A Cook County judge accused of urging and allowing a now-fired law clerk to preside over cases from the bench as if she were a judge has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and is no longer fit to continue as a judge, a state judicial discipline board has reported.
On Friday, Dec. 2, the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board filed a complaint with the Illinois Courts Commission against Cook County Circuit Judge Valarie E. Turner, alleging she was “mentally unable to perform her duties.”
The Inquiry Board asked the Illinois Courts Commission to ratify those findings, and ultimately effectively remove her from her post within the Cook County court system.
The JIB complaint did not elaborate on Turner’s purported diagnosis, including when doctors may have diagnosed her with the illness, or when judicial authorities became aware of the diagnosis, saying only Turner had been diagnosed “recently.”
The complaint comes as the latest disciplinary action after Turner was removed from hearing cases in August by the Cook County Circuit Court’s Executive Committee, which included Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans and the judges supervising the circuit’s various divisions and courthouses, after allegations first surfaced accusing her of allowing then-circuit court law clerk Rhonda Crawford to preside over traffic cases during an afternoon court call at the county’s courthouse in suburban Markham.
In March, Crawford, who had worked at the Markham courthouse, had secured the Democratic nomination for a judgeship in the county’s First Judicial Subcircuit. 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, Judge Marjorie Laws, who presides over the Markham courthouse, purportedly notified her superiors of a substantiated complaint first brought by a municipal prosecutor, who complained of the conduct of Turner and Crawford during the Aug. 16 court call to hear traffic ticket cases.
Evans then fired Crawford, and reassigned Turner, pending the outcome of the investigation into the incident.
The Illinois Supreme Court, acting at the request of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, suspended Crawford’s law license and barred her from taking the bench, pending the outcome of the formal investigation into the matter.
Crawford received enough votes during the November general election to win a seat on the county bench. However, a write-in candidate who opposed her, appointed Judge Maryam Ahmad, has asked a Cook County court to invalidate those election results, arguing Crawford was not a lawful candidate at the time of the election after the Supreme Court suspended her license and prohibited her from taking the judicial oath. That case remains pending.
No further action had been taken against Turner, until the Judicial Inquiry Board released its complaint Dec. 2, publicly revealing Turner’s health diagnosis for the first time.
Turner had been first elected to the Cook County bench in 2002, and was first admitted to the state bar to practice law in 1991. She was twice retained by voters in the county’s Second Judicial Subcircuit in 2008 and 2014.
In an evaluation posted in 2008, the Chicago Council of Lawyers rated her “not qualified,” saying lawyers were mixed in their review of Turner’s work.
“Some lawyers appearing before her find her to be well-versed in the relevant law, impartial, and fair. Others question her grasp of the law or her confidence in her own understanding of points of law,” the evaluation said. “She is generally well-prepared for hearings, though some lawyers question her diligence, believing that she under-schedules her calendar. Judge Turner’s temperament is strongly criticized by some lawyers, who report that she becomes too easily frustrated with attorneys and litigants and sometimes reprimands or chastises them in ways that may be inappropriate.”
According to public records, Turner earned a salary of $188,000 per year.