebook post critical of that reversal.

The matter took place in Quincy, Illinois. As the AP reported, Adrian had conducted a bench trial of 18-year-old Drew Clinton, hearing the case without a jury. He found Clinton guilty of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl at a party.

But three months later, when it was time for Clinton to be sentenced, the judge announced he’d done enough time. The young man shouldn’t have to do four years in prison, he said, even though that’s the mandatory minimum enshrined in the law.

“Mr. Clinton has served almost five months in the county jail, 148 days,” Adrian said.“For what happened in this case, that is plenty of punishment. That would be a just sentence.”

The judge’s reversal triggered widespread outrage — and that apparently didn’t sit well with him. One week later, he kicked a prosecutor out of his courtroom, saying that his wife had noticed the prosecutor “liked” a Facebook post criticizing him. “I can’t be fair with you,” he reportedly told the prosecutor. “Get out.”

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From left, attorneys Bill Freivogel, Brenda Talent and Sarah Swatosh

For Sarah Swatosh, an attorney at Sedey Harper Westhoff, the judge’s bluntness, if nothing else, was a point in his favor.

“I have a lot of respect for the judge who can say ‘I can't be fair with you,’ recognizing that his client, the criminal defendant or the state, or whomever it may be, deserves a fair chance in front of him,” she explained on Monday’s St. Louis on the Air Legal Roundtable. “Frankly, that's what we want in our judges.”

Brenda Talent, a longtime lawyer and CEO of the Show-Me Institute, agreed, saying, “Whether that's judicial temperament or not is a different question.” She added, “I mean, you would think that a judge would be thicker skinned and would recognize that people would have problems with the decision he made.”

Adrian has now been moved off felony cases, and Talent noted that he appears to be up for a retention vote this year, giving voters the last say. Under Illinois law, unless 60% vote to retain him, he’ll lose his job.

Bill Freivogel, an attorney and professor of journalism at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, said he had little sympathy for Adrian. “I thought that was just a typical kind of white male, older judge’s cluelessness,” he said.

He noted parallels to the case of Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer who was given no jail time after being convicted of sexual assault. The judge in that case, Aaron Persky, was recalled by voters in Santa Clara County, California.

Of Adrian, Freivogel said: “I'm glad we're shocked at what he did in this case. And I'm glad that we were shocked in the Stanford swimmer’s case as well. I mean, that judge isn’t a judge anymore, and I don't think this judge should be a judge anymore.”

The panelists also discussed a number of other legal matters in the news. They included a wide-ranging discussion of Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s lawsuits against mask mandates in 45 school districts, a recent ruling from the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals on masks for students with disabilities and another 8th Circuit ruling, this one addressing qualified immunity for St. Louis police officers involved in “kettling” people in downtown St. Louis.

Listen to the Legal Roundtable

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Kayla Drake. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske served as host of St. Louis on the Air from July 2019 until June 2022. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.