ST. LOUIS – A southwestern Illinois judge whose colleague died of a cocaine overdose while the two were on a hunting trip resigned Wednesday, days after he was charged with federal heroin and gun offenses in the widening courthouse drug scandal.
St. Clair County Circuit Judge Michael Cook announced he was stepping down in a brief letter to the county’s chief judge, John Baricevic. No reason for Cook’s departure was stated in the letter, delivered on his behalf by one of his attorneys because Cook is in rehab, Baricevic said.
Federal prosecutors on Friday charged Cook, 43, with possessing heroin and having a gun while illegally using controlled substances. Cook, whom the criminal complaint accuses of being an addict, has pleaded not guilty and is free on bond.
Those charges came just hours after revelations by the coroner in western Illinois’ Pike County that a fellow St. Clair County judge, Joe Christ, died in March of a cocaine overdose while staying with Cook at the Cook family’s hunting cabin.
Christ, a 49-year-old father of six, was a former longtime prosecutor who died a little more than a week after being sworn in as an associate judge.
Baricevic said he had expected Cook to resign.
“I’m not surprised under the circumstances,” he said. “In one sense, it was a formality, but a very important one. Disciplinary procedures seeking him removed could have taken a very long time.
“He has accepted responsibility, and that has allowed us to move ahead,” Baricevic said.
It is up to the Illinois Supreme Court to accept Cook’s resignation and fill the vacancy, though spokesman Joe Tybor said the high court faces no time constraints to do so.
Cook has not been charged in Christ’s death, and a federal investigation continues.
Federal authorities also snared a St. Clair County probation officer who an FBI agent said admitted providing cocaine to Cook and Christ on several occasions, including on the eve of the judges’ ill-fated hunting trip.
James Fogarty said he snorted cocaine with the two judges at his home, during golf trips and at the Cook family’s lodge where Christ later died, FBI Special Agent Joseph Murphy wrote in an affidavit. The three used cocaine together the day before Cook and Christ left for the hunting trip from which Christ would not return alive, Murphy wrote.
The criminal complaint accuses Fogarty of cocaine distribution and possession.
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. Baricevic last week reassigned all of Cook’s pending cases to Circuit Judge Robert Haida.
Cook “was out of business at that point,” Baricevic said.