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Cook County judge swept up in bribery case dead at 80

David J. Shields 80 | handout pho| Sun-Times

David J. Shields, 80 | handout photo | Sun-Times

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Updated: July 7, 2012 8:10AM

David J. Shields was a popular and promising judge, a shoo-in for chief judge of Cook County in the late 1980s.

But the head of the county’s complicated Chancery division was swept up in Operation Gambat, the second of two federal probes that imprisoned dirty judges.

Mr. Shields, whose office was bugged, was convicted of taking a $6,000 cash bribe to fix a case. He was sentenced to three years in federal prison.

He held fast to his innocence for the rest of his life.

Mr. Shields died May 31 at age 80.

“No one’s given me a dime,” he told the Sun-Times in 1989.

The son of an electrician, Mr. Shields got his law degree at DePaul University in 1956 and was admitted to the Illinois bar later that year. He married and had three children.

By 1971, he was a judge and quickly rose to lead the powerful chancery division, presiding over the county’s most complex cases. He was well-respected and trusted ­— so much so that even the plumbers union called him in to monitor a contentious election in the late 1980s.

In 1989, he was elected chair of the National Conference of State Trial Judges. That same year, he told the Sun-Times he’d heard rumors the feds were listening in on him.

“I heard the report of my chambers being bugged, but I can’t find it. But these things are rather small,” the judge said. “And while I do know Robert Cooley and Cooley has practiced law before me, he never gave me an envelope, nor did he ever give me a dime, nor did I ever help him in any way with any of his cases,” he told the newspaper.

Operation Greylord, a wide sweep of Cook County judges accused of taking cash to fix cases ranging from traffic tickets to murders, had already landed jurists in prison when Mr. Shields was indicted in 1990. Charged with him were Chicago Alderman Fred Roti (1st), State Sen. John D’Arco Jr., attorney Pat DeLeo and Outfit boss Pasquale Marcy.

Prosecutors said the judge accepted $6,000 in cash from DeLeo, the 45-year-old son-in-law of 1st Ward Committeeman John D’Arco Sr., to rule in favor of defense attorney and Operation Gambat undercover mole Robert Cooley.

“To the outside world, David Shields was a distinguished, respected, even charming man,” the trial prosecutor Michael Shepard told jurors at Shields’ trial. “But behind closed doors, he was the best judge money could buy.”

Mr. Shields testified in his own defense over 21/2 days but ultimately was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison and fined $6,000.

His sentencing judge, U.S. District Judge Ilana D. Rovner, called his refusal to admit guilt “astounding,” saying, “Our justice depends upon the belief that those whom we have entrusted to the office of judge will do their best to decide the cases based upon the law . . . and not upon handshake deals consummated in secrecy.”

While at the Duluth Federal Prison Camp, Mr. Shields was disbarred.

All in all, 19 judges were ousted in Operations Greylord and Gambat, short for Gambling Attorney.

Mr. Shields’ funeral will be held Monday morning at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Glenview. His family has asked for donations to be made to the COURAGE Program in Oak Lawn for young single mothers, or Joseph Academy in Des Plaines, a school for young people with severe behavioral, emotional and learning disabilities.

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