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Court Tosses Plea Deal for Drug-Using County Judge

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. (CN) - A federal judge has refused a plea agreement that would have sent a former St. Clair County judge to prison for 18-months on drug charges.

U.S. District Judge Joe Billy McDade called the sentence involving Michael N. Cook "not sufficient" and that the facts of the case supported a longer sentence, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Cook, of Belleville, Ill., resigned after fellow judge Joseph Christ died of a cocaine overdose on March 10, 2013 at the Cook family hunting lodge in Pike County, Ill., 65 miles northwest of St. Louis. He later admitted that he was a heroin addict at his guilty plea.

Cook initially offered no explanation as to what might have caused Christ's death, the Post-Dispatch reported. Later, he admitted to using drugs and that he had used cocaine the day before Christ's death and that Christ brought out the cocaine on the drive to the lodge to the Pike County sheriff and coroner.

McDade gave Cook and prosecutors until March 19 to make a new deal. The rejected plea deal involved a misdemeanor charge of heroin possession and a felony charge of being a drug user in possession of a firearm and carried an agreed-upon provision that took sentencing discretion away from McDade, whose only option was to accept or reject the deal, the Post-Dispatch reported.

In January, McDade warned both sides that he disagreed with their pre-sentence report stating that there was no reason to go above federal sentencing guidelines, which called for six months or less in prison. McDade wrote that Cook's status as a judge, his longtime drug use and the disruption of government functions were reasons to go higher.

Cook was selected as an associate judge in 2007, appointed to a vacancy to be a circuit judge in 2010 and was elected as a Democrat to a six-year term later that year.

Two men convicted of murder in trials in which Cook presided have won retrials based on concerns about Cook's drug connections and other criminal defendant's have been allowed to withdraw guilty pleas due to the scandal, the Post-Dispatch reported.


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