ST. LOUIS — A southwestern Illinois judge already under scrutiny after a colleague died of a cocaine overdose at his family's hunting lodge was charged Friday with possession of heroin and guns.
Wearing cutoff shorts and a T-shirt with the slogan "Bad is my middle name," St. Clair County Circuit Judge Michael Cook pleaded not guilty to federal counts of possessing heroin and having a firearm while being an illegal user of controlled substances. The criminal complaint alleges those offenses took place Thursday, and that Cook is an addict.
Earlier Friday, the county coroner said toxicology tests showed that Cook's colleague, St. Clair County Circuit Judge Joe Christ, overdosed on cocaine while staying with Cook at the Cook family's 2,500-square-foot cabin near the Mississippi River in western Illinois.
The 49-year-old father of six was found dead in a bathroom at the lodge near Pleasant Hill, about 65 miles from St. Louis, on the evening of March 10 – little more than a week after he was sworn in as a judge.
Pike County, Ill., Coroner Paul Petty said blood screenings showed there was also alcohol in Christ's system, and that investigators seized cocaine and paraphernalia from the cabin. The two judges were the only people staying at the property at the time, said Petty, who also serves as sheriff.
Petty told The Associated Press he believes Christ died hours before Cook reported finding his body, and the coroner expects the death to be ruled accidental.
Cook, 43, has not been charged in Christ's death, but that federal investigation continues. He remains a judge, though his courthouse office has been sealed off as part of the investigation and he has been stripped of his docket of hundreds of cases.
During Cook's brief court appearance in East St. Louis Friday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Clifford Proud ordered him released on his own recognizance on the condition that he attend drug treatment if required by court officials, surrender his passport, and avoid firearms and drugs not prescribed to him.
Brendan Kelly, St. Clair County's state's attorney and Christ's former boss, said in court motions Thursday that he has "actively assisted in and advanced" the federal investigation involving Cook and has filed complaints against the judge with state judicial discipline regulators, including the Illinois Supreme Court.
"We're doing whatever we can to get to the bottom of whatever the issue is," said John Baricevic, St. Clair County's chief judge. "Any community has to have confidence in public servants, including judges. That they're fair, honest and act with integrity. If they're not, we owe them an appropriate response."
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.