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Illinois’ Baby Richard justice survives impeachment attempt

May 15, 1997

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) _ The Illinois Supreme Court justice who wrote the fiercely disputed Baby Richard ruling survived an impeachment effort Thursday over his attempts to duck traffic tickets and other alleged abuses of power.

A state House panel voted 8-2 against impeaching 63-year-old James Heiple.

Heiple’s behavior in repeatedly driving away from police trying to ticket him for traffic violations was inappropriate but ``does not rise to the level justifying impeachment,″ the committee said in its report.

The justice has charged that he is a victim of lingering resentment over the Baby Richard ruling, the 1994 decision that took a 4-year-old boy away from his adoptive parents and gave custody to his biological father.

The committee action seemed all but certain to kill the impeachment drive. Forcing a House floor vote on impeachment after the committee turned down the idea would be difficult.

Heiple’s attorney, former Gov. James R. Thompson, said he told Heiple: ``It’s not over until the Legislature adjourns.″

Heiple was censured on May 2 by the Illinois Courts Commission and later stepped down as chief justice of the Supreme Court. But he remains on the high court.

Rep. Jack Kubik, who voted against impeachment, said: ``Let me make it very clear that by my action I do not defend Justice Heiple. I only seek to defend the constitutional principle of separation of powers.″

Rep. Lou Jones also voted not to impeach but called on Heiple to resign. ``He has brought shame on the court, shame on himself, and shame on anyone who cares about the judiciary,″ Jones said. ``We are stuck with him.″

Heiple was charged with resisting arrest last year after a minor scuffle with police during a traffic stop. That led to an ethics investigation that found three cases where Heiple did not get tickets for speeding after displaying his judicial identification.

The impeachment investigation went beyond the traffic incidents to include appointments Heiple recommended as chief justice and also whether he profited from an agreement to lease an office from a bank where his late wife served as a director and stockholder. The panel found no wrongdoing on each matter.

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