By LocalLabs News Service | Oct 24, 2016

An ex-Cook County law clerk, who was fired for allegedly impersonating a judge from the bench, has been criminally charged in connection with the incident.

Friday, prosecutors with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office appeared in court to formally file a criminal complaint against Rhonda Crawford, charging Crawford with official misconduct, a felony, and a count of impersonation, a misdemeanor.

Crawford was released without bond following a hearing Friday morning.

“The role and conduct of a judge is at the heart of our criminal justice system in the pursuit of justice in each and every case,” State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said in a written statement released by her office. “The defendant’s conduct in this case was offensive to the integrity of our system and cannot be excused or ignored as a mere lapse in judgment.”

The criminal charges come in the wake of official state professional disciplinary actions launched against Crawford by the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, which asked the Illinois Supreme Court to suspend Crawford’s license to practice law in the state on an interim basis and to block her from being able to be sworn in as a judge, should she secure enough votes on Nov. 8 to otherwise secure a spot on the Cook County Circuit Court bench on Nov. 8.

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 the election.

However, in August, according to the ARDC complaint and Alvarez’s office, Cook County Judge Valarie Turner during a routine afternoon court call reviewing traffic tickets at the Markham courthouse allegedly allowed Crawford to don her robes and allowed her to preside over three cases.

The incident was reported to the judge who oversees operations at the Markham courthouse, and was later referred to Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans. Evans ultimately fired Crawford, and the Cook County Circuit Court’s Executive Committee pulled Turner from hearing any more cases until an investigation into the incident could be completed.

Following the incident, Cook County Judge Maryam Ahmad, an appointed judge who had lost her bid to win election to a different Cook County judicial post in the March primary, announced she was mounting a write-in campaign against Crawford. She has also asked the courts to kick off Crawford off the ballot.

The Illinois Supreme Court has given Crawford until Oct. 28 to respond to the ARDC’s accusations.

Crawford’s attorney Victor Henderson has accused the state’s attorney’s office and others of bringing the charges under political motivations, saying the campaign to remove her from the ballot or bar her from becoming a judge came at the request of Democratic Party bosses.  

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