DuPage Judge Popejoy suspended 60 days for hit and run

Updated 5/9/2012 7:19 PM
  • Kenneth Popejoy

    Kenneth Popejoy

Nearly two years after fleeing the scene of a traffic accident, DuPage County Judge Kenneth Popejoy has been suspended for 60 days without pay.

The Illinois Courts Commission on Wednesday handed down the suspension, which Popejoy is scheduled to start serving Monday.

The punishment resulted from a complaint filed by the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board in September 2010. It charged Popejoy with "conduct that brought the judicial office into disrepute" for his actions after a June 29, 2010, accident.

After striking an unattended parked car, Popejoy drove his damaged 2003 Jeep Liberty from the Glen Ellyn crash site "at a high rate of speed" to his home nearly three miles away in Wheaton. Along the way, Popejoy showed a "willful and wanton disregard for the safety of persons and property" by disobeying multiple stop signs, according to the courts commission ruling.

With a passenger's-side front tire nearly off the rim, Popejoy had to fight the steering wheel to stay on the road, he would later testify. At one point, a 13-year-old girl who was out jogging near the judge's home had to jump away from the road to avoid being hit by Popejoy's vehicle.

Once home, Popejoy kept police officers waiting at his doorstep for about 10 minutes while he charged his cellphone and called then-Chief DuPage Judge Stephen Culliton, whom he dropped off minutes before the crash, and an attorney.

"The public expects and deserves even more responsible behavior from a member of the judiciary," the commission wrote in its ruling.

Attempts to contact Popejoy on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

In October 2010, he told the Daily Herald that he couldn't explain why he chose to flee. He said he "panicked."

"In a moment of panic, I acted irresponsibly," he said. "I should have done any number of things instead."

Popejoy ultimately pleaded guilty to reckless driving and received a $500 fine and a six-month conditional discharge, which is a nonreporting form of probation. Before entering his guilty plea, Popejoy wrote a letter of apology to the 13-year-old jogger and her parents.

In its ruling, the courts commission said it wasn't persuaded by Popejoy's explanations, adding that his self-described state of mind and rationale for not stopping and informing police after the accident are "completely unbelievable."

Anyone who continues to drive a defective car without getting out to at least look at the damage and then drives faster "deserves to be sanctioned," the commission wrote.

Members added that "an ordinary member of the public likely would have faced a much more severe punishment" than Popejoy received.

On the day of the accident, Popejoy had been out with Culliton at the Itasca Country Club and a Bloomingdale restaurant, according to the ruling.

Popejoy has said he wasn't drunk when the crash happened. "I was not impaired," he told the Daily Herald in 2010. "Not anywhere close to being impaired. I wouldn't get behind the wheel if I were anywhere near being impaired." Popejoy also told the newspaper that police didn't ask him to perform any sobriety tests when they appeared at his home to cite him for the crash.

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