Judicial regulators move to remove Cook judge convicted of fraud, block $192K salary

By Jonathan Bilyk | Jun 19, 2018

About a month after a Cook County judge convicted by a jury of bank fraud filed papers to seek reelection, state judicial disciplinary officials have launched the process to remove her from the bench and prevent her from continuing to collect her more than $190,000 a year salary.

On June 19, the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board filed a complaint with the Illinois Courts Commission, asking the commission to suspend Cook County Circuit Judge Jessica Arong O’Brien without pay, and until further order of the commission, essentially removing her from the position of judge, as she continues to dispute the charges for which a jury convicted her earlier this year.

The JIB complaint asserts O’Brien’s conviction and what she has done since being convicted “undermines public confidence in the judicial system, is prejudicial to the administration of justice and brings the judicial office into disrepute.”

The JIB has assigned attorney Kevin M. Fee, of the firm of Sidley Austin LLP, of Chicago, to handle prosecution of the complaint, according to a release from the JIB.

O’Brien was convicted in February by a federal jury on counts of mail fraud and bank fraud for her alleged role in a scheme federal prosecutors said involved using a straw buyer to falsely obtain “loans related to the purchase, maintenance and sale of properties on Chicago’s South Side.”

According to prosecutors, the alleged incidents occurred from 2004-2007, ending about five years before O’Brien was elected to the Cook County Circuit Court in 2012 as a Democrat running unopposed.

Prosecutors said evidence showed O’Brien teamed with mortgage loan officer Maria Bartko and “a straw buyer whom O’Brien knew,” to allegedly defraud lenders into issuing and refinancing $1.4 million in mortgage and commercial loans “by making false representations and concealing material facts in documents submitted to the lenders.”

According to prosecutors, O’Brien allegedly used mortgage loans to purchase investment properties in the 600 block of West 64th Street and the 800 block of West 54th Street in Chicago.

Before becoming a judge, O’Brien had worked as a Special Assistant Attorney General for the Illinois Department of Revenue in Chicago, and part-time as a loan officer for Amronbanc Mortgage Company in Lincolnwood, according to federal court documents.

O’Brien has continuously disputed and denied the charges. On May 21, O’Brien asked U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin for a new trial, asserting prosecutors and the judge had committed errors in the prosecution and the trial, improperly leading the jury to convict her.

The judge has not ruled on that request.

Following her conviction, the Illinois Supreme Court granted the request of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission to suspend her law license, which essentially prohibits O’Brien from continuing to serve as a judge or hear cases from the bench.

However, since her conviction and the suspension of her law license, the JIB notes O’Brien has not been stripped of the title of judge, and continues to draw her salary. According to a database maintained by the State Journal-Register in Springfield, O’Brien receives an annual salary of $192,109.

Further, the JIB complaint noted, almost immediately after the state Supreme Court suspended her license, O’Brien filed documents with the Illinois State Board of Elections to place her name on the ballot, seeking retention in the November 2018 judicial elections.

O’Brien’s “continued presence as a member of the Illinois judiciary, despite the Illinois Supreme Court’s suspension of her license to practice law in response to a jury verdict of guilty on two federal criminal charges, is prohibited by the Illinois Constitution and undermines public confidence in the judicial system,” the JIB wrote in its complaint. “As such, it is prejudicial to the administration of justice and has brought the judicial office into disrepute.”

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Organizations in this Story

Circuit Court of Cook County Illinois Courts Commission Illinois Supreme Court Judicial Inquiry Board Sidley Austin LLP U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

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