BELLEVILLE • Embattled St. Clair County Circuit Judge Michael N. Cook, who faces federal drug and gun charges, resigned from the bench Wednesday.
Chief Judge John Baricevic said he had received a letter from Cook’s attorney, Tom Keefe, notifying him of the decision.
“Mr. Keefe said he was authorized by Judge Cook to tender his resignation on (Cook’s) behalf,” Baricevic said.
“I expected it,” he noted.
In March, a different St. Clair County judge, Joseph Christ, died from a cocaine overdose while staying with Cook at the Cook family’s resort in Pleasant Hill, Ill.
Cook, 43, of Belleville, was charged last week as an unlawful user of a controlled substance in possession of a firearm, and with a misdemeanor charge of possession of heroin.
He pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Cook is free on $10,000 unsecured bail that calls for him to submit to substance abuse counseling if probation officials require it. He entered a treatment facility last week.
“Apparently, his outside access is restricted, which is why he has had to (resign) through his attorney,” Baricevic said.
He said it marked the first time in memory that a judge in the circuit resigned under pressure.
Baricevic said that he had forwarded Cook’s resignation request to the Illinois Supreme Court for review.
The high court typically takes at least a couple of weeks to fill such a vacancy, Baricevic said.
“They don’t have to do it right away,” Baricevic said. “They could wait a week, a month, two months; usually, that’s for budget reasons. The court saves money by not filling a vacancy. As you know, the state of Illinois has not been very responsible with dollars and sometimes judicial vacancies are delayed to save a couple of bucks.”
Neither the Illinois Supreme Court nor the Administrative Office of Illinois Courts has received Cook’s resignation, said the high court’s spokesman, Joe Tybor.
The Supreme Court requires that a judge’s resignation be in writing to the chief justice, with a copy to the justice in the district in which the resignation takes place and to the director of the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts.
Cook is a former assistant public defender and private attorney who was elected associate judge in 2007. He was appointed to fill a vacancy as full circuit judge in 2010 and elected as a Democrat to a six-year term later that year.
He is the son of Bruce Cook, a wealthy lawyer in Belleville who has been active in behind-the-scenes Democratic Party politics.
Michael Cook was arrested last week outside the home in Belleville of Sean McGilvery, who has been charged as a heroin dealer.
The drug scandal has ensnared St. Clair County probation officer James Fogarty, who told an FBI agent that he sold cocaine to the two judges. Fogarty also was charged.
All of Cook’s cases have been transferred to another judge.
His annual salary had been $179,655. He would qualify for a judicial pension for having served six years on the bench, the minimum required.
Tim Blair, executive director of the Illinois Judges Retirement System, said Cook stood to collect about 21 percent of his salary after he turns 62.
However, Cook would forfeit his pension if he were convicted of a felony committed in association with his job.
“And you don’t have to look very far back to see a couple of examples where that happened — the past two governors,” Blair said, referring to George Ryan, a Republican, and Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat, who were both convicted on corruption charges.
If Cook were convicted, he still would be eligible for a refund of the $114,493 he contributed to his retirement.