State

Drug trial set for former Ill. judge

EAST ST. LOUIS – A former southwestern Illinois judge facing federal heroin and weapons charges related to a courthouse scandal may offer a guilty plea before his December trial, his attorney said Monday.

Michael Cook, 43, pleaded not guilty in May, alleging he possessed heroin and had a gun while illegally using controlled substances.

But during a pretrial hearing Monday in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis, one of Cook’s attorneys, Bruce Lucco, told U.S. District Judge Joe McDade that the defense was unsure whether Cook would plead guilty or go to trial starting on Dec. 9.

Cook did not speak during the hearing, other than to identify himself to McDade, a federal judge from Springfield who was appointed to oversee the case after his counterparts in southern Illinois recused themselves. Cook, who is free on bond, declined to comment after the hearing.

Authorities have said that Cook was with former longtime St. Clair County prosecutor and newly appointed associate judge Joe Christ in March when Christ died of a cocaine overdose at the Cook family’s western Illinois hunting cabin. Cook has not been charged in the death of Christ, a 49-year-old father of six.

Cook later resigned his judgeship, attended drug rehab in Minnesota and agreed to have his law license suspended.

As part of the investigation, 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’ hunting trip. James Fogarty has pleaded not guilty to drug and weapons charges and is scheduled for trial in November.

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. After his resignation, all of his pending cases were reassigned.

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