CHICAGO — A Cook County judge this week was caught on a YouTube live stream mocking an attorney who appeared before him for argument 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 get a visual on that if you paid me.”
A link to video of Tuesday’s live court call was available for viewing as recently as Thursday morning. After Raines finished hearing the cases, he began chatting with two Cook County prosecutors and an assistant Cook County public defender about the legal argument Bonjean had been involved in earlier in the day. He apparently didn’t realize the conversation was still being streamed live on YouTube.
“I’m reliving (Assistant State’s Attorney) Todd Dombrowski’s conversation with Miss Bonjean,” he said, seemingly uninvited. “…Did you see her go crazy?” Glasses removed, fingers in hair, the phone goes everywhere, it’s crazy.
In court on Thursday before Criminal Division Acting Presiding Judge Erica Reddick, Bonjean asked that the video be officially preserved, in part so she could use it in a complaint to the Judicial Board of Inquiry.
“To the extent that there’s a forum here to file a complaint, obviously we do that too,” Bonjean told Reddick. “Our position is that Judge Raines did not conduct himself in a manner that promoted public trust…there was an incredibly casual nature to these conversations that certainly suggests this is not the first time that this kind of joke happens.”
Reddick granted Bonjean’s request to preserve the video and said she would “reserve comment” on the issue of Bonjean’s complaint.
“Obviously, all judges who sit are subject to our rules of ethics…(and should) conduct themselves in a way that promotes trust in the judiciary,” she said. “I received the initial complaint. Know that this will also be addressed.
A spokeswoman for Chief Justice Timothy Evans’ office said Raines could not comment on the case as it was an ongoing matter. She directed questions to the state Judicial Board of Inquiry, which deals with allegations of wrongdoing by Illinois judges.
Many Cook County criminal court proceedings have been held by videoconference since the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the majority went well, the format did result in a few unusual hiccups. Last year, a couple was apparently caught having sex on camera during a Zoom court hearing. In 2020, a defendant on a bond court livestream let slip that he was a federal informant — and an illegally recorded video of the incident spread like wildfire online.
Raines’ comments came on Tuesday after a hearing in the case of Bonjean client Roosevelt Myles, who is trying to have his decades-old murder conviction overturned.
Raines backed out of the case on Wednesday, records show. Reddick reassigned Myles’ case to Judge Carol Howard on Thursday.
Earlier in the day, Bonjean and Dombrowski concluded thorny arguments in the Myles case involving a request from prosecutors for raw footage from an interview Myles gave to a documentary crew.
During the hearing, Raines grew frustrated with Bonjean, who would occasionally interrupt her or shake her head in displeasure. Bonjean repeatedly alleged that prosecutors lied about the case history.
“Stop shaking your head, just be professional, please?” Raines asked.
“You know what is professional? Tell the truth and understand the law. It’s professional. Telling the truth and understanding the law is more professional than shaking your head. I would ask people to state the law and the case correctly,” she said.
“I don’t need you yelling at me, Miss Bonjean,” Raines said.
“I’m passionate,” Bonjean said. “I don’t shout.”
After the day’s hearings ended, Raines brought up the row with female prosecutors and an assistant public defender who stayed on the Zoom call, who laughed with Raines in a way Bonjean’s filing compared to the movie. Mean Girls. None of the lawyers who participated in the conversation were involved in the Myles case.
“It was so much fun,” Assistant State’s Attorney Susie Bucaro said.
“It was fun for me!” said Raines.
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 woke 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”.
“It’s her male child,” Raines said.
After a few unrelated conversations, Raines apparently noticed that the conversation was still streaming in real time.
“Oh wait,” he said. “The reunion is being streamed live on YouTube? What’s up with that?”
After that, the video cuts out.
A spokeswoman for Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office Kim Foxx said in a statement that Foxx spoke directly to the two prosecutors who participated in the conversation, and “as a personal matter, this will be handled appropriately”.
Their behavior “is unacceptable and goes against the values of this administration. Their actions reflect poorly on the work of our office and the entire criminal justice system,” the statement read.
Bonjean confirmed that assistant state attorneys as well as Foxx herself demanded an apology, and she accepted their apologies.
It would be “naive” to think that conversations like the ones Raines participated in don’t happen regularly among some Cook County judges, Bonjean told the Chicago Tribune, though she said she hopes the culture will “find its way “. the judges sit.
“There are a lot of judges in this building who still think it’s appropriate to chat and joke around after a court case is closed and some of that can be very inappropriate,” she said.
And while Bonjean said she wished the lawyers who laughed with Raines had instead acted more appropriately, she understood there were power dynamics at play there.
“There was a judge presiding over their cases, and what does that mean if you don’t join the party? And how does that resonate with the judge and are there any consequences to that? ” she asked. “I am aware of the pressure.
Bonjean is a prominent New York-based attorney who has made a name for herself, in part, working to overturn alleged wrongful convictions. She also represented actor Bill Cosby in a successful appeal that overturned his conviction in a sex crimes case. Recently, she signed on to represent R&B singer R. Kelly, who was convicted last year of federal racketeering and sexual abuse charges.