A Cook County judge this week was caught on a YouTube livestream mocking an attorney who had appeared before him for arguments earlier in the day.
“Can you imagine waking up next to her every day? Oh, my God,” Judge William Raines said of attorney Jennifer Bonjean. “... I couldn’t have a visual on that if you paid me.”
A link to the video of Tuesday’s livestreamed court call was available for viewing as recently as Thursday morning. After Raines had finished hearing cases, he began to chat with two Cook County prosecutors and a Cook County assistant public defender about the legal argument Bonjean had participated in earlier that day. He apparently did not realise the conversation was still being broadcast live on YouTube.
“I’m reliving (Assistant State’s Attorney) Todd Dombrowski’s conversation with Miss Bonjean,” he said, apparently unprompted. “... Did you see her going nuts? Glasses off, fingers through her hair, the phone’s going all over the place, it’s insane.”
In court before Criminal Division acting Presiding Judge Erica Reddick on Thursday, Bonjean asked that the video be officially preserved, in part so she could use it in a complaint to the Judicial Inquiry Board.
“To the extent that there is a forum here to lodge a complaint, we obviously do that as well,” Bonjean told Reddick. “It’s our position that Judge Raines did not conduct himself in a manner that promoted public confidence... there was an incredible casual nature of these conversations that certainly suggests this is not the first time this kind of banter went on.”
Reddick granted Bonjean’s request to preserve the video, and said she would “reserve comment” on the matter of Bonjean’s complaint.
“Clearly all judges who serve are under our ethical rules... (and should) conduct themselves in a matter that promotes confidence in the judiciary,” she said. “I did receive the initial complaint. Please know it will be addressed as well.”
A spokeswoman for Chief Judge Timothy Evans’ office said Raines could not comment on the matter, since it involves a pending case. She directed questions to the state Judicial Inquiry Board, which handles allegations of wrongdoing by Illinois judges.
Many Cook County criminal court proceedings have been held on videoconference since the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic. While the majority have gone smoothly, the format has led to some unusual hiccups. Last year, a couple was caught apparently being intimate on camera during a Zoom court hearing. In 2020, a defendant on a bond court livestream blurted out that he was a federal informant — and illegally recorded video of the incident spread online like wildfire.
Raines’ comments were made Tuesday after a hearing in the case of Bonjean’s client Roosevelt Myles, who is trying to get his decades-old murder conviction thrown out.
Raines recused himself from the case Wednesday, records show. Reddick on Thursday reassigned Myles’ case to Judge Carol Howard.
Earlier that day, Bonjean and Dombrowski had concluded testy arguments in Myles’ case involving a request by prosecutors for raw footage of an interview Myles granted a documentary team.
Over the course of the hearing, Raines grew frustrated with Bonjean, who occasionally interrupted or shook her head in displeasure. Bonjean repeatedly alleged that prosecutors were lying about the history of the case.
“Stop shaking your head, just be professional, would you please?” Raines asked.
“You know what’s professional? Telling the truth and understanding the law. That’s professional. Telling the truth and understanding the law is more professional than me shaking my head. I would ask that people state the law and the record correctly,” she said.
“I don’t need you yelling at me, Ms Bonjean,” Raines said.
“I’m passionate,” Bonjean said. “I’m not yelling.”
After the day’s hearings had concluded, Raines brought up the argument with the female prosecutors and an assistant public defender who remained on the Zoom call, who laughed along with Raines in a way that Bonjean’s filing compared to the movie Mean Girls. None of the attorneys who participated in the conversation was involved in the Myles case.
“That was so entertaining,” Assistant State’s Attorney Susie Bucaro said.
“It was entertaining for me!” Raines said.
In response to Raines’ comments about waking up next to Bonjean, Bucaro said, “There would be a number of things wrong with my life if I was waking up next to her.”
Bucaro later noted the youthful appearance of one of Bonjean’s colleagues, saying he looked like a “13-year-old boy.”
“That’s her man-child,” Raines said.
After some unrelated chatting, Raines apparently noticed that the conversation was still being broadcast in real time.
“Oh, wait,” he said. “Meeting is streaming live on YouTube? What’s up with this?”
After that, the video cuts off.
A spokeswoman for the office of Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said in a statement that Foxx had spoken directly to both prosecutors who participated in the conversation, and “as a personnel matter, this will be addressed appropriately.”
Their behavior “is unacceptable and runs counter to the values of this administration. Their actions reflect poorly on the work of our office and the entire criminal justice system,” the statement reads.
Bonjean confirmed that both assistant state’s attorneys as well as Foxx herself have reached out to apologise, and she accepted their apologies.
It would be “naive” to think that conversations like the ones Raines participated in don’t happen routinely among certain Cook County judges, Bonjean told the Chicago Tribune, though she said she is hopeful that culture is “working its way out” as new judges take the bench.
“There are plenty of judges in that building who still think it’s appropriate to engage in chat and banter after the close of a court case and some of it can be very inappropriate,” she said.
And while Bonjean said she would have hoped that the attorneys who laughed along with Raines instead acted more appropriately, she understood that there was a power dynamic at play there.
“There was a judge who is presiding over their cases, and what does it mean if you don’t join in the fun? And how does that resonate with the judge and are there consequences for that?” she asked. “I’m cognisant of the pressure.”
Bonjean is a high-profile New York-based attorney who has made her name, in part, doing work to overturn alleged wrongful convictions. She also represented actor Bill Cosby in a successful appeal that overturned his conviction for a sex-crimes case. Recently, she signed on to represent R&B singer R. Kelly, who was convicted last year on federal racketeering and sex abuse charges. – Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service