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Judge in bizarre court appearance was quietly suspended months ago

Judge Susan McDunn

Judge Susan McDunn

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Updated: December 4, 2012 6:10AM

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Susan McDunn was quietly suspended from the bench months before she turned up in federal court last week making bizarre claims that powerful people were out to get her.

“Judge Susan J. McDunn was removed from hearing cases in the Circuit Court of Cook County by Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans and her Presiding Judge William D. Maddux months ago, and has been on medical leave status since that time,” according to a statement issued by Evans’ office Friday afternoon.

McDunn — who continues to collect her $182,000 county salary — said later Friday that she is under the care of a doctor, but she continues to insist that she is healthy. She says she asked for a leave of absence during a bench trial she was presiding over in December after she felt “a great pain from all the persecution I have suffered since I began this job 20 years ago.”

Concerns about McDunn’s mental state became public after she twice last week asked federal judges during highly agitated court appearances to intervene in cases she believed had been secretly filed in her name.

She continues in her belief that mystery cases involving her and figures including former Mayor Richard M. Daley and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez may exist, despite being told eight times by Chicago’s top federal judge, James F. Holderman, that “there is no case.”

Evans declined Friday in his statement to comment on “the extent or nature of medical information concerning judges or employees.”

But McDunn, who Thursday said “I am not paranoid,” said Friday that Evans requires her to produce a doctor’s note every 30 days as a condition of her continuing sick leave. She denied taking any medication and insisted that “I have not been diagnosed with any condition, because I am perfectly healthy. . . . I just have this pain from all the persecution I’m suffering that I need to take care of.”

She described the Daley Center — where she was assigned to Law Division cases — as “a toxic, hostile work environment that I needed to get away from,” adding that she hopes “eventually” to return to the bench “once I’ve got to the bottom of the persecution.” She could not say when or how that might happen. “It’s impossible,” she said.

McDunn refused to divulge why she thinks she is being targeted — even to the federal court — and says she had hoped her suspicions that powerful people including officials from the Archdiocese of Chicago have “ruined my life” would be kept under seal. Holderman denied that request last week, telling her, “these filings will be public record.”

McDunn’s strange behavior follows a finding earlier this year by a court-appointed psychiatrist that fellow Cook County Judge Cynthia Brim was “legally insane.”

Brim is on the retention ballot Tuesday and continues to draw her $182,000 salary. She was charged with a misdemeanor battery and indefinitely suspended after she allegedly shoved a sheriff’s deputy and threw a set of keys during a scuffle at the Daley Center in March.

A day before that incident, sources say Brim, 54, was ruling on traffic cases in the Markham courthouse when she began making comments that were “racial in nature,” accusing South Holland police officers of ticketing only black and Hispanic drivers. She also accused south suburban police officers of conspiring to get her fired, a source said.

Another source said Brim recited her parents’ names, the address of her church and her license plate number and walked around the courtroom, complaining she had been run out of her last assignment.

Despite the recent cases of strange judicial behavior in Cook County, mental illness likely isn’t any more prevalent among judges than any other section of society, according to attorney Richard Kling, a professor at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law.

If there are “serious issues where a judge is going bonkers on the bench, the Judicial Inquiry Board would have grounds to file a case” against the judge, he said.

Anyone who thinks that they appeared before a mentally unbalanced judge has two years to file an appeal, he said.

They would have to show not just that the judge was insane, but also that the insanity affected the ruling, Kling said. “Even unstable judges can make right decisions,” he said.

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