She’s served in her position since 2000 and has dodged federal investigations over the last several years. Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown announced Wednesday she will not seek re-election and will step down at the end of her term in 2020.
Brown has survived long-running federal probes in which agents seized her cellphone and public records. She’s survived top aides convicted for perjury. She’s survived accusations of pressuring employees to contribute to her campaign fund. And she’s survived charges that her office was a relic of the past – relying on paper records that would often get lost.
But through it all, Brown has won election and re-election five times – leading the massive agency that deals with all of Cook County’s court records. She says she’s ready to retire from public office, but will not slow down after that.
“It’s a good time for me to move on to the next level,” Brown said. “I’ve accomplished some amazing things here, but I’m still young and vibrant and able to really make a difference in another arena. I want to do some community activism and use financial, legal and technology skills to go to another level in a for profit arena.”
Brown also acknowledges that 2020 will mark 20 full years of heading the office, enough to be fully vested in her county pension.
She says she’s untouched by the convictions of two former top aides for perjury surrounding claims of pay-to-play, and blames the investigations on disgruntled former employees.
“The people that went to the federal government and tried to take me down, and these are people I probably terminated when I first got here, they’ve been working 20 years to take me down. And they started that case based on lies. The things that both of those individuals were charged with were actually not illegal,” Brown said.
Meanwhile, Brown says her retirement has nothing to do with any federal probe or lack thereof, and says she’s been open and transparent with federal agents.
“They took my phone, I gave them access to my emails, access to my texts, they’ve researched everything about me and they’ve found nothing, because we did nothing,” Brown said.
Despite those allegations, Brown was immensely popular in certain segments of the African American community. She spoke regularly at churches and has even held a side job as a motivational speaker.
Brown didn’t have as much luck running for mayor – most recently in this year’s election, in which her petition signatures were challenged and she was kicked off the ballot.
Brown says she wants her legacy to be one of getting the clerk’s office into the 21st century by digitizing all of the courts’ records.
Four people have declared their intention run for Cook County Circuit Court clerk. They are: Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner Mariyana Spyropoulos; lawyer Jacob Meister; state Sen. Iris Martinez, and Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Michael Cabonargi.
The Cook County Democratic Party will have its slating session Thursday, in which candidates for many offices, including circuit court clerk, will make their pitches to get the party’s official backing.
Brown says she isn’t endorsing anyone to be her successor.
Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz