Judge thought law clerk who wore robe was a judge, documents say

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Rhonda Crawford and her attorney Victor Henderson address the media Friday after Crawford pleaded not guilty to impersonating a Cook County judge. | Mark Brown/Sun-Times

A Cook County judge who allegedly allowed a law clerk to don her robe and make rulings from the bench earlier this year told her boss she thought the clerk was a real judge, according to court documents filed Friday.

The revelation came as Rhonda Crawford, who is on the November ballot for a 1st judicial sub-circuit vacancy, appeared in court, charged with felony official misconduct and misdemeanor false impersonation.

In a brief hearing Friday at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, Chief Criminal Court Judge LeRoy Martin Jr. released Crawford without her having to post bond.

Crawford, who’d been a law clerk since 2011, was fired by Chief Judge Tim Evans after he learned of her alleged conduct at the Markham courthouse this past August. Crawford, 45, pleaded not guilty to the two-count indictment.

Shortly after her court appearance, Crawford stood in the courthouse lobby with her attorney Victor Henderson, who repeated his claim that the case against his client is politically motivated.

“There was no reason to file these charges at this time, other than to interfere with the election,” Henderson said. “It’s an attempt to disenfranchise voters on the South Side and in the south suburbs by the Democratic party.”

Crawford has declined to withdraw her name from the November ballot; she faces write-in candidate Maryam Ahmad, a municipal judge in the Fourth District.

On Friday, Ahmad’s attorney filed an emergency motion with the Illinois Supreme Court seeking to compel the state and city boards of elections, as well as the Cook County Clerk. The motion seeks to remove Crawford from the November ballot “if the Court suspends her law license or finds her not qualified to be a candidate for judge,” according to a statement from Ahmad’s attorney.

Henderson said the “entire truth can’t come out” until the judge whom Crawford says gave her the robe, Valarie. E. Turner, speaks publicly, which she had declined to do to date. Turner has been on medical leave since late August, according to a spokesman for Evans’ office. Turner could not be reached for comment Friday.

THE BACKSTORY: Law clerk accused of impersonating judge indicted, attorney says Law clerk allowed to act like judge has been fired Mark Brown: Make-believe judge case exposes real flaws in judgment Mark Brown: Cook County judge allegedly let law clerk hear cases

No new details about the case came out in court Friday because, just as the prosecutor, Assistant State’s Attorney Tom Simpson, was about to read a summary of the allegations Crawford faces, the judge halted the proceedings, saying Crawford’s attorney had waived the routine reading of those details.

But the State’s Attorney’s Office released the proffer minutes later. In it, “Judge A,” presumably Turner, introduced Crawford as “Judge Crawford” in her courtroom in Markham Aug. 11. Crawford was allowed to preside over “multiple [traffic] tickets on the afternoon’s call,” according to the proffer.

Turner later told the courthouse’s presiding judge she thought Crawford was a real judge, according to the proffer.

When confronted, Crawford allegedly admitted to the same presiding judge: “I did it. I did it.”

Crawford, when pressed about the seriousness of her actions, went on to say, “It’s the robe, isn’t it?” and said the prosecutor in the courtroom was just mad at her because she didn’t grant him a continuance, the proffer states.

Crawford said last month she regretted “the day it happened.”

Crawford, a nurse turned lawyer, also said she never said in court that she was a judge and said it was Turner’s idea that she put on the robes and get up on the bench.

Turner has not been charged with any wrongdoing, and on Friday, a spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office said no additional charges are anticipated.

Earlier this month, the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission filed a petition for the interim suspension of Crawford’s law license. The state agency said she should be barred from taking the judicial oath of office or assuming the office of judge “for having engaged in conduct which threatens irreparable harm to the public.”

The agency also filed a three-count complaint against Crawford accusing her of dishonesty, criminal conduct by impersonating a public officer and making false statements in a disciplinary investigation.

View this document on ScribdContributing: Sam Charles

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