Cook County judge suspended for allegedly letting clerk hear cases from bench

By Jonathan Bilyk | Aug 17, 2016

A Cook County judge has been removed from the bench, while the judges who oversee Cook County’s circuit courts investigate whether she allowed a law clerk who is seeking election to the Cook County bench to hear at least two cases in her courtroom while wearing the judge’s robes.

On Aug. 17, Cook County Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans announced Judge Valarie E. Turner had been “reassigned to duties other than judicial duties” within the county’s First Municipal District. The decision had been ordered by the Cook County Circuit Court’s Executive Committee, which includes Evans and the judges presiding over the circuit’s various divisions and municipal districts.

The reassignment is temporary, according to the release from the Chief Judge’s office, but is “effective until further notice.”

Turner had presided over cases in a rotation with other judges at the county’s Sixth Municipal District Courthouse in suburban Markham.

According to the announcement, however, Turner had, on at least two occasions, been accused of allowing attorney Rhonda Crawford, who served in Evans’ office as a law clerk and is a candidate for judge in Cook County, to hear cases from the bench, as if she were presently a judge.

Crawford had secured the Democratic nomination in Cook County’s First Subcircuit in the March 2016 primary, winning 51 percent of the vote. She faces no Republican opponent in the November general election.

In judicial candidate evaluations posted online before the primary election, Crawford had been among those candidates receiving grades of “not recommended” or “not qualified” from the Illinois State Bar Association.

“The public’s confidence in the judiciary is the cornerstone of our system of justice, and I have taken the steps necessary to preserve that confidence,” said Evans, in his prepared statement. “Because the investigation is pending, I believe it is inappropriate to comment further at this time.”

The release said Crawford had also been suspended without pay during the investigation. The release said Crawford earned $56,961 per year, and had been employed as a law clerk since 2011.

The release did not disclose Turner’s annual salary. However, according to an online database maintained by The State Journal-Register, Turner’s salary is listed at $188,076.

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