Once again, a St. Clair County Judge has exhibited callousness and arrogance in refusing to follow the law; this time against my niece when appearing in his court for a seat belt violation. Judge Vincent Lopinot, of the Twentieth Judicial Circuit bullied Melissa McCoy into taking a fine for a seat belt ticket which was never lawfully charged and denied her right to be heard when challenging the veracity of the offense.
First, a little background. I was a paralegal student at Southwestern Illinois College (SWIC) in 2006 where Mr. Lopinot was my torts instructor. I had heard of his shenanigans prior to taking his class but gave him the benefit of the doubt. He seemed proficient in the subject matter and struck me in no particularly negative way aside for his dismissing some instances where the authority of government to act in a particular way was brought up in class. After that, I happened upon Mr. Lopinot a few times during my visits at the St. Clair County Law Library located in the courthouse. Mr. Lopinot would be passing through on the way to or from court and would extend salutations and comment on my appearing to always be doing legal research. The meetings, however brief, were always civil. That would change a few years later.
Lopinot would comment in class about my ability to quickly understand legal concepts and commented to me that I was one of his “best students”. I believe he called me, during one of our encounters in the library, “a diligent researcher”. Why he would forget me and dismiss my petition in court is beyond me. Maybe he merely forgot who I was since over 3 years had passed. Nevertheless, he should be held to a standard despite whatever professional infatuation he may have exhibited towards me in the past.
I was with my brother, Kent McCoy, on an appearance date for a charge where Judge Lopinot was presiding on 7/29/10. Digressing for a moment, the charge was improperly filed, lacked evidence, and reeked of police incompetence and bias. The case, which the State set for bench trial on that day, was dismissed because the Assistant State’s Attorney, a diminutive and incoherent black woman, failed to apprise her witness (the police) to be present for a trial. She believed a bench trial date is just legal-speak for “more tactics to get the accused to appear when no charges have been filed so we can wear him down”. The ASA (Assistant State’s Attorney) babbled, stuttered and whined to have her case continued so she could bring her witnesses to court…the next time. Judge Lopinot did the right thing in dismissing the charge for the State failing to be prepared to prosecute on the trial date. Kudos to you sir…but wait…
At the same time, I had intended to approach Judge Lopinot with sworn criminal complaints against Fairview Heights Police “officers” (they are really not officers, it is a colloquial term of deceit) Joshua Alemond and Aaron Nyman. Illinois statutes state that a sworn complaint presented to a judge requires the judge to examine the complainant under oath and upon a finding of probable cause based upon the written complaint and sworn examination shall issue a warrant for the arrest of the accused. Judge Lopinot was in his courtroom while in session and had a duty to hear the complaint. Judge Lopinot thought differently.
As I attempted to approach the bench he commented that I did not have a right to bring a complaint directly before the court, but instead had to take them to the police (good luck there) and he refused to hear my complaints. The bailiff took his usual bull-dog stance and would not allow me to approach further while commenting “we do not do that here”, referring to hearing complaints. Ignorance is as ignorance does. I then filed a complaint with the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board against Judge Lopinot for his refusing to abide by his oath and follow the law. See Lopinot Complaint Judicial Inquiry Board
That said, my niece also appeared before Judge Lopinot for a seat belt ticket. I had written some motions for her which require the State to produce a verified complaint or dismiss the charge. She refused to appear for previous court appearances because there was no lawful duty to appear absent a lawful charge and the State, in it’s bureaucratic glory, found her guilty and levied a fine against her. The appearance before Lopinot was to explain why she had not paid the fine. She did not pay the fine because I instructed her to not pay the fine as well as to not appear. The court also refused to hear or rule on any of the motions she filed, which I had written. When Judge Lopinot examined her on the matters she articulately stood her ground and demanded to see the verified complaint and have the court rule on her motions. Lopinot refused to produce a verified complaint, failed to show where she had knowingly and voluntarily waived her right to a jury trial, refused to hear the motions, and essentially shouted her down when she tried to speak. Whether or not he knew that my niece was my client I can’t say.
She eventually acquiesced and paid the fine. What Lopinot failed to realize is that I was sitting in court with my cell phone that happens to have voice recording capabilities. I did not make my presence known since I did not want that to influence his ruling since I had a open complaint against him. The volume is a little low where my niece is speaking but Lopinot is clearly audible. I am going to try to enhance the audio so my niece can be heard to the full context of the dialogue can be discerned.
I am discussing with her the filing of another complaint against Lopinot for his failure to apply the law. I have other clients who will be appearing in traffic court before Lopinot and I must coach them accordingly on how to anticipate his acerbic demeanor and deal with it accordingly. As with other judges in St. Clair County, Zena Cruse and John Baricevic amongst them, arrogance, ignorance, and abuse reigns supreme.