Cook County judge charged after gun falls out of jacket at Leighton Courthouse

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An image taken from surveillance video that allegedly shows Cook County Judge Joseph Claps dropping a gun on the floor July 3 at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse. | Cook County Sheriff’s Office

A Cook County judge will be standing before the bench instead of sitting behind it when he appears in court next week after allegedly bringing a gun into a Chicago courthouse.

Judge Joseph Claps was charged Friday with a misdemeanor count of carrying a concealed weapon in a prohibited area after he was seen dropping a gun on the floor of the Leighton Criminal Courthouse at 2600 S. California Ave., according to a Cook County Sheriff’s Office incident report.

Judge Claps was walking through the lobby of the courthouse just before noon on July 3 when a sheriff’s deputy saw a handgun fall from his jacket pocket onto the floor, according to the report.

Claps picked up the gun, put it into his pants and continued walking, the report said. Two deputies who witnessed Claps drop the gun reported the incident to supervisors, who then reviewed surveillance video.

The sheriff’s office released two videos in response to media inquiries on Tuesday that allegedly show Claps with a gun at the courthouse. In the first, Claps can be seen dropping and picking up an object in the lobby. The second video appears to show Claps remove the gun from his pants pocket and put it under his arm as he approaches an elevator bay at the courthouse.

Judge Claps contacted Sheriff’s Deputy Chief Matthew Rafferty about the incident on July 5 and was told to come to Rafferty’s office the next day, according to the report. After appearing at Rafferty’s office, Claps was read his Miranda rights and charged.

Claps was released on an I-Bond, according to sheriff’s office spokeswoman Cara Smith.

Claps has a valid FOID card and a permit to carry a concealed weapon, Smith said. However, concealed carry holders are not allowed to bring weapons into the courthouse.

Only members of law enforcement who are on duty are allowed to carry their weapons at the courthouse, Smith said.

Claps will appear for a hearing July 19 at the Maywood Courthouse in west suburban Maywood.

Chief Judge Timothy Evans re-assigned Claps to “non-judicial duties” ahead of a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Circuit Court of Cook County on Wednesday, according to circuit court spokesman Pat Milhizer.

Claps has served as a judge for more than 16 years and presides over felony cases, according to his LinkedIn profile. He was also a colonel in the U.S. Army for 29 years.

A webpage for Claps on the Circuit Court of Cook County websites lists him as an associate judge in the Criminal and Elder Law and Miscellaneous Remedies divisions.

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