When a Cook County judge crashed into a parked car while driving drunk last year, the passengers included another judge — who refused to cooperate with police, according to newly obtained documents.
The driver of the vehicle, Associate Judge Mohammed Ghouse, was arrested, charged and eventually pleaded guilty to driving under the influence.
Prosecutors in DuPage County built their case against Ghouse despite Cook County Circuit Judge Mary Kathleen “Katie” McHugh’s refusal to talk with police in Hinsdale after the crash in November, records show.
The officer who responded to the incident wrote in a police report that McHugh was a “vehicle occupant” and he approached her at a hospital in Hinsdale. But the suburban cop wrote that McHugh “refused to speak with me.”
After Ghouse’s arrest, the chief judge of the Cook County court system, Timothy Evans, announced that Ghouse was suspended from hearing cases and said the matter would be referred to the state’s Judicial Inquiry Board.
But McHugh’s role in the incident was not publicly known until now. Her name has surfaced in the case only because WBEZ sued Hinsdale officials for access to the names of the passengers in the vehicle driven by Ghouse, which the suburb initially would not make public.
Records also show the vehicle Ghouse was driving is registered to an “M.K. Ranke” — McHugh’s married name.
McHugh, 53, has been a judge since being elected in 2016 and her six-year term ends in December, meaning she would have to run in November for retention.
McHugh’s annual salary is $216,000, while Ghouse makes $205,200 a year. Both continue to get paid their full salaries, according to state records.
Both Ghouse and McHugh live in Hinsdale, according to public documents.
They did not respond to messages from WBEZ.
Evans’ spokeswoman declined to comment Monday when asked whether the chief judge was aware that McHugh was in the car during the incident and what he thought about McHugh’s refusal to cooperate with law enforcement.
“We sent all the information we had to the Judicial Inquiry Board, where all proceedings are confidential,” the spokeswoman, Mary Wisniewski, told WBEZ. “We have no further comment at this time.”
Strong odor of alcohol on judge’s breath
According to the police report from Hinsdale, Ghouse was driving a white 2021 Audi Q5 when the SUV smashed into a parked Chevrolet van in the 700 block of South Garfield Avenue in Hinsdale at about 8:35 p.m. on Nov. 23.
Ghouse, who’s now 48, told officers who responded to the crash that he was driving behind the van when it stopped and he tried to drive around it, but he “did not do it fast enough” and instead crashed his car into the van.
But witnesses told police that the van had been parked for 10 minutes, with its hazard lights flashing, before Ghouse’s Audi slammed into it.
Told of that account by police, Ghouse responded, “I don’t know about that,” according to the incident report.
And body-camera video from the crash scene shows Ghouse mentioned to police that he was a judge, and he also told them he had not been drinking at all.
But Hinsdale police and witnesses said they noticed a strong odor of liquor on the judge’s breath, and Ghouse was arrested after he refused to complete field sobriety tests.
“While I spoke with Mohammed, I observed his eyes were glassy and bloodshot and he was swaying back and forth,” the officer wrote.
Hinsdale officers then went to the local hospital, where they saw McHugh and a second passenger in the vehicle Ghouse was driving — defense attorney Francis Morrissey.
Morrissey told officers he had been eating and drinking at a nearby restaurant, Fuller House, earlier that evening with Ghouse and others. A Hinsdale police sergeant reported seeing the party at Fuller House, records show.
Morrissey told officers he “drank two or three Tito’s Vodka and sodas” in about an hour and a half and that Ghouse and the others “had the same drinks he did.”
An officer also wrote, “Francis did not recall any information about the events that led to the crash. When I asked who was driving, he did not know because he believed he was in an Uber at the time of the crash.”
Morrissey did not respond to messages.
“Significant public interest” in judges’ conduct
Hinsdale officials redacted the names of Morrissey and McHugh from copies of the police report that they gave to WBEZ in December, after a reporter filed a Freedom of Information Act request for records relating to the case.
At the time, officials told WBEZ they redacted the names of Ghouse’s passengers from the records, citing an exemption in the state’s open-records law. That exemption allows for withholding parts of public documents when the release of that information “would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
But the privacy exemption does not extend to “the disclosure of information that bears on the public duties of public employees and public officials.”
On Feb. 9, the station sued the village of Hinsdale, with lawyers Merrick Wayne and Matt Topic representing WBEZ. The suit in DuPage County court alleged that the suburban officials violated the state’s open-records law, arguing that the names of the passengers should not have been withheld and that body-camera recordings from the incident in Hinsdale should be made public.
“There is a significant public interest in understanding how judges conduct themselves when they interact with law enforcement,” the lawyers for WBEZ wrote.
After hiring an outside lawyer to defend them against the station’s lawsuit, Hinsdale provided a new copy of the police report to WBEZ earlier this month, finally revealing the identities of the two passengers in Ghouse’s car.
But village officials in Hinsdale still would not provide body-camera video of the police officers’ encounters with McHugh or Morrissey at the hospital, arguing that the law requiring cops to wear the devices prevents them from making those recordings public.
WBEZ’s suit against Hinsdale is pending.
Ghouse’s guilty plea and sentence
Ghouse pleaded guilty to the class A misdemeanor of “DUI — alcohol — 1st or 2nd offense” on Feb. 18, according to DuPage County court records.
He was sentenced to a year of court supervision and ordered to pay fines and assessments totaling $3,281, including a $400 “anti-crime contribution” to a group such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
In his sentencing order, the judge in the case, Michael W. Fleming, wrote, “Evidence shall be disposed after 45 days unless there are further court filings.”
A spokesman for the DuPage County state’s attorney’s office said Monday Ghouse was “treated the same as anyone else.”
According to his resume on LinkedIn, Ghouse was an assistant state’s attorney for Cook County and had a private law practice before he was chosen as an associate judge by the circuit judges in 2016.
That same year, McHugh was elected a circuit judge after winning the three-way Democratic primary with 49%. She is assigned to the municipal department at the county courthouse in Bridgeview, according to the court system’s website.
Until he was disciplined, Ghouse also worked in the municipal department in Bridgeview. But in announcing discipline against Ghouse on Dec. 2, Evans said he restricted Ghouse to “administrative duties” at the Daley Center in downtown Chicago.
Ghouse’s driver’s license is suspended until next January.
Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team. Follow him on Twitter @dmihalopoulos.