The news was shocking. When Judge William Raines recused himself on January 12 from the post-conviction case of Roosevelt Myles, it made international headlines.
But to Myles, his attorneys and those who have been watching the discovery phase of the case drag on for months, the recording that captured Judge Raines disparaging Myles’ attorneys on a hot mic wasn’t a surprise. If anything, it was something that seemed bound to happen. Events leading up to that explosive moment showed that Judge Raines’ recusal was a year in the making.
Since January 2020, the assignment of Judge Raines to the case has made Myles and his attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, uneasy. He’s a former cop who for the past year has presided over Myles’ post-conviction case that is now 22 years old and counting.
Despite her objection, he ordered Bonjean to issue a subpoena to several news organizations that published stories on her client’s post-conviction case. Myles’ folder went missing for 110 days before it was found on Judge Raines’ desk in his courtroom after the Chicago Crusader inquired about it to Chief Judge Timothy Evans’ office.
Raines’ casual banter with assistant state’s attorneys in his courtroom and via Zoom meetings also made Myles and others cringe. And throughout the discovery proceedings, Judge Raines was tough on Bonjean, whom he disparaged after she stepped up calls for an evidentiary hearing that her client has waited on for more than 20 years.
On the state’s side of Myles’ case is Assistant State’s Attorney Todd Dombrowski. When Bonjean complained after Dombrowski made incorrect statements contrary to court transcripts, Judge Raines said nothing and made no attempt to correct him. When Dombrowski showed up casually dressed and sick at one hearing, Judge Raines showed sympathy and in so many words, accused Bonjean of lacking compassion.
Judge Raines has not uttered a word or warning to Dombrowski, who in the last six months has been working on out-of-state subpoenas to serve to Buzzfeed and Discovery LLC, both of which published stories on Myles’ post-conviction case.
Dombrowski’s subpoenas have gone nowhere and have brought the hearings to a halt. With the discovery hearings more than a year old, Judge Raines silently grants one new hearing after another to Dombrowski without setting a deadline or asking him to step things up. These hearings keep piling up with no end in sight.
This May will mark two years since an appeals court sent Myles’ case back to 26th and California after Judge Dennis Porter dismissed Myles’ request for an evidentiary hearing that he waited 21 years to get.
After Judge Porter’s actions drew complaints of mishandling Myles’ case, he recused himself. The case fell into the hands of Judge Raines. Now after two judges, the case heads into its 22nd year and picks up where it left off in 2021: stuck in a discovery phase with subpoenas that either have not been served or rejected by news organizations.
Myles was convicted in 1996 after he was arrested and charged with murdering 16-year-old Shaharian “Tony” Brandon on the West Side in 1992.
He was released from jail in 2020 after serving 28 years for a crime he didn’t commit. The state’s main witness, 15-year-old Octavia Morris, who was with Brandon during the murder, admitted in 2018 that she was forced to confess that Myles was the killer after six Chicago police officers visited her mother’s home several times.
Myles had a string of public defenders who during a span of more than two decades, racked up more than 70 continuances before he convinced Bonjean in 2017 to represent his case. Since then, Bonjean has gone head-to-head with Dombrowski in Cook County court.
Dombrowski first presented the idea of subpoenaing Buzzfeed and Discovery LLC, at a hearing on January 11, 2021. Six months later, Dombrowski told the court that he requested an order for a subpoena for aired and unaired footage from Discovery’s “Reasonable Doubt,” which broadcast a story that cast doubt on Myles’ murder conviction.
Approximately 48 days after this request, Dombrowski said that his paralegal was working on it, as he was “moving on with the issuance of the media subpoenas.”
At that hearing Bonjean said, “it sounds like there’s going to be a return of subpoenas, which I thought were going to be issued on the last court date.” Dombrowski asked for more time for the subpoenas, and another hearing was scheduled. That next hearing would be September 14, 2021, many months later, at which time Dombrowski said there was a problem with the subpoenas. He told Judge Raines that because the subpoenas would be served to companies outside of Illinois, three documents are needed.
They include an affidavit from Dombrowski that says, ‘yes’ this is important. The second is a specialized order from the judge that says the subpoena is needed to obtain important material for litigation purposes. The third is a certification form that needs to be signed by Judge Raines’ clerk.
It is at this hearing, which was held last September, that Bonjean begins to voice her displeasure with Dombrowski and the time spent on issuing the subpoenas.
She said, “I haven’t complained up until now, which is a miracle in and of itself and I would really like to get this subpoena issue resolved, and it would be helpful if Mr. Dombrowski gave me some advanced notice of what he is trying to get accomplished because I don’t know what he is talking about, frankly.”
Dombrowski replied, “These are out of state subpoenas that you don’t just simply put them in the mail and send them out. They need to be properly served per the state and business that it is in. This is not a special thing that we do… But as I said, I have been ill for the last couple of weeks. Unfortunately, this is the same illness I had that put me on four months of medical leave three years ago… I’m trying my darndest to get things done as well as getting myself well.”
At a discovery hearing on January 4, 2022, Bonjean finally had had enough. Tired of the time spent on the subpoenas, Bonjean filed a motion requesting an evidentiary hearing for Myles within 60 days.
Dombrowski, meanwhile, gave an update on the subpoenas. One news outlet had been finally served a subpoena and has hired a lawyer who will face Dombrowski at a court hearing on January 24.
The subpoena to Discovery LLC hit another snag. Dombrowski said the Clerk of the County Court implemented a new computer system and is unable to meet the deadline to respond to the subpoena. As a result, Dombrowski needs to get a new certification form to reissue a new subpoena to Discovery, LLC. Dombrowski also complained that he “got a flare up” with his illness that prevented him from coming to court in person that day.
At a hearing that was held a week later, Judge Raines denied Bonjean’s request to move on to an evidentiary hearing. He said the discovery phase wasn’t completed and that Dombrowski needed more time to obtain the subpoena from Discovery, LLC.
Before the hearing began, Bonjean discovered that Dombrowski had told a California court in Los Angeles County that Judge Raines “has already considered arguments on the reporter’s privilege” and gave a ruling “of some type” on the matter. Bonjean said Dombrowski’s alleged statement “is an absolute gross misrepresentation of what has happened here because we didn’t argue any reporter’s privilege because I’m not a reporter.”
Dombrowski doubled down on his statement that Bonjean asserted reporter’s privilege in a hearing last year. [Court transcripts show that at a discovery hearing on March 10, 2021, Bonjean simply pointed out that news agencies may assert a journalistic privilege if they are subpoenaed for published and non-published material.] Judge Raines never stepped in to correct Dombrowski, which angered Bonjean even more.
The exchange between the two intensified as Bonjean, a prominent New York attorney, was speaking from inside a car during the heated video conferencing hearing held on Zoom.
At the height of the heated exchange, Judge Raines said, “I’m going to allow Mr. Dombrowski to get what he feels that he needs [subpoenas] because this is a serious matter. You can shake your head all you want. I’m the one who’s going to pull the trigger.”
Bonjean responded, “You already did that. You allowed him to get what he wants.”
Judge Raines then said, “Stop shaking your head, be professional, would you please?”
Bonjean responded, “You know what’s professional? Telling the truth and understanding the law. That’s professional.”
At one point Judge Raines tells Bonjean to stop talking. She responds by saying, “Well, you’re not correcting his lies, so I’m going to.”