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Strange Doings in City Court

ST. LOUIS (CN) - Court clerks apparently ran a city judge's court while she was on vacation, dismissing cases, refusing bond reductions and ordering that arrest warrants be issued.

Clerks handled at least 350 cases while Associate Circuit Judge Barbara T. Peebles was on a 2-week vacation in China, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The newspaper's investigation found that clerks dismissed five cases, refused to dismiss at least one and decided that as many as 18 arrest warrants should be issued during Peebles' absence.

Clerks also continued more than 300 cases, telling defense lawyers there would be no bail reductions while Peebles was gone - potentially adding weeks of jail time for defendants seeking release before trial, the Post-Dispatch reported.

Many of the actions were taken using a stamp with Peebles' signature. Peebles presides in Division 25, which handles the initial stages of criminal cases.

St. Louis Circuit Court Presiding Judge Steven Ohmer told the Post-Dispatch that Peebles' and her clerks' conduct was wrong, and blamed it on an overall lack of management and supervision.

Ohmer said the Commission on Retirement, Removal and Discipline, which investigate complaints about judges, is aware of the situation.

Peebles told the Post-Dispatch she could not comment.

Judges usually schedule their cases around vacations and work it out with colleagues to handle matters that cannot be deferred. Peebles did get her fellow judges to cover part of her work - recently arrested inmates who must appear before a judge - while she was gone, but not the rest.

Ohmer told the Post-Dispatch there may have been some animosity between Peebles and the other judges that made her reluctant to ask. Ohmer said he considered moving Peebles out of her position - such a move hasn't happened in 30 years - but decided against it. In January, Peebles will move on to a civil trial division as planned.

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