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Prominent Advocacy, Civic Groups Issue Recommendations for a New Cook County Circuit Court Clerk

Posted on September 22, 2020

In advance of November 3 election, organizations urge reforms in transparency and provision of services

COOK COUNTY, ILLINOIS–Chicago Appleseed, the Civic Federation, and the Chicago Council of Lawyers today released New Directions for the Office of the Clerk of the Cook County Circuit Court: Recommendations for Planning and Transitioning to New Leadership.

In advance of the inauguration of a new Clerk of the Circuit Court on December 1, the report provides joint recommendations for the next Clerk’s administration to make a series of improvements to operations, technology systems, public access, and accountability.

The Circuit Court of Cook County is the largest of the 24 judicial circuits in Illinois and the second largest unified court system in the United States. For the past two decades, the Clerk’s Office has lagged in technology, customer service, efficiency, and transparency. The recommendations presented in the report are intended to help guide the next Circuit Court Clerk to address these issues.

In the months leading up to the March 2020 Illinois primary election, the candidates for Clerk of the Circuit Court raised a number of ideas for improvement of the Clerk’s Office in news interviews and candidate forums, including those hosted by Chicago Appleseed, the Chicago Council of Lawyers, and the Civic Federation. Those ideas included conducting an office-wide audit to right-size staffing and appropriately distribute resources; improving staff training; addressing problems and delays in implementing electronic case management and e-filing systems; reforming ethics and patronage issues; and improving public information and access to data about cases moving through the Circuit Court. The report includes recommendations based on these ideas raised during campaign forums, as well as recommendations developed through interviews with stakeholders familiar with the Cook County Courts.

“For the first time in 20 years, Cook County voters will elect a new head of this obscure but essential government agency,” said Civic Federation President Laurence Msall. “We strongly encourage the County’s electorate to use this opportunity to call on the candidates to present their ideas for reform of an office long plagued by inefficiency, patronage, and delays in digitizing court records.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the pressing need for the Clerk of the Circuit Court to quickly adapt to remote operations and service provision to better meet constituent needs during the pandemic and into the future. The Civic Federation, Chicago Appleseed, and the Chicago Council of Lawyers are proud to present these recommendations for evaluation and improvement of the Clerk’s Office’s operations going forward.

“We hope to see the new Clerk embrace the office’s role in the Circuit Court—not just as a record repository, but as a true partner in advancing access to justice and better serving the public and users of the court system,” said Chicago Appleseed and Chicago Council of Lawyers Executive Director Malcolm Rich. “We look forward to partnering with the new Clerk in moving these ideas and recommendations forward.”

Democratic primary winner, Illinois Senator Iris Martinez, will face Republican candidate Barbara Bellar in the November 3 election. The transition recommendations have been provided to both candidates. Upon inauguration of the new Clerk, Chicago Appleseed, the Civic Federation, and the Chicago Council of Lawyers will monitor progress in the Office throughout the first year of new leadership and issue follow-up recommendations as applicable.

Click here to read the full report.

The Elizabeth Morse Charitable Trust’s generous support for the Civic Federation’s criminal justice program helped make this report possible.