Judicial Election Malfunction

December 20, 2016 § 2 Comments

Only last week I posted about some of the vicissitudes of judicial elections. Then I ran across this on the Lowering the Bar blog:

… in Illinois a woman who is currently under indictment for allegedly impersonating a judge was elected Tuesday to be a real judge. The state supreme court had already ruled that Rhonda Crawford could not take the bench if she won, but she got over 74,000 votes anyway.

This all stems from an odd incident in August when a judge let Crawford—then a law clerk—wear her robe one day. That’s fine, but prosecutors allege Crawford also heard and ruled on three cases, which isn’t. As Prof. Steven Lubet has written, this is not quite as crazy as it sounds, because Crawford was not only seeking a judgeship at the time, she had already won the Democratic primary by then and (this being Chicago) was running unopposed in the general election. So that was basically a done deal, and apparently the judge let Crawford get in a little practice beforehand. But even though only minor traffic offenses were involved, this is just not something one can do before actually taking the bench, and the chief judge suspended both of them pending further investigation. The high court later suspended Crawford’s law license as well. Another judge decided to mount a write-in challenge, given the circumstances, and the high court barred Crawford from being sworn in even if she won.

Which she did.

According to Tuesday’s report, the state board of elections has declared Crawford the winner, but the seat will remain vacant because she cannot take office. If she were to lose her license or be convicted of a felony, then she’d be permanently disqualified and the high court could appoint someone to serve until the next election in 2018. Presumably if Crawford were to be cleared before then, she would be able to take the bench, but it isn’t clear when the ethics and criminal charges will be resolved.

It also isn’t clear whether the 74,000 voters who supported Crawford knew about all this, or knew but just didn’t care. Her opponent said she got “several thousand” write-in votes, but conceded it was not nearly enough to win. She said she was shocked by how many of the voters she talked to knew nothing about the scandal, although maybe she shouldn’t have been. “She’s not the winner,” the opponent said, “she’s just the person who got the most votes.” Well, that does make her the winner, actually, it just makes her a winner who can’t accept the job, at least for now.

This is apparently not a significant aberration for Illinois voters. As Lowering the Bar points out:

In 2012, Illinois voters elected Rep. Derrick Smith to another term in the state House although he had not only been indicted but kicked out of the House for taking a $7,000 bribe. (Bonus points: Smith was caught on tape referring to the money as “cheddar” and counting it out one bill at a time.) The House could not expel him a second time for the same offense, so he reclaimed his seat and served for two more years before losing in the next primary. In fact, he continued to serve even after he was convicted in June 2014, possibly because he was not actually sentenced until the following April, by which time he had left office.

Troubling, but it still doesn’t look like a trend. But the way things go nowadays, one never knows.

§ 2 Responses to Judicial Election Malfunction

  • David Calder says:

    Judge Primeaux,

    Currently pending before MSSC is Case Number 2015-EC-01526-SCT, Rickey W. Thompson v. Attorney General of the State of Mississippi, in His Individual and Official Capacities, Lee County Democratic Party Executive Committee, and Lee County Election Commission, and Marcus Crump. In this case the Justice Court Judge was removed from Office by MSSC in May 2015, but then he ran for re-election in August 2015 and won the Democratic Primary. However, the Party refused to certify him and instead put the runner-up on the November ballot. My understanding is that the appeal argues that removal from office by MSSC under MCA 9-19-17 does not mean “forever,” and to the extent the statute imposes additional qualifications for justice court judge beyond those in MISS. CONST. § 171, (i.e., “has not been previously removed from office”), the statute is unconstitutional. Oral argument from 11/14/2016 can be seen on the MSSC web site.

    David

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