Update (April 28, 2018): Former law clerk Rhonda Crawford was found dead in her home on April 26, 2018, days before misconduct hearings for impersonating a judge. Our hearts go out to Ms. Crawford’s family and friends.
Chicago’s Rhonda Crawford was a nurse until she discovered a love for the law. She’s in trouble with the legal elite in Illinois because she failed to kiss the right rings.
Her steadfast refusal to kowtow to her “betters” makes her one of the Lawyers We Love™.
After five years as a law clerk for a municipal court judge, Rhonda Crawford felt called to the bench. She had persistent visions of sitting at the top of a courtroom in a black robe, gavel in hand.
So she raised $30,000 to run for a circuit court judgeship in Cook County. She won that election early this month.
But Rhonda didn’t wait for the election to try on that robe and gavel.
She’d seen her future so clearly that, when Judge Valarie Turner needed a lunch break back in August, Rhonda donned the judge’s robe and started doling out justice in traffic court.
It was all in good fun. The cases were trivial, and Judge Turner was in on the joke. Near the end of the last calendar call on August 11th, Judge Turner announced that the court was “switching judges” and handed her robe to Rhonda.
Rhonda then heard and ruled on the last three traffic tickets of the day, dismissing two and postponing a third for the defendant’s convenience.
The traffic court prosecutor, Luciano Panici, Jr., was not happy about striking out in “Judge” Crawford’s court. He complained to his father, Luciano Panici, Sr., a longtime judge with chambers in the same courthouse.
The Panicis raised a hew and a cry, upon which all hell broke loose.
Within days, Judge Turner was assigned to desk duty, her caseload distributed to other judges. A judicial review board is now pondering her fate.
All for shadowing a mentor on the eve of her own election to the bench.
Yes, that’s right. This happened after Rhonda had won the Democratic nomination for judge in Cook County, after it became clear she was unopposed in the general election.
The state’s top court has enjoined Rhonda Crawford from taking the oath of office in December. This Cook County judge-elect is facing disbarment because a sitting judge let her try on a robe 100 days too soon.
While she more than tripled her salary and achieved a lifetime dream, she is legally barred from accepting it. And that’s unacceptable.
Rhonda hired lawyers to defend the criminal case and the disciplinary proceedings. She held a press conference in September and told them all to go to hell.
She had no plans to drop out of the race, she said at the time. Her plan was to win the election and join the judiciary.
That was badass.
But when you have a vision for yourself, you fight for it. Rhonda Crawford wants to be a judge, so this fight is just beginning.
Nearly everyone in Chicago is a student of Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich:
Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve.
Hill’s instructions, of course, were a bit more complex than conceiving and believing.
You have to put in the work. And you can’t take shortcuts, especially in a hostile environment.
But Rhonda Crawford had the right idea. And she has grit.
I’m betting she’ll win.