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Chicago Judge Who Let Clerk Wear Robe, Hear Cases, Is Removed

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on August 18, 2016 3:57 PM

Becoming a judge is no easy task. It requires building a name, making connections, and winning an election or appointment. But once you've made it, what a great gig it is. There's the pantless defendants, the screaming lawyers, the endless petitions from pro se Sovereign Citizens, the baby splitting.

But one Chicago lawyer recently got to test the role out in advance. Cook County Circuit Court Judge Valarie Turner allegedly let one of the court's clerks, attorney Rhonda Crawford, sit on her bench, wear her robe, and preside over two cases. Now Turner has been removed from the bench and currently faces claims that she violated judicial ethics and may have broken the law.

Just Covering for the Boss

"The judge and the lawyer allegedly involved in the incident have operated in relative anonymity in Cook County's bustling legal circles," according to the Chicago Tribune. But there are a few things we know about the pair. Crawford, the fake judge, has worked as a law clerk and staff attorney for Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans since 2011. Valarie Turner, the real judge who allegedly let Evans' clerk sit on her bench, has served in Cook County courts since 2002. A former federal prosecutor and associate for Kirkland & Ellis, she now hears (or heard) municipal cases in the Chicago suburb of Markham, according to the Tribune.

Last Thursday, Turner allegedly allowed Crawford to don her robe and hear two traffic cases, one involving driving without insurance, the other dealing with driving on the median. There's no word how Crawford, disguised as Turner, ruled, but the Tribune reports that both cases will be reheard, this time in front of an actual judge.

Whoopsies

The fake-judge scandal has caused major problems for all involved, as one might expect. Judge Turner has been pulled from the bench and will stay off it for the foreseeable future. It's not clear whether Turner's actions have been reported to state disciplinary agencies or to criminal investigators, but they likely will be.

This scandal is also bad news for Cook County Chief Judge Evans. Evans oversees one of the largest court systems in the country and is currently in a tough election battle to retain his position.

And then there's Crawford, the clerk who posed as a judge. She, too, has been suspended. But she may have a new job in the near future. Crawford is currently running to become an actual judge. She'll be on the ballot, unopposed, this November.

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