Illinois Supreme Court suspends convicted judge from practicing law

SHARE Illinois Supreme Court suspends convicted judge from practicing law
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Cook County Judge Jessica Arong O’Brien, leaves the Dirksen Federal Courthouse last year. | Santiago Covarrubias/For the Sun-Times

Two months after a federal jury found her guilty of fraud, the Illinois Supreme Court has suspended Cook County Judge Jessica Arong O’Brien from practicing law “effective immediately.”

But rather than take action on her status as a judge, the state’s high court referred O’Brien’s case to the Judicial Inquiry Board, which has the power to investigate misconduct by judges.

Still, the Illinois constitution requires a judge to be “a licensed attorney-at-law of this State.” The Supreme Court said O’Brien is suspended “until further order.”

It’s the latest in a slow-moving process that began after a jury found O’Brien guilty in February of bank fraud and mail fraud affecting a financial institution. Federal prosecutors say O’Brien pocketed $325,000 as she lied to lenders amid a $1.4 million mortgage scheme.

Her attorney, Steve Greenberg, said Thursday he still hopes to save her job. State law says a conviction knocks her out of office, but she’s insisted she hasn’t had the “opportunity to exhaust her due process rights.”

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

“I still think that there are fatal flaws with her conviction,” Greenberg said. “She’s going to end up getting reinstated and hopefully will be able to keep her seat on the bench because she’s a fine judge.”

The Supreme Court issued its order in response to a request by the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission to not only suspend O’Brien’s law license but enjoin her from acting as a judge.

If the Judicial Inquiry Board sees fit, it can send a complaint about O’Brien to the Courts Commission, which has the power to remove a judge.

O’Brien 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.

Federal prosecutors said O’Brien pocketed $325,000 during the mortgage fraud scheme that took place more than a decade ago — before she became a judge.

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