(Updated 5:25 p.m. to include comments from John Coady)
Brocton Lockwood, a retired Southern Illinois judge who wore a wire in the 1970s and 1980s to help expose Cook County’s judicial corruption, has died, at the age of 74.
Lockwood grew up in Southern Illinois and earned a law degree at Vanderbilt Law School. He was a 34-year-old attorney in 1978 when he was appointed to be an associate judge in Williamson County. He was sent about 350 miles north to serve rotations on the bench in Chicago, where he learned of the Cook County Circuit Court’s pervasive system of bribes and kickbacks that operated on judges taking cash for acquittals.
When Lockwood went to the U.S. Department of Justice with this information, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois had already been watching Cook County judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and court employees in an investigation called Operation Greylord. Lockwood agreed to wear a wire, with a microphone under his robes and a tape recorder hidden in his cowboy boots, to record conversations among the corrupt parties in traffic court. Despite being from downstate, he cozied up to the corrupt Chicago officials and later boasted, “I can play the role you want me to play.”
The investigation resulted in more than 90 corruption-related indictments, but Lockwood only testified against one court employee, a former police officer and traffic court bagman named Ira Blackwood. At trial, Blackwood’s defense attorney mocked Lockwood as a “hillbilly.”
Lockwood returned to Williamson County and private practice. Later, as a judge in Saline County, he started a drug court program to give offenders treatment, the Southern Illinoisan reported.
The Illinois Judges Association announced Lockwood’s death this week. In 2014, the group gave Lockwood a Distinguished Service Award, “for what we thought was being a true hero,” said the group’s president, retired Circuit Judge John Coady of Illinois’s Fourth Judicial Circuit, in Taylorville.
“He risked his judicial career to expose corruption in the Cook County court system,” Coady said. “Since that time national observers have noted a transformational change for the good in the Cook County courts and my belief is that would never have occurred but for Judge Brocton Lockwood.”