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Sitting judge is held and under federal investigation

Posted May 24, 2013 6:30 AM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Corrected: A sitting Illinois drug court judge has been taken into custody and is under federal investigation following the death earlier this year of another judge in what a sheriff says was an apparent drug overdose.

Little is being said officially about why Circuit Court Judge Michael Cook, 43, who sits in St. Clair County, has been taken into custody. Court documents say his home and his family's rural hunting cabin were searched as part of the investigation. The hunting cabin is where associate judge Joseph D. Christ, 49, was found dead by Cook on March 10, according to KSDK and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

"The deceased came back with cocaine levels in his blood and the cause of death preliminarily is a cocaine toxicity," Pike County Sheriff Paul Petty told the station.

A St. Clair County probation officer was arrested by federal agents Thursday afternoon, but official information about the case against him is also lacking.

Michael J. Buettner, who serves as director of court services for St. Clair County, declined to comment Thursday on “employee matters” and said his office is cooperating with the U.S. attorney’s office on an “active investigation,” according to the Belleville News-Democrat and the Dispatch.

The Belleville newspaper says the state's attorney filed more than 500 motions Thursday morning seeking a substitution of judge in cases that had been before Cook.stating that his office has "actively assisted in and advanced a federal investigation of Cook," resulting in federal search warrants for the judge's person, his house in Belleville and the Pike County hunting cabin.

Chief Circuit Judge John Baricevic said the court is cooperating with the federal investigation, which he declined to discuss, reports the News-Democrat. He said Cook's office has been secured and that he expects it to be searched at some point.

Updated at 11:58 a.m. to correct Associate Judge Christ's job title.

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