Pubdate: Mon, 03 Jun 2013
Source: Jacksonville Journal-Courier (IL)
Copyright: 2013 Freedom Communications


The scandal involving two judges, one of whom died of a cocaine 
overdose in Pike County, raises many troubling questions.

Last week, St. Clair County Circuit Judge Michael Cook announced his 
resignation. His announcement came less than a week after federal 
prosecutors charged the 43-year-old judge with possessing heroin and 
having a gun while illegally using controlled substances.

As bad as things look for Cook, at least he's alive. His colleague, 
49-year-old Joe Christ, was found dead in March while staying with 
Cook at a hunting cabin in Pike County that was owned by Cook's family.

Authorities were tight-lipped about the cause of Christ's death until 
last month, when they announced he had died of a cocaine overdose. 
Christ, a longtime prosecutor in the St. Clair County State's 
Attorney's Office, had been sworn in as an associate judge in St. 
Clair County a little more than a week before his death.

Federal prosecutors also have charged James Fogarty, a St. Clair 
County probation officer. In an affidavit, an FBI agent said Fogarty 
admitted providing cocaine to Cook and Christ on several occasions, 
including the day before the two judges left for the hunting trip 
that resulted in Christ's death.

The FBI agent's affidavit also alleges that Fogarty claims to have 
snorted cocaine with the two judges at his home, during golf trips 
and at the Cook family's Pike County cabin. Fogarty is charged in a 
criminal complaint with cocaine distribution and possession.

If all the allegations are true, then it appears a judge, an 
assistant state's attorney and a probation officer in St. Clair 
County all were using illegal narcotics while in office. This is 
particularly troubling when one considers that all three were 
involved in a legal system that prosecutes numerous individuals for 
drug offenses in St. Clair County, which includes the drug-plagued 
city of East St. Louis.

While no one is making excuses for criminals whose crimes involve the 
sale or use of narcotics, one has to admit that this situation raises 
questions of hypocrisy, fairness and double standards.

When people who have prominent roles in the legal system themselves 
stand accused of involvement with illegal drugs, who can blame 
ordinary citizens for questioning why their friends and relatives are 
prosecuted and incarcerated for the same type of offenses?

The most basic principle of our legal system is that every citizen is 
presumed innocent until proven guilty. It may be unfair, but 
officials in St. Clair County's legal system - and by extension, the 
legal system statewide - now face questions about their own 
compliance with drug laws.

Should the state require its judges and prosecutors to undergo 
periodic drug testing? Does this case provide any reason for the 
state to change its laws, perhaps even to consider decriminalization of drugs?

Whatever the answers to those questions, one thing is clear. If the 
citizenry loses confidence in the fairness and lawfulness of the 
legal system, the consequences will be disastrous.
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