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Editorial: No place on bench for judges who play pretend

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Attorney Rhonda Crawford was a shoe-in to win election as judge in November — until she supposedly jumped the gun and played judge by donning a robe and deciding two traffic cases.

The move this month, if true, shows such an appalling lack of judgment that, if Crawford has any shred of judgment left, she should drop out of the race.

That would spare authorities – and taxpayers — the necessary aggravation of blocking her from becoming judge of the 1st judicial subcircuit.

It would be a gesture of good will and common sense that Crawford, a law clerk and court staff attorney at the Markham Courthouse, could cite as she faces what is likely to be an onslaught of investigations that could lead to criminal charges and threats to her law license.

The other key figure in this fiasco, Judge Valarie E. Turner, was pulled off the bench Wednesday following a “preliminary review” by the Executive Committee of the Circuit Court of Cook County into charges Turner gave Crawford a robe and let her “adjudicate” two traffic cases on her Markham Court call.

What in the world was Turner thinking? We can’t wait to hear her side of the story. But if the allegations are true, Turner showed such a blatant disrespect and disregard for the law by allowing a non-judge to act as a judge that it’s hard to imagine how she could be allowed to return to the bench.

We hope the Judicial Inquiry Board, the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office all open expedited investigations into the matter.

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Supposedly, Crawford was “job shadowing” Turner at the time, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown reported.

Even though Democrat Crawford faced no opponents in November’s election, for someone to rule from the bench before being elected to the bench is, at a minimum, disgustingly presumptuous, and at worst, a crime involving “false personation” of being a judge.

Both Crawford and Turner should have known this. After all, to be a judge you’re supposed to know the law, as well as Supreme Court rules for attorneys and judges, which sure look like they also were violated.

“This is more than misguided,’’ Northwestern University law professor Steven Lubet told Brown. “You don’t put on the robes. You don’t rule on people’s fate unless you are a judge.”

Turner has the resume worthy of a judge. She’s a former federal prosecutor, spent six years at Kirkland & Ellis and earned a law degree from the University of Chicago.

She’s been placed on non-judicial duties, apparently while other authorities investigate. So for the immediate future, Turner will be presiding over weddings, deciding if litigants qualify to have filing fees waived in civil cases, and performing other administrative tasks as assigned, according to a spokesman for Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans.

In addition, the executive committee has assigned her to an Illinois Supreme Court Peer Mentoring Program.

We are sure Turner’s day of reckoning will come, and we hope it comes swiftly. Possible penalties range from judicial censure, to removal from the bench to a threat to her law license.

More immediately pressing is the fact that lawyer Crawford is running unopposed for a judgeship in the Nov. 8 election. A former nurse and graduate of the Chicago Kent College of Law, Crawford was rated “not recommended” by all of the major bar groups after she refused to participate in their evaluation process. Not confidence-inspiring.

If she doesn’t voluntarily drop out of the race, the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission could ask the Illinois Supreme Court for a rule to show cause why her law license should not be suspended until further order. Such an order would block her from serving as judge.

The ARDC and the high court have moved quickly before when needed. Back in 1986, shortly after attorney Joseph McDermott was elected judge but before he was seated, the ARDC learned McDermott was swept up in the Greylord investigation into court corruption.

The commission filed a motion before the Illinois Supreme Court, which took less than a month to suspend McDermott’s license until further order, said ARDC chief counsel James Grogan. McDermott went on to plead guilty to fixing drunken driving cases in Traffic Court and was ultimately disbarred.

Rather than force such an extraordinary order, Crawford should drop out of the race now and focus on preparing a defense.

And Democrat and Republican leaders should start looking for a good write-in candidate for judge of the first judicial subcircuit.

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