The Illinois Supreme Court will not allow a law clerk accused of impersonating a judge and presiding over cases in a Cook County courtroom to take the judicial oath of office, should she win election to the bench in the Cook County Circuit Court this month, pending the outcome of a state disciplinary investigation into her alleged misconduct.
On Oct. 31, in a special one-page order, the state high court ordered the law license of Cook County judicial candidate Rhonda Crawford to be suspended immediately, and issued an injunction barring Crawford from “assuming the office of judge until further order of the Court,” even if she win enough votes to otherwise win the post.
None of the court’s justices attached their names to the order, nor did the order elaborate on the accusations.
The order came in response to a request from the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, which had filed a petition with the court two weeks earlier, asking the justices to take swift action in light of accusations Crawford had, at the prompting of and under the watch of Cook County Circuit Judge Valarie Turner, improperly donned Turner’s judicial robes and presided over traffic cases in Turner’s courtroom in the county’s Markham courthouse earlier this year.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office had also moved in reaction to the accusations to launch criminal proceedings against Crawford.
The matter came to light this summer, when an attorney for a suburban village, who had been in court to prosecute traffic tickets against several people, reported the conduct of Turner and Crawford to the presiding judge at the Markham courthouse.
That judge, identified as Marjorie Laws, then purportedly confronted both Turner and Crawford about the incident, and referred the matter to Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans. The Cook County Circuit Court’s Executive Committee then fired Crawford from her job as a circuit court law clerk, and reassigned Turner from hearing cases, pending an investigation.
To date, no further disciplinary action against Turner has been made public.
Crawford had earned an annual salary of nearly $57,000 in her law clerk job. Turner earns a salary of $188,000 per year, according to a database maintained by The State Journal-Register.
According to the ARDC petition and a formal disciplinary complaint filed against Crawford by the ARDC, which were made public Oct. 13, Crawford, a licensed lawyer, 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 Laws in 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 qualified” from the Illinois State Bar Association.
As no Republican or independent candidate had filed to seek the judicial post, Crawford had been slated to run unopposed and, then, to be sworn in after the election.
After the accusations of the alleged misconduct surfaced, Maryam Ahmad, who who has served on the Cook County bench since the Illinois Supreme Court appointed her to fill a vacancy in 2015, announced a write-in candidacy for the post for which Crawford was nominated.
Ahmad had earlier this year lost a Democratic primary election campaign for a different Cook County judge post.
In response to the accusations, Crawford and her lawyers had publicly asserted the efforts against her were politically motivated. She did not deny presiding over cases in the courtroom.
In a formal reply to the ARDC petition filed Oct. 27, Crawford asked the Supreme Court to allow her to keep her law license, if she agreed to not take the oath of judicial office, should she win the election, until the ARDC completed its investigation. She also requested more time to more fully respond to the ARDC’s complaint, saying suspending her law license at this point would violate her rights to due process.
The state Supreme Court did not reply to her assertions in its order, but formally denied her request for an extension of time.
Crawford was represented in the proceedings before the Illinois Supreme Court by attorney Mary Robinson, of the Robinson Law Group, of Chicago, and attorney Adrian Vukovich, of the firm of Collins, Bargione & Vukovich, of Chicago.