Cook County Record

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Write-in judicial candidate: Votes for ex-law clerk suspended for impersonating judge shouldn't count

By Jonathan Bilyk | Nov 17, 2016

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An appointed Cook County judge, running as a write-in candidate for an elected judicial seat on one of the county’s judicial subcircuits, has asked a Cook County judge to toss out the more than 85,000 votes received by her opponent for the judgeship, Democratic Party nominee Rhonda Crawford, a former law clerk whose law license was suspended by the Illinois Supreme Court shortly before Election Day amid accusations she impersonated a judge from the bench.

 On Nov. 14, Maryam Ahmad filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court, challenging Crawford’s rights to receive votes in the race for the spot on the county’s judicial bench.

Ahmad named Crawford, as well as the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners and the Cook County Clerk’s office, as defendants in the quo warranto action.

Maryam Ahmad

The complaint centers on the action taken on Oct. 31 by the Illinois Supreme Court to suspend Crawford’s law license and issue an order barring her from taking the oath of office should she be certified the winner of the election in the race to replace Cook County Judge Vanessa Hopkins on the Cook County First Judicial Subcircuit.

In March, Crawford, who had worked as a law clerk at the Cook County courthouse in suburban Markham, had secured the Democratic nomination for that judgeship. She had won despite receiving a grade of “Not Qualified” from the Illinois State Bar Association, as part of that organization’s work of evaluating judicial candidates.

No Republican or independent candidate had filed to seek the judicial post, leaving Crawford to run unopposed.

However, in August, Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy Evans fired Crawford, after allegations surfaced accusing her of presiding over at least three traffic cases in a Markham courtroom, under the guidance of Cook County Judge Valarie Turner.

Turner was removed from hearing cases, pending the outcome of a disciplinary investigation into the matter.

In October, the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission filed a petition with the Illinois Supreme Court, asking the court to take action to block Crawford from becoming a judge, at least until its investigation into the matter was resolved. The state high court responded with its actions against Crawford, eight days before the Nov. 8 General Election.

Soon after news of Crawford’s alleged misconduct broke, Ahmad, who had been appointed to the Cook County bench on a temporary basis in 2015, announced her intent to oppose Crawford as a write-in candidate.

Ahmad had herself sought election to a different judicial post in the March primary election, but had been defeated. The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners had declared her candidacy invalid, saying she was barred from seeking another judgeship in the same election cycle.

However, that determination was overturned by a Cook County judge, allowing her to secure the right to run as a write-in candidate.

In the Nov. 8 election, despite the allegations swirling about her and despite the state Supreme Court’s actions against her, Crawford won more than 87,000 votes, according to the latest unofficial tallies posted on the websites of the Chicago Board of Elections and the Cook County Clerk’s office.

The websites haven’t reported the number of write-in votes Ahmad may have received. And Ahmad conceded in her complaint that Crawford had more votes than she.

However, Ahmad argued none of the votes for Crawford should count, as Crawford was not, at the time of the election, a “lawful candidate” for the judgeship, since her law license had been suspended by the state Supreme Court.

“On Nov. 8, 2016, although Rhonda Crawford was on the ballot, holding the franchise as the Democratic Party nominee for the office of Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Vanessa Hopkins vacancy, in the 1st Judicial Subcircuit, she was not a legally qualified candidate because her license to practice law had been suspended by the Illinois Supreme Court, and she held the franchise unlawfully, illegally, and without the authority or privilege of law,” Ahmad said in her complaint.

Ahmad is represented in the action by attorneys Burton S. Odelson and Mary Ryan Norwell, of the firm of Odelson & Sterk, of Evergreen Park. 

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Organizations in this Story

Cook County ClerkOdelson & Sterk Ltd.Illinois Supreme CourtBoard of Election Commissioners of the City of Chicago