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A Chicago-area judicial candidate who was once on the fast track to a high-salary, high-status job as a judge now faces charges of impersonating a judge when she was a court staff attorney early this year, prosecutors announced Friday.

Rhonda Crawford, 45, is accused of donning a robe in Cook County traffic court on Aug. 11, months after she won the Democratic primary for a judgeship. She is charged with misdemeanor false impersonation and felony official misconduct, which carries a maximum five-year prison term.

Crawford was a shoo-in to win the Nov. 8 until news that she briefly played a judge drew ridicule and condemnation among those who practice law in Cook County, one of the nation's largest judicial districts with its some 400 judges.

In announcing the charges, County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said judges are "at the heart of our criminal justice system."

"Crawford's conduct in this case was offensive to the integrity of our system and cannot be excused or ignored as a mere lapse in judgment," Alvarez said in statement from her office.

Crawford, who became an attorney in 2003, appeared at an initial hearing Friday, when a judge set a personal recognizance bond at $10,000. A message left for her lawyer, Victor Henderson, wasn't returned. He has previously described the incident as, at worst, "a minor infraction."

Crawford told reporters last month she had been shadowing judges to observe how they work when Judge Valarie E. Turner asked in a spur-of-the-moment offer if she wanted to sit on the bench. Crawford did for about five minutes and didn't think anyone believed she was a real judge.


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