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Brown: Better ways to deal with wannabe judge than indictment

Rhonda Crawford and her attorney Victor Henderson on Friday after Crawford pleaded not guilty to impersonating a Cook County judge. | Mark Brown / Sun-Times

Rhonda Crawford never had any business being a judge, and now she has no business being a criminal defendant.

Crawford is the judicial candidate who won the Democratic primary in March and then decided to play judge by accepting an offer from a real judge to borrow her robes and rule on a few traffic cases.

I’ve declared Crawford guilty of premature adjudication, a crime of first class stupidity punishable by a permanent withdrawal from political life.

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez is calling it false impersonation and official misconduct, the latter a Class 3 felony punishable by two to five years in prison.

OPINION

With all due respect to the grand jurors who returned the indictment, Crawford doesn’t belong in jail — or even in a criminal courtroom — any more than she belongs on the bench.

While her mistakes should be fatal to her aspirations of becoming a judge and at least interrupt her career as a lawyer, the criminal charges are an unnecessary bit of piling on.

There’s been no showing Crawford duped Judge Valarie Turner into thinking Crawford was a judge, only that the two of them together misled others in the courtroom, their intentions unclear.

Unfortunately, Crawford hasn’t gotten the message yet that she’s more likely to lose her law license than to ever get her own set of robes. As has been apparent from the start of this embarrassing episode, judgment isn’t her strong suit.

Despite the indictment, Crawford continued to insist Friday she will remain a candidate for judge from the first judicial subcircuit in the Nov. 8 election, a race in which she is opposed only by write-in candidate Maryam Ahmad.

Crawford seems to think if she can just win the election, as is almost certain if she remains a candidate, she will be sworn in Dec. 5 with the rest of the new judges and that her problems will go away.

Somebody should have explained to her by now that the power players in Illinois’ judicial community, stung by the humiliation she helped cause, are never going to let that happen. Nor should they.

The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission already has asked the state Supreme Court to suspend Crawford’s law license, which would disqualify her from taking the oath of office.

In simpler times, some unseen gray eminence would have had that talk with Crawford, pulled her aside and explained the political facts of life, while at the same time seeking a milder sanction for her quick withdrawal from the race.

The current times are more complex, the incident having occurred amid a rare re-election challenge to Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy Evans by Judge Tom Allen, who made the case a focal point of his campaign; and amid continued friction between Evans and the Supreme Court. (Evans employed Crawford as a law clerk.) Into that mix add Alvarez, a wild card on her way out after losing the primary to Kim Foxx.

Victor Henderson, Crawford’s defense lawyer, has thrown all those elements onto the fire, adding in Ahmad’s write-in campaign, to fashion a smokescreen defense claiming this is all Democratic politics.

It is, and it isn’t, and to the extent it is, it doesn’t matter.

Remember, Crawford’s qualifications for the bench were so obviously weak she didn’t even bother to present her credentials to the bar groups that rate judicial candidates to give guidance to voters. She never deserved to be a judge, and she proved it by failing to understand the authority those robes symbolize.

The real crime, though, the ongoing crime, is our system of picking judges.