Judge Removed After Allegedly Allowing Law Clerk To Wear Robe, Hear Cases
Sorry, but there’s no such thing as playing judicial dress-up.
AUG 18, 2016 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: JUN 23, 2021
Imagine that you’re a state court law clerk who’s running unopposed for a seat on a judicial subcircuit in November. Your very own judgeship is so close you can almost feel the weight of a gavel in your hand.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get some practice adjudicating cases under your belt before doing the real thing? Wouldn’t it be great if an actual judge allowed you to hear some cases?
Wouldn’t it be even better if you got to wear real judicial robes while doing it?
That’s exactly what’s alleged to have happened in Illinois last week, when Cook County Circuit Court Judge Valarie Turner reportedly let Rhonda Crawford, a law clerk running unopposed for a seat on the 1st Judicial Subcircuit, preside over at least two cases on the bench.
Sources say that Crawford was “job shadowing” Turner at the time.
The Chicago Tribune has more information on this legal ethics landmine:
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.
Finally, the incident raised questions about the judgment of any lawyers who took part in the cases knowing that Crawford is not a judge, as well as the conduct of any clerks, courtroom deputies or other county employees who regularly work with Turner in her courtroom.
Crawford is a graduate of Chicago Kent College of Law, and although she handily beat two other candidates in the Democratic primary for the judicial seat she’ll likely win, she was “not recommended” by all of the major bar groups involved in the election process.
According to Professor Steven Lubet of Northwestern Law,
“This is more than misguided. You don’t put on the robes. You don’t rule on people’s fate unless you are a judge.”
Professor Clifford Scott-Rudnick of John Marshall Law in Chicago felt similarly, saying,
“I can’t see how someone else can just sit and be a judge. Obviously, if you’re entitled to have a judge hear your case, it has to be a real judge.”
Sorry, but because justice is not a toy and there’s no such thing as playing pretend judicial dress-up, Turner has been removed from active duty on the bench and Crawford has been suspended from her position pending a full investigation. Let’s see how this affects Turner’s bid for a judgeship in her election this fall.