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Case Notes: November 2016

CASE NOTES

Summaries of recent legal matters in and around Chicago

LAW CLERK WHO PLAYED JUDGE IS ELECTED AS REAL JUDGE BUT NOW IS NOT LIKELY TO ACTUALLY BECOME ONE.

In August 2016, Rhonda Crawford was a Cook County law clerk for Presiding Judge Timothy Evans. She was also the democratic candidate for the 1st Judicial Subcircuit - running unopposed in the general election held on November 8, 2016. She was also the person who decided to put on a judge's robes and hear three traffic matters, with the actual judge standing nearby.

Once word of the incident got out, Ms. Crawford was quickly suspended and then fired. However, she refused to withdraw her name from the ballot and said that she would take office after winning her uncontested election. That stance has now changed, as have her options.

In mid-October, the Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission ("ARDC") petitioned the Illinois Supreme Court to indefinitely suspend Ms. Crawford from the practice of law and for an order precluding her from taking the bench. The ARDC also submitted a three-count complaint against Ms. Crawford. On October 21 2016, the Cook County State's Attorney charged Ms. Crawford with a felony count of official misconduct and a misdemeanor count of false impersonation, carrying a combined penalty of almost six years in prison.

On October 27, 2016 Crawford offered not to take the bench following the election, if the Supreme Court would allow her to keep her law license until after a formal disciplinary hearing. However, on October 31, 2016, the Court entered an order suspending her license and barring her from taking the bench if elected.

On November 8, 2016, Ms. Crawford was elected. However, the position will remain unfilled while Ms. Crawford's license remains suspended and her disciplinary matter proceeds to a full hearing. If she loses her law license as a result of the hearing and/or is convicted of the felony charge against her, she would be ineligible to take the bench. The Illinois Supreme Court would then appoint someone to fill that position until the next election in 2018.

Only time will tell how this all eventually sorts out, but it seems clear that Ms. Crawford is now unlikely to become Judge Crawford.

LANDLORD'S FAILURE TO DISCLOSE PENDING FORECLOSURE TO TENANT LEADS TO PUNITIVE DAMAGES.

Naim Massad v. Amin Ijbara Equity Corp., et al; Cook County Case No. 13 L 3588

In Spring 2011, the plaintiff entered into a five-year commercial lease with the defendants. The defendants had allegedly failed to make necessary repairs to the property to enable the tenant to obtain a business license, resulting in the tenant spending $50,000 in improvements. Additionally, the defendants had also apparently concealed a rather important "detail" from their new tenant - a pending mortgage foreclosure complaint filed two and a half months earlier.

The foreclosing bank eventually obtained a judgment of foreclosure and took possession of the property about a year and a half after the lease start date. The plaintiff thus sued the defendants for fraud and breach of warranty, seeking to recover the $50,000 in rehab costs and the $10,000 security deposit paid to the defendants, as well as punitive damages. The defendants claimed that they had orally advised the plaintiff of the pending foreclosure and had actually done all repairs.

At trial, the plaintiff offered to settle for simply payment of his rehab costs. That offer was rejected.

The jury was apparently unpersuaded by the defendants' story that the plaintiff had allegedly knowingly entered into a five-year commercial lease for a property already in foreclosure and then spent $50,000 improving that property allegedly knowing it was in foreclosure. The verdict was returned for $182,000 consisting of $92,000 in compensatory damages - giving the plaintiff every item he sought and then some - as well as punitive damages of $90,000.

CAB REARENDS ANOTHER VEHICLE AND PREVAILS WITH SUDDEN STOP DEFENSE

DeWana Smith v. Gulf Stream Taxi LLC, et al., Cook County Case No. 14 L 1770

Although it seems almost axiomatic that a car who rear-ends another is at fault, that is not always the case.

A defendant taxi driver rear-ended the plaintiff's car at a downtown intersection. The incident allegedly aggravated an existing degenerative spinal condition, resulting in surgery for a cervical discectomy and fusion, with further surgeries needed, leading to $95,000 in past medical costs and $140,000 in future medical costs.

The plaintiff claimed she was stopped at a stoplight behind other stopped cars, when the defendant ran into her with great force. The defendant claimed he was driving 15 mph, at most, when the plaintiff suddenly stopped in front of him, leaving him unable to fully brake in time and causing him to strike her car at approximately 5 mph. The defendant further argued the plaintiff was reaching for her coffee while her car was still moving and suddenly stopped when she realized the cars in front of her had stopped. He also claimed the impact was with minimal force and minimal vehicle damage, causing the plaintiff to only suffer temporary soft tissue injuries to her shoulder, wrist and ankle.

At trial, the jury apparently believed the defendant and felt that the sudden stop defense applied. It returned a full not guilty verdict for the defense.

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