Judges suspended over affair with each other, five years later

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Two downstate Illinois judges violated judicial ethics as they carried on an affair, the Illinois Courts Commission concluded this month in suspending one judge and censuring the other.

But the commission’s action, in a ruling dated March 11, raises anew the problems of a poorly funded system of investigating errant judges that seldom leads to discipline and takes years to resolve cases.

McLean County Circuit Judge Scott Drazewski received a rare four-month suspension for continuing to preside over cases in which Joseph Foley was the attorney, even as Drazewski was carrying on an illicit affair with Foley’s wife, Circuit Judge Rebecca Foley. Judge Foley received a censure for failing to report Drazewski’s misconduct.

The commission issued the disciplines almost five years after the affair began and years after the relationship became a matter of gossip within the courthouse where all three worked. Last October, the commission held a disciplinary hearing that led to its decision.

Both Drazewski and Joseph Foley did not return a request for comment, and Judge Foley declined to comment for this story.

According to the Illinois Court Commission records:

The two judges began their affair in December 2010 during a conference in Washington D.C., according to the commission’s order. Days later, Drazewski oversaw a three-day jury trial in which Joseph Foley represented one of the parties.

Joseph Foley, who had eight cases before Drazewski at the time the affair began, learned about the extramarital relationship in February 2011 when spotted the judges embracing through a window at the courthouse, according to a report by the Pantagraph. He confronted his wife, who told Drazewski that her husband was demanding that the judge disqualify himself from all of Foley’s cases or Foley would inform Drazewski’s wife about the affair.

As Drazewski then recused himself from all of the outstanding cases involving Foley, he avoided telling the chief judge, Elizabeth Robb, about the affair. Two months later, Robb received an anonymous letter accusing Drazewski of having an affair with another member of the court staff; she questioned Drazewski, who denied the allegation.

The chief judge learned in July 2011 of the affair from Drazewski’s wife, and confronted Drazewski in August 2011. Robb, who retired at the end of 2014, could not be reached for comment.

Drazewski told the Illinois Courts Commission that before Joseph Foley had demanded that the recuse himself, he had decided he could be fair and impartial during the jury trial and in his rulings on motions in other cases.

But the commission said “whether a judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned is judge by an objective standard, not by a judge’s subjective opinion.” The commission said that any onlooker could reasonably question Drazewski’s fairness towards Joseph Foley, either favorably or unfavorably, given the circumstances, and that he had should have recused himself from those cases.

The affair became widely known and a topic of conversation in the legal community, according to testimony at the hearing, as the two judges could often be found in the other’s chambers behind closed doors and were sometimes flirtatious.

“This secret relationship, upon discovery, did contribute to diminished public confidence in the judicial system,” the commission wrote in their order.

Illinois has a two step process for investigating and disciplining complaints of judicial misconduct. The Judicial Inquiry Board has the authority to investigate allegations of misconduct and, if merited, issue a formal complaint. The Illinois Courts Commission, a separate agency made up of judges, lawyers and members of the public, then reviews the evidence, holds a hearing and imposes discipline.

Injustice Watch reported last November that the Inquiry Board is hobbled by a lack of funding, compared to other states, that has left the agency struggling to timely investigate and prosecute allegations of judicial misconduct. Few cases end in public discipline, and suspensions or removals from the bench are rare.

According to testimony, Circuit Judge Jennifer Bauknecht wrote an anonymous letter to the Judicial Inquiry Board in 2013, after hearing about the affair and witnessing the two judges engaged in conduct she did not think appropriate. She testified that someone at the board informed her that they were already aware of the issue.

The Inquiry Board filed its formal complaint against the judges in July 2014.