- Sound Management and efficiency
- Fiscal Accountability
- Courteous, Professional Service
- Civil rights/Privacy
- A full-scale audit should take place to determine if payroll padding is taking place and what jobs can be eliminated without service reductions. The fact Clerk Brown magically found $700,000 in her budget she didn’t know she had -- and then used that money to retain a personal car and driver -- suggests there is some room for savings.
- Each division head should submit a departmental budget to defend before the Clerk. There appears to be a significant problem with padding. Common sense requires the budget include a full salary for every employee for every workday. However, history shows, over the course of a year, employees will retire, move, and be dismissed. All savings on the personnel line should be appropriately applied and not used to cover up cost overruns on things such as supplies.
- Identify legal bottlenecks to allow the courts to function more efficiently. On the court call for every case in every division, Rick will put the number of times the case has been continued, so the judge, litigants, attorneys and the public can see what is slowing down the legal process.
- Work with the State’s Attorney and other agency heads to make sure we are providing them with all case management information they need to better manage their staff, resources and decision-making.
- Use funds from the court automation fee for the purpose for which they were intended. This is critical. The technology budget is being shortchanged, so Clerk Brown can use these funds for padding her personnel payroll.
- Introduce meaningful staff evaluations of managers and line employees to provide better training opportunities.
The Clerk of the Court maintains custody over millions of dollars collected through fines and in other ways as well money that is awaiting distribution, such support payments and sums owed to individuals who have gone through foreclosure.
Clerk Brown has received over $100,000 in campaign contributions from banks, and she appears to make investment decisions on the basis of these receipts. The Clerk currently has over $50 million in taxpayer funds in banks that the County Treasurer says are at risk of collapse. The Clerk has a history of investing money in at least one bank that has already failed.
- Public money managed by the Clerk must be placed in interest bearing accounts and the amount of interest should be reported as a matter of public record at frequent intervals. There can be no excuse for non-interest bearing accounts. Best practice would require that average daily balance be taken into account and interest paid on that basis. Likewise, the amount should be reported publicly as an assurance to taxpayers.
Attorneys who practice in Cook County Circuit Court and visitors to the various courthouses have a right to courteous, professional service from the clerk’s staff. Employees must understand that for many people a visit to the courthouse can be intimidating. And it is important for the clerk’s staff to help when doing so is practical.
Many staff members have proven to be hard working and dedicated. They are knowledgeable where the court system is concerned, and while the law bars them from giving legal advice they are able to explain some matters that make the visit to the courthouse easier.
- Supervisory positions should go to the most competent people, not the best connected politically.
- Supervisors should receive management training to handle people better and create a smoother, more professional atmosphere.
- All court facilities should be equipped with special waiting areas for children, which is not currently the case. Rolling Meadows and other facilities are lacking this basic necessity.
- Improve community ties by expanding the youth peer juries program and other measures.
An ethics code designed to move political fundraising and other unethical practices out of the clerk’s office is long overdue. The present Circuit Court clerk ran for the office a decade ago, picturing herself as a reformer. Ten years later, however, the management of the office is as deeply entrenched and the office is awash in all too familiar old school politics, especially in the realm of campaign fundraising.
Allegations that employees of the clerk’s office have felt pressure to sell political fundraising tickets have surfaced repeatedly. And the clerk has acknowledged that she has received gifts from employees. Federal prosecutors condemned both practices when they prosecuted former Governor George H. Ryan for racketeering and fraud.
County vendors have also showered the current clerk of the court with campaign money, leading to questions concerning the impartiality of the process by which they were awarded contracts.
When those contributions are combined with the hiring of the clerk’s husband, sister and brother in law by the clerk’s campaign fund, the ethical level is so preposterously low that no experienced person could begin to take it seriously.
- Rick Munoz will end the unethical fundraising practices of the current clerk. He will not accept $10,000 vendor contributions like those from Penn Credit and Mark St. Pierre. The clerk must issue an ethics code stating that campaign contributions will not be accepted from vendors and employees of the office.
- Rick Munoz will not accept campaign contributions from the staff of the clerk’s office. The new ethics code must ban cash gifts from employees to higher ups.
- There can be no repeat of the so-called Jeans Day program in which employees were required to pay for permission to wear casual dress.
- Finally, employees of the clerk’s office who receive outside income, such as honorariums for speeches, should be required to say on their annual financial disclosure statement filed with the County Clerk’s Office specifically how much money they received and to fully identify each source of funds.
The Cook County courts are home to a wealth of valuable historical information, including such landmark cases as the Leopold and Loeb trial. Immigration and naturalization records from 1871-1929 are also contained in the Archives Department.
Sadly, many historic case files have already been raided by souvenir hunters. Immigration records before 1871 were destroyed by the Great Fire.
- Rick Munoz will make digitizing these historic records a priority, so as to better protect them, and to ensure greater public access. The Ellis Island records in New York and the Old Bailey records in Britain are good examples of how this can be appropriately done.
- Rick will create a committee of historians to advise on which records should receive priority for digitization. He will also convene a panel of archivists to what will require text rekeying as opposed to scanning with OCR (optical character recognition).
Technology to provide real docket access
The docket access provided by the clerk’s website is so limited as to be all but useless. Dockets themselves can be viewed using the Clerk’s website. Unlike the federal government’s PACER system, however, the Clerk’s website does not allow visitors to call up specific items listed on the docket on their screens. This could be compared to going into a restaurant, picking up a menu and ordering dinner only to be told by the waiter that no food was available – only menus.
- Cook County should provide complete access to the docket – just like in federal court -- where allowed by state regulations.
Technology to serve judges
There is simply no excuse for the fact judges do not have computers in front of them, while they are on the bench. The system creates chaos for items as crucial as orders of protection. Currently, judges in Rolling Meadows may not know what Orders were entered the previous day in Skokie. This allows for overlapping orders and chaos in the courts.
- Put computers on the desk of every judge
- Provide the judges with the ability to search for information within filed documents and transcripts
- Give judges full access to documents scanned by the Clerk’s Office
Electronic document filing
- Rick will reboot the electronic filing system and bring it up the high standards set by the federal government’s PACER system.
- Terminate the sweetheart no-bid contract Clerk Brown gave her campaign contributors to manage the electronic filing system. The Cook County contract is potentially worth millions of dollars; there is no reason to award any single company a monopoly – especially not one that is a campaign contributor.
- Rick will work with the Illinois Supreme Court and the state’s legal community to choose new vendors who will deliver the kind of professional system we deserve. DuPage County has demonstrated how quickly we can move by using commercial available vendors. We should follow their example and put sweetheart contracts for campaign contributors in the past where they belong.
The current case handling system does not sufficiently protect everyone’s privacy. Documents that were supposed to have been sealed are sometimes in the case files -- not locked away in a special location, as they should be. Even after a judge orders part of a file to be redacted, the Clerk’s case file still contains the original version of all redacted documents. Anyone viewing the case file can see both.
- E-filing should be done in such a way as to protect privacy. We will put the burden on attorneys to redact sensitive information before filing anything electronically. We will work with the courts to create a penalty for attorneys who fail to comply.
- Rick will work with the Chief Judge and the AOIC to create new forms for each division of the circuit court -- forms that put an emphasis on privacy protection. First, Rick will meet with each division to get a list of sensitive information that frequently arises in their cases. Then, Rick will work together to design forms that segregate that information. The solution might be as simple as agreeing that all sensitive information goes on blue forms and blue forms never get entered electronically, for example. Or, we might require specific lines on each form be redacted before filing. Anything will be an improvement over the current system!