Commission weighs whether to discipline Illinois judge who reversed rape conviction

CHICAGO (AP) — A western Illinois judge could face removal from office after a judicial oversight body considered allegations this week that he circumvented the law when he decided to reverse a rape conviction.

The move sparked outrage in the victim’s hometown of Quincy, Illinois, and beyond.

The Illinois Courts Commission, which rules on complaints against judges in the state and has the power to remove, suspend, or reprimand them, heard arguments in Chicago on Wednesday over the allegations Adams County Judge Robert Adrian acted with willful misconduct by throwing out his own decision to avoid sending the defendant to prison.

Adrian presided over a three-day bench trial in which Drew Clinton of Taylor, Michigan, was accused of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl during a graduation party in May 2021.

In October of that year, Adrian found Clinton — who was 18 — guilty of criminal sexual assault. The offense carries a minimum sentence of four years in prison in Illinois.

But at Clinton’s sentencing hearing three months later, Adrian reversed his decision and said the 148 days the teenager had spent in county jail were punishment enough.

Complaints against judges in Illinois must first pass through the Judicial Inquiry Board, where a majority must find there is a reasonable basis to believe a judge acted with willful misconduct, brought the court into disrepute, or failed or are unable to perform their duties. Although complaints against judges are common, only two or so cases a year make it past the board to the commission's desk, according to Shelley Bethune, executive director and general counsel for the Illinois Courts Commission.

The board's complaint against Adrian says the judge acknowledged he was supposed to impose the mandatory four-year sentence, but that he would not send Clinton to prison. “That is not just,” Adrian said at the sentencing hearing, according to court transcripts. “I will not do that."

Adrian and his attorney maintained that his reversal was based on the evidence in the case and not an effort to “thwart the law."

But Adrian's lawyer, Daniel Konicek, made a broader argument Wednesday that “maybe the legislature is wrong" to mandate four years in prison for sexual assault.

Konicek urged commissioners not to base their decision on public outcry or social media, adding that his client has been maligned by the press and his family threatened as a result of the “hellstorm.”

The complaint also alleged Adrian retaliated against a prosecutor working on a different case by telling him to get out of the courtroom because he “liked” a Facebook post that was critical of Adrian in the days following the judge's decision to reverse his own verdict.

The lawyer who Adrian removed from the courtroom, Joshua Jones, testified Wednesday that the post in question said: “Hold rapists accountable."

Jones said he “was incredibly angry” after being kicked out of court over the post, which he felt represented part of his job as a prosecutor, and said Adrian later called him to apologize.

Cameron Vaughan, the victim of the 2021 assault, told The Associated Press this week that Adrian's reversal of verdict left her “completely shocked” but determined to oust him.

“He does not deserve to be a judge at all,” said Vaughan, who attended this week's proceedings along with family, friends and supporters.

Vaughan is now 18 years old. The Associated Press does not typically name people who say they were sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly.

"It was just really shocking and upsetting for him to not only let (Clinton) go, but to then blame me, blame my parents, blame the parents at the party,” Vaughan said.

After throwing out the conviction, Vaughan said the judge told the court “this is what happens whenever parents allow teenagers to drink alcohol, to swim in pools with their undergarments on,” she recounted, which is supported by a court transcript of that day.

Her mother, Roxanne Lindley, said Adrian “completely took the blame off of Drew and put it on all of us.”

Adams County court records show the guilty verdict was overturned because prosecutors failed to meet the burden of proof to prove Clinton guilty. He cannot be tried again for the same crime under the Fifth Amendment. A motion to expunge Clinton's record was denied in February of this year.

Court commissioners must now weigh all of the evidence in deciding whether Adrian will be disciplined, which may take several weeks or months. ___

Savage is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.