A Chicago criminal court judge was caught on camera Tuesday disparaging a high-profile civil rights attorney who had represented a client in their courtroom less than an hour earlier.
“Can you imagine waking up next to her every day? Oh my god,” Cook County Circuit Court judge William B. Raines said in reference to Jennifer Bonjean, an attorney who recently convinced the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to toss out comedian Bill Cosby’s conviction.
“There would be a number of things wrong with my life if I was waking up next to her every day,” Assistant State’s Attorney Susie Bucaro, also on the livestream, replied to the judge.
None of the participants in the conversation, which included two prosecutors and a public defender, seemed to realize that their comments were being livestreamed on YouTube. Many routine court hearings in Chicago, and elsewhere across the country, are now conducted on video due to COVID-19.
“Oh, wait,” Raines said. “Media streaming live on YouTube? What’s up with this?” The recording then stops.
Bonjean told BuzzFeed News she was unaware of the video recording until receiving an anonymous tip several hours after the hearing. Raines recused himself from the case Wednesday after Bonjean filed an emergency motion to preserve the video. The case has since been reassigned to another judge. A video of the livesteam is no longer publicly available but BuzzFeed News obtained a copy of the transcript of the comments.
The recording, Bonjean said, “shows what some of us already know: That there's this chumminess that goes on behind closed doors and makes you wonder whether cases are being heard on the merits or for some other reason.”
Bonjean appeared virtually before Raines on behalf of a Chicago man who claims police framed him for a murder he did not commit. In 2017, BuzzFeed News published an investigation showing that the man, Roosevelt Myles, had waited for 16 years for a court-ordered hearing to reevaluate his conviction.
Myles, 57, served 28 years before completing his sentence in 2020. He is still awaiting a reexamination of his case that the courts had ordered four decades ago.
Attorneys at Tuesday’s hearing discussed footage from an investigative television series, Reasonable Doubt, that profiled Myles’ case and determined that he was likely innocent of the 1992 murder for which he was convicted. Bonjean told Raines she had no objection to the prosecution collecting video from the television show but claimed the prosecutor, Todd Dombrowski, lied in a motion to obtain the video. Dombrowski denied the charge in front of the judge. He was not on the livestream when Raines made his derisive comments.
In a court filing, Bonjean characterized Bucaro's comment as anti-gay. In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Bucaro said that the comment had nothing to do with sexual orientation and was a hypothetical reference to having an extra-marital affair.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who oversees the prosecutors mocking Bonjean, issued an immediate apology to the attorney.
“I assure you that this behavior is unacceptable and runs counter to the values of this administration,” Foxx wrote, calling the prosecutors’ comments “unprofessional.”
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Foxx’s office reiterated her disappointment.
“Their actions reflect poorly on the work of our office and the entire criminal justice system,” the statement reads, noting that Foxx had spoken directly with both prosecutors and “as a personnel matter, this will be addressed appropriately.”
A spokesperson for Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans’ office said judges cannot comment on pending cases.
Raines won a 2014 election for his seat on the bench after a career in private practice, as a prosecutor, and as a police officer. Voters elected to retain him in 2020. That same year the Chicago Bar Association rated him “qualified.”
Bonjean said the Raines video underscores a structural problem within the Cook County criminal court system, the country’s second largest. Prosecutors and public defenders are assigned to handle cases in front of one judge. That, she said, encourages both prosecutors and public defenders to try to curry favor with the judge for the sake of their clients or careers. Bonjean said that power differential may have been a factor in the attorneys’ decisions to join Raines in criticizing her.
Meanwhile, Myles, whose fate is at the heart of the case that Raines once presided over, sat silently in a collared shirt and navy blue sweater on the livestream. After learning of the judge’s comments, he expressed doubts about ever having the opportunity to clear his name.
“This just shows what we’re up against,” he said.
The story has been updated to include a response from Bucaro and to clarify a dispute over the intent of her comment.
This story has been updated to report that the video of the livestream is no longer publicly available. A link to a transcript of the livestream has since been added.