Adrian calls commission ruling ‘political hit job,’ claims he ‘didn’t do anything wrong’ in sexual assault ruling

Judge Robert Adrian presides over the arraignment hearing of Timothy Bliefnick Friday in Quincy.

Judge Robert Adrian presides over the arraignment hearing of Timothy Bliefnick in March 2023 in Adams County Circuit Court. | Pool photo by Matt Hopf/The Herald-Whig

QUINCY — Even after his removal as Eighth Circuit judge by the Illinois Courts Commission on Friday, Robert Adrian maintained his innocence in an interview late Friday afternoon with Muddy River News and called the ruling a “total political hit job.”

Adrian found Drew Clinton, 18, guilty of felony criminal sexual assault following a three-day bench trial in October 2021. Then, on Jan. 3, 2022, Adrian vacated Clinton’s conviction, resulting in Clinton being released from the Adams County Jail.

The Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board (JIB) filed a complaint on June 17, 2022, against Adrian. The complaint alleged: 

A two-day hearing for Adrian took place in November before the Illinois Courts Commission in the Michael A. Bilandic Building in downtown Chicago.

The commission’s report, released late Friday afternoon, said:

  • Adrian’s uncertainty about the dates that improper communications occurred with three attorneys were “untruthful” and “calculated” to hide the fact that he allowed a person he claimed was not guilty to remain in custody for several months.
  • That much of Adrian’s testimony was “unbelievable.”
  • His conduct was “unbecoming” of a judicial officer and “diminished” the integrity of the judiciary.
  • He “willfully refused” to follow the law requiring that Clinton be sentenced to a mandatory prison term.
  • Adrian’s characterization of his guilty finding as a “rookie mistake” was disingenuous. “Rather than take responsibility for his conduct, (Adrian) has attempted to minimize it by using this self-serving label,” the report said.

Thirty minutes after the commission’s findings were posted online, Adrian agreed to a telephone interview to discuss them. (Some of his responses were modified for clarification.)

DA: Let’s start with a general open-ended question. What are your thoughts about what you read?

RA: It’s totally wrong. Totally made up. It sounds to me like it didn’t matter what I did. They were going to find I did something wrong. But the fact is, they never really ever talked about the evidence in the case, which was in fact that (Clinton) was not guilty. Clinton was not guilty. That’s the point. They never addressed that, even though we presented it to them. It was like they didn’t listen. You were there. Did the JIB even try and present any evidence that he was guilty?

DA: That was kind of what (Daniel) Konicek (who served as Adrian’s counsel) said in all of his arguments (during the hearing before the commission).

RA: Right. How could I have done anything wrong if he was not guilty? He was not guilty. That’s what the evidence was.

DA: Do you have any knowledge of whether there is an appeal process to this?

RA: There is not. I mean, you could file a lawsuit in a federal court for violation of property rights or whatever. That’s never been successful. I wouldn’t think about doing that. That’s not an avenue, especially in Illinois and this climate.

DA: It almost sounds like what you would like to say today to the commission is, “Did you look at the evidence?”

RA: Yeah, they didn’t.

DA: You sound frustrated because of this.

RA: Oh, I am frustrated because of that, but it’s because the fact is I did the right thing. I followed the evidence. Because whoever decided to pay a public relations firm to run this all over in the media, without being able to talk about it at a time when I couldn’t talk about it for months and months, then they created a public stir. So you’ve got the online mob and the media mob, all of whom are just reporting what’s being said as opposed to reporting what actually happened in the case.

DA: You’ve been working (as a judge in Adams County) since this trial happened, but you knew that a decision was coming.

RA: Nobody had any idea that there would be a removal.

DA: Did you have any idea that a decision was coming (Friday)?

RA: No.

DA: You’ve said you’re frustrated with the ruling. Are you surprised at the ruling?

RA: Oh, yeah. If you look at past complaints, this procedure is made for judges who break the law or do something underhanded or profit from their position or they influenced a case that’s not theirs.

DA: There were some judges who got drunk, too.

RA: Yeah, judges who violate the law. The criminal law.

DA: What you’re saying is, “I didn’t do any of those.”

RA: I didn’t do anything wrong in this case. I followed the evidence.

DA: As you’ve waited for this ruling, did you think to yourself, “I thought we made a case that exonerated me”? Were you expecting a decision in your favor? 

RA: Totally. (The ruling is) written like they knew what they were … a lot of people always complain and say, “Oh, the judge didn’t listen to a word I had to say. They had their mind made up.” This was a perfect example of it. It’s a total political hit job.

DA: You haven’t had much time to give this much consideration, but what’s next for you?

RA: Well, I’m going to do what I would have been doing before, which was retire.

DA: You were thinking about retirement before this anyway. Right?

RA: Right. Prior to this, I would have announced my retirement so that there would have been an election to replace me, but I wasn’t going to announce my retirement, because once I announced my retirement, then the case would go down as, oh, the judge retired, which makes it look like I did something wrong. And I didn’t do anything wrong. I found a not guilty guy not guilty after I mistakenly found him guilty after the trial on one count — after I found him not guilty on two other counts.

DA: It’s easy to be the Monday morning quarterback, but now that you have the ruling, do you regret not retiring and avoiding this? Or are you glad you went through the process to stand up for yourself?

RA: I was always going to stand up for myself. Yes. I don’t have any regrets about standing up for what’s right. In fact, I encourage everybody to stand up for what’s right and just. If you continue to stand up for what’s right and just, God will stand with you and you will be rewarded, if not in this life but the next.

DA: You have said since the first day that you didn’t do anything wrong except find a not guilty man not guilty, and you tried to fix that. As you look back through this, is there anything else that makes you think, “I should have done this” or “I shouldn’t have done this” or “I should have said that”?

RA: When I gave my decision when I found him not guilty, I would have said that all differently. I would have sat there and written it down, but you don’t have time to write that down. You have to listen to the post-trial motions, because that can affect what you decide. Yeah, I would have said things differently. It wouldn’t have changed the outcome. The outcome was always … I guess maybe I should have sat there in court and called her a liar and said, “Hey, your story doesn’t add up.” This is why and this is why. I guess I could have done that.

DA: When you say “her,” you’re talking about Cameron (Vaughn, who testified against Clinton). Correct?

RA: Yeah.

DA: OK, I just wanted to make that clear.

RA: I didn’t want want to sit there and call her a liar. I guess I could have. I’m not that type of person.

DA: And you have apologized to (Assistant State’s Attorney) Josh (Jones) for what you said to him.

RA: Sure. 

DA: So you weren’t without fault in this process?

RA: Yeah. I shouldn’t have said it. Of course, he shouldn’t have liked that (Facebook) post. That was probably a violation of the code of conduct for attorneys, but that’s neither here nor there now.

DA: Is there anything else that you want to add? I’ve kind of got an open floor here for you to say what you think the people need to know about what happened in this case.

RA: Well, the people need to know that Drew Clinton was not guilty. And it’s terrible. And I feel bad because I found him guilty. People are, throughout all of this, calling him a rapist, et cetera. That’s terrible. I found he was not guilty of all of that. That’s what I feel sorry about, this poor kid, because he was not guilty. To have to go through that as an 18-year-old and be falsely accused of rape, then called a rapist and have to put up with all of that, that’s terrible. 

I would also tell you that it’s terrible that the courts commission would do something like this, because there is no precedent for them to do anything like this. What they did was they took me — a judge who was elected by the people, retained twice by the people, once after this all happened and was retained with more than 60 percent of the vote. You had the super majority of the people who wanted me back as a judge, and now the people don’t get me because of the courts commission, because there’s a two-tier justice system that this is totally, as far as I’m concerned, unconstitutional. How can they undo an election or retention election like this? That’s basically what they did. They didn’t like the fact that I got retained.

DA: In reading the opinion, they referred to three cases in which the judge was removed. Were you familiar with those?

RA: I am not familiar with those. I would bet if you look at those, they were gross misconduct by the judge, not deciding a case, which is basically what I did. I corrected my mistake on a case. I found out the evidence. Their opinion doesn’t say anything about the evidence because they didn’t want to look at the evidence, because had they looked at the evidence, they would have seen that he was not guilty. That’s the whole point. I protected this young man’s constitutional rights. He had a right to a fair trial and be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

DA: The ruling says the commission previously has removed judges who have violated the law, engaged in deceitful conduct and given false testimony under oath.

RA: I do know other cases where the judge has committed a criminal offense, lied about the criminal offense and been suspended. Not removed.

DA: Would you have been OK had the commission said, “Bob, you didn’t do this and this right, but we’re going to suspend you for three months or four months”? Would you have thought that was fair?

RA: No. No. Because I didn’t do anything wrong. I found a not guilty guy not guilty. The only thing I did wrong was find him guilty to begin with, and then I made up for my mistake. That’s all that happened.

DA: You’ve had a very decorated career in law of more than 40 years. May ask how old are you are?

RA: I’m 66 and a half.

DA: Does it bother you that people, when they talk about Bob Adrian, people now are going to say, “They got rid of him. He handled this case wrong.” Does that frustrate you because that’s going to be part of your legacy?

RA: No. Do not fear the person who can kill the body. Fear the person who can kill the body and the soul.

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