Three-day hearing for Adrian before Illinois Courts Commission to begin Tuesday morning in Chicago

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Judge Robert Adrian listens to testimony during the Tim Bliefnick trial in May in an Adams County courtroom. | Pool Photo by Matt Hopf/The Herald-Whig

CHICAGO — A three-day hearing before the Illinois Courts Commission for Eighth Judicial Circuit Judge Robert Adrian is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the Michael A. Bilandic Building, 160 N. LaSalle. 

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Lewis Nixon picked this week for the trial during a video conference in April.

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 filed a complaint on June 17, 2022, against Adrian. The board determines if a complaint made against an active Illinois court judge should be closed or investigated, and whether a reasonable basis exists to file a public complaint against a judge with the Courts Commission.

The complaint alleges: 

Illinois Supreme Court Justice P. Scott Neville, a Culver-Stockton College graduate, is chairman of the Illinois Courts Commission. It was created by the 1970 Illinois Constitution to adjudicate complaints brought by the Judicial Inquiry Board against Illinois judges alleging violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct. After a public hearing, the commission can reprimand, censure, suspend without pay or remove the judge from office.

Other members of the Illinois Courts Commission are:

  • Margaret Stanton McBride, a First District Appellate Court judge from Cook County;
  • Thomas M. Harris, a Fourth District Appellate Court judge from Logan County; 
  • Lewis Nixon, a First District Circuit Court judge from Cook County; 
  • Sheldon Sobol, a Third District Circuit Court judge from Grundy County; 
  • Aurora Abella-Austriaco, a shareholder at Valentine Austriaco and Bueschel P.C., an all-female law firm in Chicago;
  • Paula Wolff, policy advisor to the Illinois Justice Project, a civic organization implementing policy initiatives and programs to improve the criminal legal system.

The appellate and circuit court judges were appointed to the Courts Commission by the Supreme Court. Abella-Austriaco and Wolff were appointed by the governor in 2014 and 1997, respectively.

Neville filed an order in April recusing himself from the case. David K. Overstreet, the alternate Supreme Court member for the Illinois Courts Commission, also recused himself from the case in that April order. Elizabeth Rochford has been appointed to represent the Supreme Court on the Courts Commission in the Adrian case.

In the Illinois system of judicial discipline, the Illinois Supreme Court essentially serves as the legislative body in enacting the rules of judicial conduct. The Inquiry Board serves as the executive body charged with investigating and prosecuting alleged violations of the rules of judicial conduct. The Courts Commission serves as the judicial body charged with interpreting and applying the rules of judicial conduct when it adjudicates the complaints filed by the Inquiry Board. 

The Illinois Courts Commission has heard 28 cases since 2005. 

  • Ten judges were reprimanded, meaning they violated the Code of Judicial Conduct and engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, but the misconduct was minor. 
  • Six complaints were dismissed. 
  • Four judges were censured, meaning a judge willfully engaged in misconduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute, but suspension of the judge from the judge’s judicial duties or the removal of the judge from judicial office was not warranted.
  • Three judges were suspended, with the lengths of the suspensions ranging from four months to 60 days.
  • Three judges — Cynthia Brim in 2014, Patrick O’Shea in 2019 and Ronald Duebbert in 2020 — were removed from office.
  • One judge was not disciplined.
  • One judge retired.

Adrian found Clinton guilty of one count of criminal sexual assault for digitally penetrating the accuser’s vagina after a three-day bench trial on Oct. 13-15, 2021. The statute under which Clinton was convicted requires a minimum four-year sentence in the Department of Corrections. It doesn’t allow an alternative sentence.

However, after post-trial motions were made during a sentencing hearing on Jan. 3, 2022, Adrian changed his Oct. 15 ruling.

“This court is required to do justice,” Adrian said, according to court transcripts. “This court is required to do justice by the public. It’s required to do justice by me, and it’s required to do justice by God.

“… This happened when this teenager … was two weeks past 18 years old. He has no prior record, none whatsoever. By law, the court is supposed to sentence this young man to the Department of Corrections. This court will not do that. That is not just. There is no way for what happened in this case that this teenager should go to the Department of Corrections. I will not do that.

“The court could find the sentencing statute for this offense is unconstitutional as applied to (Clinton), but that’s not going to solve the problem. If the court does that, this court will be reversed by the appellate court and Mr. Clinton will end up in the Department of Corrections. Mr. Clinton has served almost five months in the county jail, 148 days. For what happened in this case, that is plenty of punishment. That would be a just sentence. The court can’t do that.

“What the court can do, because this was a bench trial, the court will find that the people failed to prove their case on (the digital penetration count). The court is going to reconsider its verdict and is going to find the defendant not guilty. Therefore, the defendant will be released from custody. Bond will be discharged.”

Muddy River News published a story about Adrian’s ruling on Jan. 7, 2022. Five days later, Jones and Adrian were in courtroom 1B for status hearings on a series of felony cases in Adams County Circuit Court. After Adrian entered the courtroom and was seated, he immediately turned his attention to Jones.

“Mr. Jones, get out,” he said.

Jones didn’t immediately react to Adrian, so the judge continued.

“I’m not on social media, but my wife is,” Adrian said. “She saw the thumbs up you gave to people attacking me. I can’t be fair with you today. Get out.”

With a quizzical look on his face, Jones walked out of the courtroom without saying a word.

Adrian testified under oath before the Judicial Inquiry Board in April 2022. The JIB’s complaint said Adrian explained his decision to reverse his finding of guilt in the sexual assault case was based upon the evidence and his conclusion that the prosecution had not proved beyond reasonable doubt that the victim could not give consent.

Adrian also allegedly testified his reversal was not an effort to “thwart the law.” The JIB alleged in its complaint this testimony was false, and Adrian knew it was false when he made the statements.

Adrian denies the allegations, other than his statement to Jones.

Adrian retained his seat as a circuit judge in the Eighth Judicial Circuit during the November 2022 election. He needed 60 percent of the vote to be retained, and Adrian received 28,915 “yes” votes and 18,045 “no” votes — about 62 percent. Adams County, the largest county in the circuit and Adrian’s home county, was the only one of the eight counties he lost, falling 12,302 to 11,829. He managed to surpass 60 percent in the other seven counties and hit the 80 percent mark in Menard and Mason counties. 

Adrian also presided over the May trial for Tim Bliefnick, finding him guilty of the February murder of his estranged wife, Rebecca. Jones prosecuted the case.

Daniel Konicek, a Geneva attorney, is Adrian’s counsel. Cook County prosecutor Mike Deno is executive director and general counsel for the Judicial Inquiry Board.

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