Rhonda Crawford, who stands accused of premature adjudication, publicly defended herself for the first time Thursday. Her basic argument: The judge made me do it.

Crawford is the law clerk serving in the Markham courthouse who won the Democratic nomination for a judgeship from the 1st subcircuit, then donned a judge’s robes last month and sat on the bench for three cases as part of what she calls a “shadowing” exercise.

The problem was that Crawford had yet to get elected, which, even though she was running unopposed, can’t happen until November.

Although opinions vary widely in the legal community about the seriousness of the offense, almost everyone agrees it was really, really dumb.

OPINION

In breaking her silence Thursday, Crawford and her attorney Victor Henderson seemed mostly concerned with heading off a last-minute write-in candidate who has declared her intention to seek the seat.

“Let me be clear (pause for effect), I intend to run for the office. I do not intend to withdraw my name from the ballot,” Crawford said.

Crawford didn’t actually say “pause for effect,” nor did she pause for that matter, but the stage direction was included in the copy of her statement circulated to reporters.

Henderson spoke darkly of “Democratic Machine” politics aligning against Crawford to keep her off the bench, predicting a possible “well-timed indictment” before Election Day.

That theory overlooks the fact that it would be extremely unlikely for write-in candidate Maryam Ahmad to prevail, even if Crawford is indicted.

Crawford, a nurse turned lawyer, said that after winning the primary she had shadowed various Markham judges to observe their different styles.

“…And at the urging of a respected judge, I put on her robe, and I sat in her chair,” Crawford said. “The Judge stood over me the entire time, while she decided the last three cases on her court call. I was always under the direction of the judge.”

Crawford was referring to veteran Circuit Judge Valarie Turner, who truly is probably more to blame.

After other judges learned of the incident, Turner was removed from courtroom duties and reassigned to administrative tasks in the Daley Center. But as a sitting judge, accountable only to the voters and the judge-friendly Judicial Inquiry Board, she may be better protected from any fallout than Crawford.

Crawford, meanwhile, was fired from her job as a staff attorney in the office of Chief Judge Timothy Evans. She had been assigned to work as a law clerk in Markham.

I couldn’t get a straight answer Thursday on whether Crawford had been playing judge on her own time or on the taxpayers’ dime. It certainly isn’t one of the proscribed duties of a law clerk.

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In her statement, Crawford emphasized all the things real judges do that she did not do during her stint on the bench.

“I did not decide any cases. I did not pronounce any judgments. I did not hand any court papers to the courtroom clerk. I did not sign my name on any judicial orders. I did not tell anyone that I was the judge,” Crawford said.

Whether everyone else in the courtroom was in on the joke is a different question. I note Crawford didn’t claim to have informed anyone she was NOT a judge.

Crawford said she appreciated the opportunity to learn from Turner, but added: “Now, of course, I regret the day it happened.”

Henderson said the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, which could block Crawford from becoming a judge by suspending her law license, is looking at the matter, along with a Cook County grand jury.

Henderson said he expects “many more developments between now and Election Day.”

(pause for effect) I can’t wait.