Convicted judge has five weeks to answer call for her law license

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Cook County Circuit Judge Jessica Arong O’Brien leaving federal court last year. Jacob Kaplan, the party’s executive director, says O’Brien is a prime example of why the party needs to be more critical in its support of retention candidates. | Sun-Times files

A sitting Cook County judge found guilty by a federal jury nearly two weeks ago for her role in a $1.4 million mortgage fraud scheme has another five weeks to answer calls for her law license.

Even though state law says the conviction knocks her out of office, Jessica Arong O’Brien has remained in her $198,075-a-year job since her conviction Feb. 15, officials say. And little public action has been taken to address the matter.

Complicating the situation is the rarity of a sitting judge being convicted in federal court.

The Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission appears so far to be the only body seeking O’Brien’s removal. It asked the Illinois Supreme Court on Friday to not only suspend her law license on an interim basis, but to enjoin her from acting as a judge.

The state constitution requires judges to hold a law license.

On Tuesday, the state supreme court ordered O’Brien to answer the ARDC’s petition by April 3. A court spokesman called it “a standard period of time for an answer to a rule to show cause.”

Meanwhile, no other regulatory body appears to be acting on O’Brien’s conviction, though some movement may be happening behind the scenes.

O’Brien did not respond to messages seeking comment. Her lawyers withdrew from the criminal case Monday. She is not set to be sentenced until July 6, and she still appears to be hoping for an acquittal from U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin despite the jury’s verdict.

The judge has been assigned to administrative duties ever since her indictment in April 2017. Cook County Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans’ communications director has said that “is the strongest action” the court’s executive committee can take.

The jury convicted her of bank fraud and mail fraud affecting a financial institution. Federal prosecutors said she pocketed $325,000 during a mortgage fraud scheme that took place more than a decade ago — before she became a judge.

At trial, her attorney called the charges against her a “cockamamie concoction.” He previously accused the feds of targeting her because of her seat on the bench.

Prosecutors told jurors that O’Brien lied repeatedly as she bought, refinanced and sold properties in the 600 block of West 46th and 800 block of West 54th between 2004 and 2007. They said she inflated her income as she applied for loans and at one point failed to mention a $260,000 mortgage on her primary residence.

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