February 24, 2022
CHICAGO, IL -- A coalition of public service organizations – Chicago Appleseed Center for Fair Courts, the Chicago Council of Lawyers, and the Civic Federation – today released a report examining Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Iris Martinez’s first full year in office.
This progress report follows a report issued in fall 2020 ahead of the November 2020 General Election that provided transition recommendations for the new Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County: New Directions for the Office of the Clerk of the Cook County Circuit Court: Recommendations for Planning and Transitioning to New Leadership. The coalition’s first progress report, detailing the Clerk’s first 100 days in office, was released in April 2021.
The report provides updates on the progress made by Clerk Martinez’s administration on each of the 24 New Directions recommendations since taking office December 1, 2020. We find that the Clerk’s Office has made meaningful progress in several areas, including compliance with the Shakman hiring process, staff training, and initiatives aimed at improving customer service including the establishment of a call center. However, much work remains to be done to bring the office up to the standards of technological competence and customer service that are needed in a twenty-first-century public agency.
Of the 24 recommendations, three have been completed, four are in progress, nine have been initiated but not completed and eight have not been initiated. The details of progress made on each initiative can be found in the full report.
The Circuit Court Clerk oversees the handling of hundreds of thousands of court cases filed in the Cook County Circuit Court annually and a staff of nearly 1,500. Much of the Clerk’s first year was devoted to understanding the challenges inherited in the office, which had a reputation for a lack of efficiency and transparency. Now that the new Clerk of the Circuit Court has had a year to understand the day-to-day needs of the office, our organizations urge the Clerk’s Office to transition from crisis mode to proactive management and planning.
Several of the initiatives that the three organizations encourage the Clerk to prioritize going forward are:
- Reassessing staffing levels based on workloads and court activity, and better aligning operational processes with new e-filing and case management system technologies;
- Establishing a long-term strategy to streamline electronic filing, electronic order entry and moving toward remote online access to case documents;
- Ensuring coordination and uniformity of customer service initiatives across divisions and courthouses, coordinated through a designated staff person;
- Improving communication with the public by issuing announcements and making information about the Clerk’s operations, policies and finances readily available on the Clerk of the Circuit Court website; and
- Improving responses to requests for data and information by working with the Office of the Cook County Chief Judge to revise policies regarding disclosure, and designating staff to handle external research and media requests.
“There are still many ways Clerk Martinez and her administration can improve access to justice for those navigating the courts, including through partnerships with other agencies,” said Chicago Appleseed Executive Director Malcolm Rich. “We hope to see Clerk Martinez fulfill campaign commitments to improve accessibility, fairness and efficiency, starting with planning and coordination.”
“We commend Clerk Martinez for expressing a willingness to consider our recommendations, including ways the Clerk’s office can voluntarily improve public access to information about its operations in the absence of the judiciary being subject to Freedom of Information Act requests,” said Civic Federation President Laurence Msall. “We hope to see the Clerk focus on continuously improving transparency in this obscure and often opaque government agency.”
The New Directions – First Year in Office Progress Report can be found at ChicagoAppleseed.org/Clerk-One-Year-Progress-Report and CivicFed.org/CircuitCourtClerkYearOne.