Illinois lawyer Rhonda Crawford used to be a law clerk for the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County — up until she was fired in August for presiding in court wearing a judge’s robe. She did it while real life Judge Valarie Turner favorably looked on. Crawford even ruled in three traffic cases from the bench.
In denying the allegations that she wrongfully impersonated a judge, Crawford said she never claimed to be a judge. Maybe it’s just me but you might wonder if wearing a black robe and ensconcing yourself on the bench might not be just a tad misleading to someone appearing in that courtroom for a hearing? Nonetheless, Crawford went on to explain she was only “shadowing various judges . . . to see what they did and learn about the process of being a judge.”
Moreover, since Crawford is running for elected judicial office this November her lawyer said the whole thing’s “politically motivated.” Just the same, the traffic cases were subsequently ordered reheard. And her boss, Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans, disciplined Crawford by job termination and Judge Turner by temporary suspension.
Here comes the judge — not.
But despite having lost her $57,000 per year clerk’s job, things may still be looking up for Crawford. She won the primary election in March for Chicago’s 1st Judicial Subcircuit and is running unopposed. So she’s likely to prevail and thereby acquire an even better gig, one that more than triples her former law clerk’s salary with annual pay of $188,000 for a 4-year term.
Dismayed by this turn of events, this past Monday, the Chicago Tribune editorialized, “Keep the fake judge off the bench.” The newspaper’s editorial board asked voters to pay attention and write-in Maryam Ahmad rather than mark the box for Crawford.
Discipline’s creaky wheels.
Earlier this month, the Illinois Attorney Regulation and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) also filed a three count complaint against Crawford for “dishonesty as a result of handling cases on a judge’s call while dressed in judicial robes and seated on the judge’s chair behind the bench.” Other counts included, “Criminal conduct of official misconduct and false personation of public officer” and “False statements in a disciplinary investigation.”
Of course if Crawford wins the election, the disciplinary inquiry may change. The matter of the now sitting judge may instead end up before the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board not the ARDC.
However, according to Injustice Watch, a non-partisan, non-profit journalism organization “that conducts in-depth research exposing institutional failures that obstruct justice and equality,” that process could be a protracted one. Based on its own investigation and as posted on its website, that organization concludes, “It commonly takes years to act against judges who violate the Illinois Code of Judicial Conduct, and the punishment seldom is more than a public reprimand.”