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Feds Probe Southwestern Illinois Judge

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ST. LOUIS (AP) – A southwestern Illinois judge was booted Thursday from his docket of hundreds of cases because he’s under an unspecified federal investigation apparently aided by the county’s top prosecutor.

St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelley said in court motions that he has filed complaints against Circuit Judge Michael Cook with state judicial discipline regulators who include the Illinois Supreme Court, citing the probe of the 43-year-old who has been on the bench since 2007.

Without elaborating about the nature of the investigation, Kelley said his office “has actively assisted in and advanced” it, resulting in federal authorities raiding Cook’s Belleville home and his cabin in western Illinois’ Pike County.

That cabin, near the Mississippi River in Pleasant Hill, about 65 miles northwest of St. Louis, was where newly appointed St. Clair County judge Joe Christ, 49, died in March on a reported duck-hunting trip. Circumstances about Christ’s death haven’t been divulged, though Pike County’s coroner told The Associated Press he anticipated closing the death investigation within days.

Until then, Paul Petty who is also Pike County sheriff said he would not publicly discuss Christ’s death, including even preliminary findings.

Petty said he has cooperated with state and federal investigators. So has St. Clair County’s chief judge, John Baricevic, who reassigned Cook’s 225-250-case docket as Cook undergoes federal scrutiny, which Baricevic said leaves him “very concerned.”

“We’re doing whatever we can to get to the bottom of whatever the issue is,” Baricevic said, noting that federal prosecutors haven’t given him particulars of the investigation’s scope. “We’re in a waiting pattern, so to speak.”

“Any community has to have confidence in public servants, including judges,” he added. “That they’re fair, honest and act with integrity. If they’re not, we owe them an appropriate response.”

Calls to Cook’s judge’s chambers and his home went unanswered Thursday. Messages left with southern Illinois’ U.S. Attorney’s Office were not returned.

Cook remains a judge, barring any action by state judicial disciplinary authorities, Baricevic said. Baricevic said he has no power to remove Cook from the bench. A former assistant public defender, Cook became an associate circuit judge in 2007 and was appointed a circuit judge in 2010, then won a six-year term later that year.

The death of Christ, a former longtime prosecutor in Kelly’s office, came a little more than a week after the father of six was sworn in as a judge.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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