Judicial candidate who donned robes barred from taking office

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

The state Supreme Court has suspended the law license of Rhonda Crawford, a candidate for Cook County judge who faces criminal charges for donning judicial robes and allegedly presiding over cases earlier this year.

The ruling by the court also bars Crawford from taking her oath of office is she should win a seat on the bench in next week’s election.

Crawford, who is running for a seat in the 1st Judicial Subcircuit, has continued her campaign despite the fallout from her decision to put on judge robes in August and hear three cases in Judge Valerie Turner’s court at the Markham courthouse.

With no opponent on the ballot next Tuesday, Crawford is a virtual lock to win but the order issued Monday by the Supreme Court spells out that she is not to be sworn in.

“[Crawford] is suspended from the practice of law effective immediately and until further order of the court,” the order reads. “And in the event of [Crawford’s] election at the November 8, 2016 general election as a Circuit Judge of Cook County… [she] is enjoined and restrained from taking the judicial oath of office or assuming the office of judge until further order of the court.”

Crawford’s attorney did not return calls from the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crawford has admitted to “shadowing” Turner at the judge’s suggestion, and has said she sat in Turner’s chair as the veteran judge decided the last three cases on her call on Aug. 11, play-acting that prompted investigations by both the state Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission and the Cook County State’s Attorney. In October, the ARDC filed a 191-page complaint against Crawford, and prosecutors filed criminal charges of official misconduct, a felony, and false impersonation, a misdemeanor. Turner has been assigned to administrative duties.

Crawford has pleaded not guilty to the charges and held a news conference at which she stated her intention to stay in the race. She has insisted she never claimed to be a judge:

“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 in a statement issued in September.

Her opponent in the primary, Maryam Ahmad, is waging a write-in campaign for the general election.

Ahmad’s attorney, Burt Odelson, said the suspension makes Crawford ineligible to serve as a judge, and has asked the Supreme Court to stop election officials from counting any votes for Crawford— which would throw the election to Ahmad, the only write-in candidate approved by the Election Board.

“It says in the state constitution that you have to be a licensed attorney, able to practice law, to serve as judge,” Odelson said Monday. “If she’s suspended, she can’t serve as a judge and the Supreme Court is just going to have to declare a vacancy after the election and appoint someone.”

Attorney disciplinary matters often move slowly, but the ARDC in September filed a complaint calling for Crawford’s immediate suspension ahead of the election.

“Obviously, this is a unique situation with the election coming up,” ARDC spokesman Jim Grogan, who noted that if Crawford continues to fight the suspension, the case might drag on for years. Disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who has already spent more than four years in federal prison on corruption charges, still is fighting an “interim” suspension that was filed in 2011, Grogan said.

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