Regulators of Illinois’ legal profession have asked the
Illinois Supreme Court to take immediate action to block Rhonda Crawford, an
attorney and fired Cook County Circuit Court law clerk, who was terminated this
summer over allegations that she impersonated a judge from the bench, from
being sworn in as an actual judge, should she win election in November.
On Oct. 13, Jerome Larkin, administrator of the Illinois
Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, which oversees discipline of
the tens of thousands of lawyers licensed to practice in the state, filed a
request with the state’s high court to suspend Crawford’s law license, pending
further disciplinary hearings, and issue an order preventing her from being sworn
in as a Cook County judge.
Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans
“(Crawford’s) lack of judgment in impersonating a judge, her
subsequent dishonesty in failing to correct those who misunderstood her role,
her lack of genuine remorse about the prejudice her actions have caused to the
legal system … and her failure to voluntarily remove her name from the judicial
ballot, reflect her fundamental lack of eligibility to maintain a license to
practice law,” the ARDC wrote in its petition to the Supreme Court.
The complaint included additional details of what led to
Crawford’s termination this summer, in addition to the disciplinary action
already taken against Cook County Circuit Judge Valarie Turner, who has been
accused of allegedly allowing Crawford to preside over cases when she was not a
According to the petition and a formal disciplinary complaint
filed against Crawford by Larkin with the ARDC on Oct. 7, but only made public
after the petition was filed Oct. 13, Crawford had worked as a law clerk at the
Cook County Circuit Court since 2011, beginning at the Daley Center in Chicago,
but for most of the time as an assistant to Judge Marjorie Laws, who presides
over the county courthouse in suburban Markham.
Crawford filed as a candidate in the race for a subcircuit
judicial position this year, and won the Democratic nomination for the seat in
March. 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.
As no Republican or independent candidate had filed to seek
the judicial post, Crawford was slated to run unopposed, and be sworn in after
However, in August, according to the ARDC complaint, Turner
during a routine afternoon court call reviewing traffic tickets at the Markham
courthouse, allegedly announced to the courtroom she was going to “switch
judges,” and allowed Crawford to don her robes in sight of those in the
courtroom, and allowed Crawford to preside over three cases.
At one point, Crawford allegedly turned to Turner and asked
if she could deny a motion to continue a case, requested by the prosecutor for
the village of Dolton, identified as Luciano Panici Jr.
Also that day, Turner allegedly introduced Crawford as a
judge, and Crawford purportedly did not correct her.
Following the court call, Panici purportedly visited his
father, Circuit Judge Luciano Panici, and inquired why the “new judge” in the
courthouse had to ask permission to rule on his motion to continue the case.
After learning who the “new judge” was, Panici Sr.
purportedly directed his son to report the matter. Panici Jr. then took the matter
to Judge Laws, and Laws then separately confronted Turner and Crawford.
“Judge Laws asked Respondent (Crawford), ‘Why would you want
to risk your career for something like this?’ and Respondent replied, ‘It's the
robe isn't it? He's just mad because I denied his motion for continuance,’” the
ARDC related in its petition. “Judge Laws told Respondent she would have to
report the incident and Respondent replied, ‘Wow.’”
After reporting the matter to other authorities, Cook County
Chief Judge Timothy Evans and the Cook County Circuit Court’s Executive
Committee, which includes Evans and the judges overseeing the court’s various
divisions and districts, removed Turner from hearing cases and suspended
Crawford. She was later fired.
Crawford had been paid an annual salary of $56,961 in her
law clerk job. Turner earns $188,000, according to an online database
maintained by The State Journal-Register.
However, the ARDC said its petition was based on more than
Crawford’s alleged behavior and actions on Aug. 11. The petition noted Crawford
has also repeatedly defended her actions, including at a press conference at
which she purportedly asserted the presence of Turner in the courtroom to
supervise her actions in the cases should make what she did permissible.
However, the ARDC noted her actions were a crime and
unethical, and reflect on her integrity as a potential judge.
And the ARDC petition noted Crawford has refused to
voluntarily withdraw her name from the November ballot.
In the wake of the announcement of the allegations against
Crawford, Maryam Ahmad, who has served on the Cook County bench since the
Illinois Supreme Court appointed her to fill a vacancy in 2015, has announced
her write-in candidacy for the post for which Crawford was nominated.
Ahmad had earlier this year lost a primary election campaign
for a different Cook County judge post.
An ARDC spokesman said, in such matters, the Supreme Court
has historically issued a “rule to show cause,” and sets the date by which the
accused party must reply to the petition for suspension. Crawford has 21 days
to respond to the attorney disciplinary complaint filed with the ARDC, the