The lawyer who allegedly posed as a judge has been indicted on criminal charges, the latest fallout from the scandal that began when the judicial hopeful from the South Side put on a black robe and presided over three traffic cases, her lawyer said Thursday.
Despite the charges, she intends to remain on the ballot in her Cook County judicial election on Nov. 8.
The indictment, handed up by a Cook County grand jury, charges attorney Rhonda Crawford with two criminal counts, according to her lawyer, Victor Henderson, who said the Cook County state’s attorney’s office informed him of the indictment but did not specify the charges.
“They contacted me and said they are moving forward with the charges,” Henderson said.
A spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office declined to comment.
The charges come one week after the state commission that oversees lawyers concluded Crawford committed a crime and asked the Illinois Supreme Court to suspend her law license and prohibit her from taking office. And they come less than three weeks before the November general election in which Crawford hopes to win a seat on the bench from the First Judicial Subcircuit, a district that includes the city’s South Side and some south suburbs.
Henderson said that Crawford was steadfast in her decision to be on the bench and would not drop out of the race. In addition she has tried to prevent her only opponent, Judge Maryam Ahmad, from waging a write-in campaign.
“She’s not going anywhere,” he said. “She is going to fight the good fight.”
Crawford, 45, was not made available for comment.
The status of any investigation into the role of Valarie Turner, the Markham judge who Crawford has said allowed her to wear her robe and handle the three cases, was unclear. But Chief Judge Timothy Evans has removed Turner from the bench and assigned her to administrative duties, while also referring the matter to the Judicial Inquiry Board, the state agency that oversees judicial conduct.
The Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, the state lawyers commission that investigated Crawford, said last week that she had committed two crimes, according to the documents it filed with the state’s highest court. The commission accused Crawford of official misconduct, a felony, and false impersonation, a misdemeanor, by allegedly impersonating a judge.
Crawford’s campaign has insisted that she made an honest mistake and, under questioning by the disciplinary officials, she blamed Turner for encouraging her to take the bench. Turner, who has not spoken publicly about the case, could not be reached for comment.
In a statement Thursday, Crawford’s campaign said the criminal charges against her were politically motivated and questioned whether prosecutors were attempting to influence the outcome of the election.
“The timing of the indictment two weeks before the election is simply an attempt to disenfranchise voters on the South Side and in the south suburbs,” the campaign said.
The Crawford matter has become a major embarrassment for the Cook County judicial system, one of the nation’s largest with about 400 judges. The matter also became a focal point in the court’s internal election for chief judge last month. Evans ultimately survived his stiffest challenge since becoming chief judge in 2001.
The incident began quietly in a lower-level courtroom at the Markham courthouse the morning of Aug. 11, an otherwise unremarkable day when Crawford sat in the witness box to observe cases. But during the 1 p.m. hearing, officials said, those in the courtroom were informed that Crawford was going to put on Turner’s robe, sit in her chair and hear cases. According to the state Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, she heard three traffic cases from the Village of Dolton.
Though Crawford had insisted she took no actions in any of the cases, documents filed by the disciplinary commission say she did. In fact, at one point, according to the documents, a lawyer for the village asked to continue a case because a police officer was not in the courtroom. Crawford asked if she could deny the motion and, when Turner said that she could, she did so, the disciplinary officials alleged.
Crawford, who had worked as a $57,000-a-year law clerk/staff attorney in the chief judge’s office since 2011, was fired from her job. A former nurse, she obtained her law degree in 2003. She handily defeated two opponents in the Democratic primary in March.
While under indictment, Crawford can continue her campaign. Election officials have said a felony conviction would disqualify her.
Turner, a graduate of Northwestern University and the University of Chicago law school, is a former federal prosecutor who also worked as an associate at the well-known Kirkland & Ellis law firm. First elected to the bench in 2002, she had presided over municipal cases in Markham before being reassigned.