Candidate for judge expected to win, but she can’t sit on bench

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Attorney Rhonda Crawford on Sept. 22. Her being allowed to don judicial robes and hear cases prompted an Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board investigation that found Cook County Circuit Judge Valarie E. Turner “mentally unable to perform her duties.” | Max Herman / Sun-Times

Rhonda Crawford, a candidate for Cook County judge who donned another judge’s robe in August, appeared to have enough votes to win the seat — even though she is legally barred from taking the oath of office.

In suburban Cook County, Crawford had 15,814 votes of 21,741 cast, with about 80 percent of the precincts reporting. In Chicago, she had 51,469 votes of 75,361 cast, with about 75 percent of the precincts reporting. The 1st Judicial Subcircuit spans of parts of the city and Cook County.

Votes for the only other valid candidate, municipal Fourth District Judge Maryam Ahmad, weren’t expected to be counted until Monday at the earliest, election officials said.

At the end of October, the state Supreme Court suspended Crawford’s law license. The ruling also barred Crawford from taking office, even if she won a seat.

Last August, Crawford, then a law clerk, was in Cook County Judge Valerie Turner’s courtroom in Markham. At some point during the court call, Crawford put on Turner’s robe. Crawford has said she put on the robe and sat at the bench only at Turner’s urging. Crawford has said that she was simply “shadowing” the judge and didn’t actually decide any cases.

“I did not decide any cases,” Crawford said in a statement issued in September. “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 I was the judge.”

But in October, the state Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission filed a 191-page complaint against Crawford, and prosecutors filed criminal charges of official misconduct, a felony, and false impersonation, a misdemeanor. Crawford has pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges.

Turner has been assigned to administrative duties.

Crawford has steadfastly refused to withdraw her name from the ballot. Last month, Crawford’s attorney, Victor Henderson, blamed the decision by Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s office to charge Crawford on Democratic politics and said Crawford would “continue to fight the good fight and win the election.”

In its ruling, the Supreme Court said: “[Crawford] is suspended from the practice of law effective immediately and until further order of the court. 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.”

It remains unclear how or when the vacant seat might be filled.

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