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
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
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.