Posted December 2, 2016 12:01 PM
Updated December 4, 2016 8:37 AM
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Alzheimer’s diagnosis in Turner case

By David Thomas
Law Bulletin staff writer

The Cook County circuit judge who allowed a law clerk to don her robes and adjudicate cases in her stead was charged today by the Judicial Inquiry Board as “mentally unable to perform her duties.”

In a six-page complaint to the Illinois Courts Commission, the board said Circuit Judge Valarie E. Turner was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease “recently” and has “suffered and continues to suffer from memory loss.”

Turner’s attorney, Gino L. DiVito, a partner at Tabet DiVito & Rothstein LLC, confirmed today in a statement to the Daily Law Bulletin that Turner received a “final diagnosis” of Alzheimer’s on Nov. 9.

“Valarie Turner has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. In spite of this, the Judicial Inquiry Board has filed a complaint with the Courts Commission,” DiVito said. “Ms. Turner is charged with no misconduct. She therefore has done nothing that would justify any sanction that could be imposed by the commission.”

DiVito declined to say when the symptoms of Alzheimer’s began appearing for Turner. He also declined to say if or when Turner had informed anyone at the circuit court of her condition.

The board’s complaint cites Section 15 of Article VI of the Illinois Constitution, which allows the commission “to suspend, with or without pay, or retire a judge or associate judge who is physically or mentally unable to perform his or her duties.”

However, the board has not asked the commission to take a specific course of action, just whatever “may deem appropriate.”

DiVito blasted the board’s decision to bring this issue before the commission.

“In essence, the Judicial Inquiry Board has charged her only with having Alzheimer’s disease,” DiVito said. “This sets a terrible precedent for any judge who, like Ms. Turner, has an illness that she did not cause and cannot control.”

Turner allegedly invited and allowed former law clerk Rhonda Crawford to wear her robes and adjudicate at least three traffic cases at the Markham Courthouse in August.

At one point, Turner allegedly told a colleague who had asked her if she let Crawford sit in her place said that, “I thought she was a judge.”

Cook County Chief Circuit Judge Timothy C. Evans fired Crawford and pulled Turner from hearing cases and reassigned her to desk duty after the incident.

But Turner has been on medical leave since Aug. 22, 11 days after the incident took place, according to a spokesman with Evans’ office. The spokesman added the office learned of Turner’s medical condition when the JIB filed its complaint.

DiVito said Turner is applying for disability status with the Judges’ Retirement System and has “effectively retired as a judge, and there is no issue for the Courts Commission to determine.”

The JIB complaint recites many of the same facts that were previously disclosed in criminal and disciplinary complaints against Crawford. The only differences are the allegations that Turner is mentally unable to perform her duties and her Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

Turner was born in Chicago and received her J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School in 1991. She worked as an associate for Kirkland & Ellis, as an assistant U.S. attorney and, immediately before joining the bench, was counsel to E.C.S. Consulting Associates. She was elected to a six-year term in the 2nd Subcircuit in 2002 and was retained in 2008 and 2014.

The JIB is represented by John N. Gallo and Abigail B. Molitor of Sidley Austin LLP.

Turner has 21 days – or until Dec. 23 – to formally respond to the JIB complaint.

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