The Cook County state’s attorney’s office said on Friday that it had begun a criminal investigation into an incident earlier this month in which a municipal court judge at the south suburban Markham courthouse allegedly allowed a law clerk to wear a robe and hear traffic cases.
When news broke that a nonjudge had reportedly handled cases, the office of State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said that it would “review” the matter.
“It has moved from a review — which was based upon our office initially learning about the matter — to an investigation,” Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for the office, said in an email to the Tribune Friday. “Investigation is ongoing. We won’t speculate on possible charges.”
Daly would not say if the judge, Valarie Turner, or the law clerk, Rhonda Crawford, was the target of the investigation. But moving from a review to an investigation suggests prosecutors have determined there is enough evidence of wrongdoing to determine whether charges are warranted.
Turner, a graduate of the University of Chicago law school, was first elected to the bench in 2002. She makes about $190,000 a year.
Crawford has been a law clerk/staff attorney in the office of Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans since 2011. In March, she defeated two opponents in the Democratic primary for the 1st Judicial Subcircuit, which includes parts of the South Side and some of the south suburbs.
She is unopposed in the November general election.
Evans temporarily removed Turner from the bench and assigned her to handle administrative tasks such as conducting weddings and reviewing requests for fee waivers in civil cases. He suspended Crawford without pay from her $57,000-a-year job.
Turner and Crawford could not be reached for comment Friday.
The incident occurred on Aug. 11, when officials say Crawford put on a robe and, with Turner standing nearby, presided over at least two traffic cases. Both involved South Side residents driving in Dolton; one was ticketed for driving with no proof of insurance, the other for driving on the median.
Documents show one case was continued, while the other was dismissed when the officer failed to appear in court.
Both cases will be reheard by a real judge.
Experts in legal and judicial ethics were left slack-jawed by the incident. They said that it likely violates several rules for lawyers and judges and might even have been illegal for Crawford to pretend to be a judge. The Judicial Inquiry Board, which oversees judges in the state, and the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, which licenses and disciplines lawyers, likely will investigate the incident as well.