JAMES M. RADCLIFFE was an associate judge on the St. Clair County Circuit Court for two decades prior to his retirement in 2007. The Illinois Courts Commission suspended Radcliffe for three months for conduct that the U.S. Court of Appeals of the Seventh Circuit had described as a “parody of legal procedure.” He receives an annual pension of nearly $150,000.
What the judge did: On September 1, 1992, Judge Radcliffe required an agent of the Illinois Liquor Control Commission to testify about an ongoing investigation into the use of video poker machines owned by Thomas Venezia for illegal gambling at a local VFW Post.
The agent, Bonds Robinson, was at the St. Clair County courthouse on an unrelated matter when he was served with a subpoena compelling his immediate appearance in Radcliffe’s courtroom. Radcliffe denied Robinson’s requests for a delay or to call an attorney. Under questioning, Robinson testified that he had been working undercover with the FBI on the investigation into illegal gambling. At the end of the hearing, Radcliffe entered an injunction drafted by Venezia’s attorney prohibiting the agent from unlawfully interfering with Venezia’s business or seizing Venezia’s property.
What happened next: Because Robinson was working in a federal investigation, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois had the case transferred from state court to the U.S. District Court, where U.S. District Judge William D. Stiehl dissolved the injunction. On February 9, 1994, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld Stiehl’s decision, characterizing Radcliffe’s actions in the case as a “parody of legal procedure” that “violated so many rules of Illinois law—not to mention the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment—that it is not worth reciting them.” The Appeals Court sent a copy of its opinion to the Judicial Inquiry Board. Venezia and his attorney both were later convicted in federal court as a result of the federal investigation.
What the Judicial Inquiry Board said: On December 2, 1997—more than five years after Radcliffe entered the temporary injunction and almost four years after the Seventh Circuit branded that action a “parody of legal procedure”—the Judicial Inquiry Board filed a complaint with the Illinois Courts Commission charging Radcliffe with conduct that was prejudicial to the administration of justice and that brought the office into disrepute.
What the Illinois Courts Commission decided: In August, 2001, the Illinois Courts Commission ordered Radcliffe suspended for three months. The commission noted several reasons the case had taken so long, among them: An ongoing federal investigation that may have delayed the Judicial Inquiry Board; the courts commission was reorganized by Constitutional Amendment; the inquiry board’s lead counsel stepped down. “We are aware of and sensitive to the inordinate delay in resolving this case,” the order states. “We believe the extraordinary circumstances….explain most of the delay. Nonetheless the disposition of this case is the responsibility of the commission, and the commission must also accept partial responsibility for the delay.”
What the dissent said: Supreme Court Justice Robert Chapman Buckley, a member of the courts commission, sharply dissented, writing that the case developed because the Federal Appeals Court was “obviously piqued by the inadvertent unmasking of one of its own,” referring to the agent’s admission that he was working for the FBI. The Judicial Inquiry Board complaint was filled with “hyperbole, illegitimate assumptions and extraneous allegations,” contended Buckley.
The aftermath: Radcliffe remained on the bench through 2007, when he retired at age 59, qualifying for a state pension under which he will receive $148,594.08 in calendar year 2015.