I was absolutely stunned to see this story posted on the online edition of the Chicago Tribune today:
A veteran Cook County Circuit Court judge allegedly allowed a lawyer who is running for election to the bench to wear her robe and hear some of her cases at the Markham courthouse late last week, a breach of judicial ethics as well as a potential violation of the law.
The move prompted the county’s chief judge, Timothy Evans, to remove the judge from the bench Wednesday until further notice.
The incident occurred in the courtroom of Judge Valarie Turner, who allegedly allowed lawyer Rhonda Crawford to take her place on the bench during her morning call of cases, Evans said in a statement. It is not clear if people appearing for cases knew of the situation in the courtroom.
Turner, a graduate of Northwestern University and the University of Chicago law school, is a former federal prosecutor who also worked as an associate with the Kirkland & Ellis law firm. First elected to the bench in 2002, she hears municipal cases in Markham.
Crawford, records show, works for the office of Chief Judge Timothy Evans. In March, she handily defeated two opponents in the Democratic primary for the 1st Judicial Subcircuit, which includes parts of the South Side of Chicago and some of the south suburbs.
She is unopposed in the November general election.
Pat Milhizer, a court spokesman, declined to say if Evans referred the matter to criminal authorities for investigation or to the disciplinary agencies that handle misconduct allegations made against lawyers and judges. He also would not say the types of cases Crawford improperly presided over or what now happens to those cases.
The incident shocked judicial ethics experts, who said it would be such an ethical lapse — and possibly a violation of the law for the impersonation of a judge — they were surprised any judge would allow it, and any lawyer would actually take the bench. It also raised a host of issues, from questions about the validity of any judgment Crawford might have rendered to the cost and inconvenience of rehearing cases she handled…
Evans also suspended Crawford from her job pending an internal investigation. She has been a law clerk/staff attorney in his office since 2011, and makes nearly $57,000 a year.
Evans made the move after a meeting with his executive committee.
“The public’s confidence in the judiciary is the cornerstone of our system of justice, and I have taken the steps necessary to preserve that confidence,” Evans said in the statement. “Because the investigation is pending, I believe it is inappropriate to comment further at this time.”
Chief Judge Timothy Evans has removed Judge Valarie Turner from her current duties in Markham and has reassigned her to restricted non-judicial duty in Chicago for the time being.
I have appeared in front of Judge Turner many times (as well as her husband, who is also a Judge) and just saw both of them yesterday. I have nothing bad to say about this judge, and I hope this turns out to be a mistake.
The only time that I have ever heard of something like this is former Cook County Judge Ray Sodini, one of the judges who was caught up in the Greylord scandal, who is also remembered mostly for calling in and having a court bailiff handle his morning court call when he was too hung over to make it to court. (Which is not meant to imply that Judge Valarie Turner is anything like Judge Ray Sodini, who was both an alcoholic and corrupt. I imagine that Judge Turner’s mistake, assuming that this is true, is that she made a serious lapse in judgement.).