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Judge Mauricio Araujo quits before panel could remove him over sexual harassment accusations

Cook County judge faced the prospect of being booted from office Tuesday over ‘clear and convincing evidence’ of inappropriate, harassing behavior toward women.

xCook County Circuit Judge Mauricio Araujo.
Cook County Circuit Judge Mauricio Araujo.
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Cook County Circuit Judge Mauricio Araujo resigned Thursday, effective the start of next week, according to the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board.

Araujo was facing the prospect of being removed from the bench next week after the Illinois Courts Commission said Tuesday there is “clear and convincing evidence” he engaged in a pattern of inappropriate and harassing behavior toward women.

The commission — a panel of five judges and two other members who are appointed by the governor — was set to decide Araujo’s punishment next week.

Its decision followed a two-day hearing at which three women testified Araujo sexually harassed or demeaned them in several incidents between 2011 and 2018.

Araujo admitted he made one inappropriate comment about an assistant Cook County state’s attorney.

But he disputed accusations from a Chicago police officer who said he tried to kiss her and from a court reporter who said he propositioned her for sex.

Araujo — who didn’t respond to a request for comment — was seeking six more years on the bench as a candidate for retention on the November ballot.

He didn’t get the support of the Cook County Democratic Party, and there were calls by a host of elected officials for voters to boot him from office.

The Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board’s June 2019 complaint against Cook County Circuit Judge Mauricio Araujo accused him of having “engaged in a pattern of inappropriate and harassing behavior toward women.”
The Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board’s June 2019 complaint against Cook County Circuit Judge Mauricio Araujo accused him of having “engaged in a pattern of inappropriate and harassing behavior toward women.”

Araujo has been on administrative duty — known as “judges’ jail — since 2018, when the sexual harassment complaints were filed with the Judicial Inquiry Board, which reviews judicial misconduct allegations. The board filed a formal complaint with the Illinois Courts Commission in June 2019 and acted as the prosecutor at his hearing.

On Monday, Karen Rittorno, a Chicago police officer, testified that she went to Araujo’s chambers on Aug. 15, 2016, to get a warrant signed and that he tried to kiss her on the lips.

She said she put some distance between him and and asked, “Aren’t you married?”

“He said, ‘Well, yeah,’ ” she testified. “I said, ‘Oh my god.’ ”

As they were leaving his chambers, Rittorno said, he reached back, grabbed her hand and said, “Touch it.”

“Touch what?” she asked.

“Touch my butt,” she testified he replied.

She said that, in nearly two decades as a cop often surrounded by male colleagues, she’d never previously been sexually harassed. She told members of her gang investigation team what happened, she said, and it became a kind of running joke.

“In my profession, you have to suck it up,” she told the commission, voice shaking.

She said she promised never to let herself be alone with Araujo again, even though she and her team continued to request his approval for warrants.

Araujo denied asking Rittorno to touch him. He testified that he considered her a friend and had once hugged and kissed her on the cheek, saying he does that with many female friends, including police officers. Araujo said his gestures of physical affection are part of his Colombian heritage.

But Rittorno said she had no personal relationship with Araujo.

“The judge’s testimony that he hugs and kisses male and female officers all the time is just not believable,” Judicial Inquiry Board attorney Kevin Fee argued.

Rittorno said she came forward after seeing news coverage of the sexual assault trial of Bill Cosby and hearing that Araujo had made a sexual comment about a Cook County prosecutor.

That comment came Sept. 11, 2018, after Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Nina Ricci, a law school classmate of Araujo, appeared in his courtroom on a case, according to testimony.

Araujo said he was upset Ricci didn’t acknowledge their past. Later, in his chambers, Araujo told Akash Vyas, another prosecutor, “something to the effect of, ‘Maybe it was because I didn’t have sex with her. Or maybe it was because I did have sex with her,’ ” Vyas testified.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx reported the incident to the criminal division’s presiding judge, LeRoy Martin Jr., and her office asked to move the case Ricci was handling to another judge.

Rittorno said she wished she had come forward sooner.

“I thought, if I had said something when it happened, I probably would have stopped it from happening to the attorney,” she testified.

Court reporter Carolina Schultz described incidents in 2011, when she and Araujo were working at the Domestic Violence Courthouse, alone in an elevator, She testified Araujo asked her, “How much?” She said the implication was that he was offering to pay her for sex.

Weeks later, he repeated the proposition, she testified.

Schultz said she subsequently avoided taking the elevators alone and transferred to a different courthouse.

Araujo described his behavior as “overly casual” and said that, if the commission would let him remain a judge, he’d behave in a more formal manner and refrain from hugs and kisses.

“My intent is not to make anybody feel uncomfortable,” the judge said.

John Seasly reports for Injustice Watch, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit journalism organization.