Brown: Make-believe judge case exposes real flaws in judgment

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Rhonda Crawford | Facebook photo

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Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans has fired the law clerk who was allowed to pretend to be a judge, which doesn’t solve the problem of her remaining on the ballot for the November election.

As things stand, Rhonda Crawford will still be running unopposed for a judgeship from the 1st Judicial Subcircuit, which includes portions of several far South Side wards and Thornton Township.

The problem is that Crawford won the Democratic primary fair and square. She even overcame the Cook County Democratic Party’s slated candidate despite shaky credentials that caused her to skip the bar groups’ evaluation process.

Therefore, Crawford can’t legally be forced to step aside at this point, which doesn’t mean somebody couldn’t try to persuade her.

Crawford’s candidacy is another embarrassing problem for local Democrats, who can only count on Donald Trump to solve so many of them.


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But there’s no indication they’re ready to engage.

“I have not talked to her,” Cook County Democratic Chairman Joseph Berrios told me Tuesday. “Unless she steps down, there’s nothing we can do.”

So much for Option A.

According to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, Cook County Democratic committeeman would not have the authority to fill her spot on the ballot if she were to step down, which might explain their reluctance to get involved.

RELATED: Law clerk allowed to act like judge has been fired

I’m told that even if Crawford is elected there’s a good chance she will not be allowed to take the bench. The Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission could move to suspend her law license, which would effectively block her from ascending to the bench.

You will recall it was ascending to the bench that got Crawford in this trouble in the first place.

Earlier this month, Crawford was apparently being given informal instruction on how to be a judge by Cook County Circuit Judge Valarie Turner when Turner allowed her to don a judge’s robes, take her seat and handle a few cases. Turner sits in the Markham courthouse, where Crawford was working as a $57,000 a year law clerk in Evans’ employ.

“I object, your Honor. This is highly irregular.”

Sorry, that’s just me imagining what some lawyer probably should have said when Crawford’s butt hit the bench.

But the real responsibility lies with Turner.

It was her courtroom. Turner, 59, was the experienced judge with more than 14 years on the bench.

She’s the one who should have appreciated the gravity of allowing someone who is not a judge to act like one on a real case, no matter how minor.

But being a judge actually gives Turner more cover in this situation. Nobody can just fire a real judge the way Evans fired Crawford, the pretend judge.

Valarie Turner | Provided photo

Valarie Turner | Provided photo

Judges are independently elected officials, which means there is an elaborate process for removing them with charges brought by the Judicial Inquiry Board and a trial before the Illinois Courts Commission.

Unfortunately, that process can take a long time, and even more unfortunately, rarely results in any real discipline against judges. In the meantime, Turner sits in the judicial equivalent of the penalty box, handling grunt work at $190,000 a year.

Northwestern law professor Stephen Lubet, a judicial ethics expert who offered a fairly harsh assessment of the two women’s conduct in my initial column on this subject, has since softened a bit.

Lubet now says this matter shouldn’t cost them their judicial careers.

The Cook County state’s attorney’s office, though, has opened a criminal investigation into the judge’s alleged misconduct.

Coming at it strictly as a layman, the only crime I see is for either of them to be sitting in judgment of their fellow Cook County residents.

If they’re not smart enough to see that for themselves, they deserve the boot.

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