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LaSalle Co. judge receives reprimand from Courts Commission over DUI

By Bethany Krajelis | Dec 23, 2014

The Illinois Courts Commission has reprimanded a LaSalle County judge who pleaded guilty in May to driving under the influence of alcohol.

LaSalle County Circuit Judge Joseph P. Hettel apologized for his actions at a Dec. 1 hearing and admitted that, “no question, I did not live up to the goal of the Supreme Court Rules,” according to an order the commission filed Tuesday.

The reprimand from the commission --which has the authority to hand down discipline to state judges ranging from removal and suspension to censure and reprimand—stems from a complaint the Judicial Inquiry Board brought against Hettel in June.

At the crux of the board’s complaint was a March 31, 2014 incident, in which the judge crashed into a parked vehicle while driving. The collision left both vehicles, as well as a utility pole, damaged and caused police to respond to the scene at about 10:30 p.m.

Hettel refused to take a field sobriety test at the scene, where he told the officer he had a couple of drinks and was trying to use his cell phone before the crash occurred. He also refused to take a breathalyzer test and provide a blood or urine sample at Ottawa’s police station.

The judge was then issued citations for driving under the influence of alcohol, failing to reduce speed to avoid an accident, using an electronic communication device while operating a vehicle and improper lane usage, according to the commission’s order.

On May 21, Hettel pleaded guilty to the DUI charge and the others were dismissed. He was given two years of supervision and a $2,000 fine. He also had to attend a drunk-driving impact panel and complete all recommendations from a court ordered DUI evaluation and 100 hours of community service by Dec. 11.

The Judicial Inquiry Board, which investigates complaints against judges, filed its complaint against Hettel in June, accusing him of violating the Code of Judicial Conduct and a Supreme Court rule that says judges should uphold the integrity of the judiciary. It also alleged he engaged in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice and brings the judicial office into disrepute.

In response to the complaint, Hettel, through counsel, admitted the allegations the board lodged, according to the commission’s order that notes it then held a hearing on the matter on Dec. 1.

Hettel appeared in person at the hearing, along with his attorney, Darrell Seigler in Ottawa, and John Gallo, an attorney with Sidley Austin in Chicago who represented the board.

Gallo, according to the order, told the commission that while it has issued reprimands in similar cases in the past, the board no longer makes recommendations to the commission and as such, declined to do so in Hettel’s case.

On behalf of the judge, Seigler told the commission Hettel attended the drunk-driving impact panel, participated DUI evaluation and completed the recommendations and more than 100 hours of community service before the court’s Dec. 11 deadline.

Seigler also noted that Hettel’s DUI sentence was harsher than the average sentence given to a first offender in LaSalle County. A typical average sentence, he said, requires one year of supervision, an alcohol evaluation, participation in the drunk driving impact panel, a $1,500 fine and no community service.

Addressing the commission on his own behalf, Hettel, a former prosecutor, apologized and among other things, said “his compliance with the terms of his DUI sentence has made him a better judge, father and husband.”

In its three-page order, the commission adopted Seigler’s request and reprimanded Hettel.

A reprimand is one of the lowest forms of discipline the commission can impose. The commission is composed of five judges –one from the Supreme Court as the chairperson and two each from the appellate and circuit court level—and two Illinois citizens.

In Hettel’s case, the commission consisted of Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier, First District Appellate Court Justice Margaret Stanton McBride, Fifth District Justice Richard Goldenhersh, Cook County Circuit Judge William Hooks, Macon County Circuit Judge Albert Webber and Cook County residents Paula Wolff, a senior executive at Metropolis Strategies, and Aurora Austriaco, an attorney.

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