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ARDC Files Complaint Against Law Clerk Who Wore Judicial Robe In Courtroom

The ARDC has filed a complaint against Rhonda Crawford who was employed as a law clerk by the Circuit Court of Cook County. Ms. Crawford is currently running for judge as well. The ARDC alleges that Ms. Crawford wore a judge’s robe and presided over three matters. The allegations are these:

4. On August 11, 2016, Judge Valarie Turner (“Judge Turner”) was assigned to Courtroom 098 in Markham (“Courtroom 098”) for court calls scheduled to begin at 9:00 a.m., 10:30 a.m., and 1:00 p.m. On August 11, each of the three court calls involved traffic tickets that had been issued in the Village of Dolton. The Village of Dolton prosecutor working in Courtroom 098 that day was Luciano Panici, Jr. (“Panici, Jr.”).

5. On August 11, 2016, at approximately 9:00 a.m., Respondent was seated in the witness box to the left of the judge’s bench in Courtroom 098. Shortly thereafter, Judge Turner entered Courtroom 098 wearing her judicial robe, took the bench, and began the 9:00 a.m. call. Respondent remained seated in the witness box throughout the 9:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. calls, between which there was no recess.

6. At approximately 12:00 p.m., the court recessed for lunch. At that time, Judge Turner introduced Respondent to Panici, Jr. and asked, “Have you met Judge Crawford?” Respondent did not correct Judge Turner’s statement that she was a judge. Panici, Jr. introduced himself to Respondent and left Courtroom 098.

7. Judge Turner’s statement that Respondent was a judge in paragraph six, above, was false because Respondent was not a judge on August 11, 2016, nor has she ever been a judge.

8. Respondent knew that Judge Turner’s statement in paragraph six, above, was false because she knew she was not a judge. Respondent’s failure to correct Judge Turner’s statement in paragraph six, above, was dishonest and misleading.

9. At approximately 1:00 p.m., Panici, Jr. returned to Courtroom 098 for the afternoon call beginning at 1:00 p.m. At that time, Officer Derrell White also arrived at Courtroom 098 for the afternoon call. Officer White sat in a chair in a row of chairs located to the left of and slightly behind the witness box. Respondent again sat in the witness box to the left of the judge’s bench. Judge Turner began the afternoon call at approximately 1:00 p.m.

10. At some time near the end of the 1:00 p.m. call, Judge Turner announced to the people in Courtroom 098, “We’re going to switch judges” and gave her judicial robe to Respondent. Respondent did not correct Judge Turner’s reference to her as a judge and put on Judge Turner’s robe in plain view of the people in Courtroom 098.

11. Judge Turner’s reference to Respondent as a judge in paragraph ten, above, was false because Respondent was not a judge on August 11, 2016, nor has she ever been a judge.

12. At the time Judge Turner referred to Respondent as a judge in paragraph ten, above, Respondent knew Judge Turner’s statement was false because she knew she was not a judge. Respondent’s failure to correct Judge Turner’s reference to her as a judge in front of the people in Courtroom 098 was dishonest and misleading.

13. After putting on Judge Turner’s robe, Respondent sat down on the bench and began purporting to preside over at least three cases on the 1:00 p.m. call. Judge Turner stood behind Respondent.

14. As a result of Judge Turner’s previous introduction of Respondent, at the time Respondent put on Judge Turner’s robe and began purporting to preside over cases, Panici Jr. believed Respondent was a judge.

15. After Respondent had put on Judge Turner’s robe and sat on the bench, the court clerk called the case of defendant Maliq Giles (“Giles”), ticket YE-334-458. At Giles’ request, Respondent purported to continue the matter until October 26, 2016. Respondent reflected her purported decision by writing “MD 10-26-16” on the back of ticket YE-334-458.

16. After Giles’ matter, the court clerk called the case of defendant Angel LaSalle (“LaSalle”), ticket YE-334-458. When LaSalle stepped up to the bench, Respondent said to LaSalle, “Officer is not in court.” Panici, Jr. then made a motion to continue the matter. Respondent turned to Judge Turner and asked, “Can I deny his motion?” Judge Turner replied, “Yes, you can deny the motion” and Respondent purported to deny the motion. Panici, Jr. then made a motion to non-suit the matter, which Respondent purported to grant. Respondent then reflected her purported decision by writing “ONIC” (Officer Not In Court) and “MCNS” (Motion City Non-Suit) on the back of ticket YE-334-458.

17. At some point while Respondent was wearing Judge Turner’s robe and seated on the bench, she called the case of defendant Kendrah Blackshear (“Blackshear”), ticket YE-250-620. Blackshear stepped up to the bench before Respondent and presented a valid driver’s license. Panici, Jr. made a motion to non-suit the matter and Respondent purported to grant the motion.

18. At the time Blackshear stepped up in front of Respondent, described in paragraph 17, above, Blackshear believed Respondent was a judge as a result of the facts that Respondent was wearing a judicial robe, sitting behind the bench in the Judge’s chair, and presiding over cases being called by the clerk.

19. After the 1:00 p.m. call concluded, Respondent returned Judge Turner’s judicial robe to her. At that time, Officer White approached Respondent to congratulate her on her judgeship. Officer White asked Respondent if she would be assigned to Markham and Respondent replied that she was in Markham now but would probably be assigned downtown.

20. Respondent’s statement to Officer White referenced in paragraph 19, above, was false and misleading because she was not a judge assigned to Markham on August 11, 2016.

21. Respondent knew that her statement to Officer White referenced in paragraph 19, above, was false and misleading because she knew she was not a judge assigned to Markham.”

The ARDC has accused Ms. Crawford of dishonesty in violation of Rule 8.4(c), criminal conduct in violation of Rule 8.4(b) and false statements in a disciplinary investigation.

Comment: I believe that this case represents overkill as Judge Turner is far more to blame for this situation than Ms. Crawford. I believe that Ms. Crawford reasonably relied on Judge Turner and reasonably believed that she was undergoing a training experience. One reason for the harsh prosecution is, of course, that the incident spurred news coverage of the event and the news coverage caused embarrassment to the Circuit Court of Cook County. It appears to me that Judge Turner considered Ms. Crawford as a “judge” because Ms. Crawford has no opposition on the ballot in November.

Again, I don’t condone what happened here, but I hate to see this young woman’s career ruined because of a mistake made by someone she clearly trusted. I am hopeful that cooler heads will prevail and this matter will result in a reprimand, not more extensive discipline.

Update: the Illinois Supreme Court has entered an order suspending Ms. Crawford’s law license until the disciplinary charges have been resolved. This interim suspension is a significant blow to Ms. Crawford and will prevent her from taking the oath of office even if she wins the election.

Edward X.Clinton, Jr.