Obit: Former top Cook Co. judge did prison time

June 3, 2012 6:27:20 AM PDT
With a shock of white hair atop his tall frame, broad shoulders and infectious smile, David J. Shields was one of the most well-liked jurists among legal colleagues and attorneys in Cook County.

Judge Shields' disposition and popularity made his sudden downfall, during a notorious 1990 corruption scandal, even more of an oddity.

Shields died Thursday at age 80.

As head of the Chancery Court, he was once considered a shoo-in for chief of the Circuit Court of Cook County. An undercover FBI operation code-named Operation: GAMBAT interrupted Shields' rise to the top.

The federal investigation was shorthand for "gambling attorney" and referred to FBI mole Robert Cooley, a mob-connected Chicago lawyer who worked undercover for the FBI for 3 1/2 years secretly recording crooked deals and influence peddling. The corruption case netted four others with Judge Shields and were personally announced by then-U.S. Attorney General Richard Thornburgh. Besides Shields, indicted were: longtime Chicago Alderman Fred Roti (1st,) State Sen. John D'Arco Jr., Outfit boss Pasquale "Pat" Marcy and attorney Pat DeLeo.

DeLeo and Shields were charged with extortion, making false statements and other crimes relating to a civil case staged by undercover federal agents in 1988. DeLeo accepted $11,000 from a lawyer working undercover for the FBI and delivered some of the money to Shields. According to the indictment the $6000 in cash was intended to influence the judge's decision.

Former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb, who represented Shields and Roti, said at the time: ''I'm confident we'll be able to establish their innocence.'' It didn't work out that way. Both men were convicted and sent to prison.

'What you have done has shamed many honest judges, but more importantly impaired the public's belief in a fair, impartial judiciary," said U.S. District Judge Ilana Rovner at Shields' sentencing hearing.

Shields apologized only for "the interpretation of what happened" and always contended he was innocent.

Regardless, his 20-year career on the bench and 35 years in law effectively ended the day he was indicted.

Two words on an undercover audio tape did-in David Shields. The recording, made in Shields' courthouse chambers that had been secretly bugged by the FBI, was of a hushed conversation with politically connected lawyer Pasquale ''Pat'' De Leo. The discussion concerned a case that DeLeo wanted "fixed." Neither man knew that it was actually a bogus case put together by the FBI. Nevertheless, Shields is heard on tape telling DeLeo to "stall it."

De Leo was later convicted of acting as a "bagman" in the case for covert FBI stooge Cooley, who was cooperating with the government.

Mr. Shields served his sentence from 1992-95 at a federal prison camp in Duluth, Minnesota.

After his release, the ex-judge volunteered at a pair of charitable organizations; one for children with behavioral disorders and the other for unwed mothers.

Shields lived quietly until his death, although apparently never accepted his conviction. "I thought it was a silly suit" he is quoted as saying in a profile several years ago. "I don't think I've lost a single friend. Everyone's been friendly and supportive," agreeing with him that "it's all bunk."

His funeral is Monday morning at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, 1775 Grove St. Glenview, IL 60025.

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