CHICAGO — A veteran Cook County judge was hit with a misdemeanor gun charge after sheriff's deputies saw him drop a pistol last week in the lobby of the county's main criminal courthouse, authorities said.
Judge Joseph Claps, who has presided over felony criminal cases at the Leighton Criminal Court Building, was reassigned last week to "nonjudicial duties" pending a meeting Wednesday of the circuit court's executive committee, a spokesman for Chief Judge Timothy Evans' office said.
Claps was walking in the lobby of the courthouse at 26th Street and California Avenue on July 3 when two deputies noticed a handgun fall out of a jacket draped over the judge's arm, according to a sheriff's incident report.
Security cameras captured the gun tumbling out of Claps' jacket as well as the judge picking up the silver pistol and putting it in his pants pocket, the report said.
The gun is believed to have been loaded, said Cara Smith, chief policy officer for Sheriff Tom Dart.
Sheriff's officials charged Claps with the Class B misdemeanor offense of carrying a concealed weapon in a prohibited area. The judge was released on his own recognizance and is slated to make his first court appearance next week at the branch courthouse in suburban Maywood, Smith said.
Claps has a firearm owner's identification card and a concealed carry license, Smith said, but weapons are prohibited in the courthouse for even concealed carry holders.
The deputies who saw Claps drop the gun did not search or detain him, perhaps because they mistakenly thought that as a judge he could lawfully carry a weapon in the courthouse, Smith said.
Claps was not taken into custody at any point, Smith said.
Robert Foley, a spokesman for the state's attorney's office, noted that county prosecutors did not bring the charge against Claps and that law enforcement agencies are commonly responsible for filing misdemeanor charges. County prosecutors will request that the Illinois attorney general's office handle Claps' prosecution to avoid a conflict of interest for the state's attorney's office, whose prosecutors work before Claps in the courthouse, Foley said.
Claps, 70, has been a judge for more than two decades, the last 15 years with the Criminal Division. He previously worked as the top assistant to the state attorney general and as a Cook County prosecutor.