Candidate Q&A

Why do you want to be Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County?

Our Court system represents 1/3 of our criminal justice system, but is often overlooked in the broader discussion of crime and justice. Media coverage typically focuses on the city, state, police but they don't often look closely at how our courts are managed. Its time to hold these offices to a higher standard. We must elect qualified Clerks to have experience in our legal system and a track record of results as elected officials. The citizens who interact with our legal system deserve leaders who are held to the highest standards.

Why do you believe you are the most qualified candidate?

I'm an attorney. I have practiced law in these courtrooms. I'm committed to justice for Cook County residents. I'm also a proven elected official with a track record of ethics, transparency and fiscal responsibility. My legal background combined with my experience managing a county-wide agency with a billion dollar budget and 2,000 employees makes me uniquely positioned to take on this role and make effective change.

Is the Clerk's piece of the court system working the way it should?

No, What's at stake? Bail bonds dont get refunded to people in a timely manner after their cases are closed. Felony charges are not removed from people's records resulting in loss of jobs and ability to provide for families. Website outages cause huge problems for defendants and lawyers when they don't know when their next court date is. These are just some of the problems that mismanagement of this office has caused.

Compliance administrator, Susan Feibus, was responsible for monitoring the Circuit Court Clerk’s office to ensure politics was not taken into consideration in most personnel decisions including hiring, firing and discipline of non-executive staff under the Shakman Decree. The federal oversight of the Clerk's office started in 2018 under then-Clerk Dorothy Brown and continued until 2022. (Brown did not run for re-election in 2020.) In her final report submitted to the court, Feibus did not conclude that compliance had been reached by the office in 2022. Instead, the monitor noted a U.S. appeals court ruling would compel a judge to terminate the court oversight. Feibus also noted ongoing issues at the clerk’s office including that the training on the employee handbook was “problematic” and lacking clarity. Feibus also noted in 2022 that the court clerk’s human resources department “remains understaffed.” What more does the Clerk's office need to do to go above and beyond the Shakman monitor's findings to improve on staffing and training?

More training and on-going training provided to staff that are currently in positions. Technology improvements, right staffing with the right skillset placed in those positions and ongoing training for these job functions that need to be added to the office. Further HR policy that ensures objectivity when hiring and professionalism of staff.

Bail bonds were required to be refunded 4-6 weeks after a case is closed. But according to an August 2023 ABC 7 investigation, under-staffing (by more than 500 in an office of around 1400 people) was cited for delays in refunds. The clerk also lost 55 staffers in May of 2023 because of COVID Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) fraud allegations. Is the office fully staffed now and why has it been difficult to keep staff?

The office is not fully staffed. There has been an atmosphere of patronage, hiring the friends and family of staff resulting in favoritism and some staffers feeling mistreated resulting in resignations.

What does it say to you when 4% of the clerk's staff is accused of bilking the government for PPP fraud?

The office needs to hire skilled and professional people. People should not be hired because they are the friends and family of other staffers.

What more can be done to recruit and retain law-abiding employees?

Hiring professional and skilled and committed employees especially in senior management positions not just friends and family.

In 2017, a law passed that requires the Circuit Court Clerk's office to provide records for appeals electronically. Where does the backlog stand and what can be done to expedite record scanning?

These requests are extremely important especially since the Clerk's office is the official keeper of these records. We need technology and dedicated staff. Dedicated staff will ensure the records are logged and organized the correct way and with the use of technology on the back end. This makes it easier and efficient to request and retrieve the records on the front end.

Diversion programs allow people charged with a non-violent felony who don't have a previous felony record to complete a program in order to avoid having a felony conviction on their otherwise clean record. WBEZ found that for at least three years some people's records showed a felony despite finishing a diversion program. Both the Cook County Clerk and Cook County Chief Judge came up with a solution to ensure felony records are not entered incorrectly into records. Have all the records been fixed and if not, how do you think the fix should be expedited?

Not all of the records have been fixed. The current administration should focus to get it done.

In 1995, the Second District Illinois Appellate Court ruled that the administrative functions of the courts are not subject to FOIA — even thought the law states that “administrative” bodies are included. House Bill 2455 was introduced in 2023 to force the judiciary to respond to a FOIA request within five business days just like every other public agency in the state. It is supported by various organizations which formed the Court Transparency Coalition which states, “The entire Illinois court system operates without the basic transparency protections FOIA provides. Unlike every other government body in Illinois, the judiciary is not currently subject to FOIA, which means it has full discretion over what information it releases about its operations.” Given that discretion, do you believe journalists and researchers should be able to file Freedom of Information Act requests of the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County to shed light on how the court system works?

Yes, The Clerk's office is a public office and we public employees. I think we have an obligation to be transparent and informative to the public.

Given the discretion afforded to the Clerk, would you comply with journalists' and researchers' FOIA request for information on how the Court Clerk's office collects fines and fees, how much is collected and how fines and fees are distributed by the clerk?

Yes

Given the discretion afforded to the Clerk, would you comply with journalists' and researchers' FOIA request for information on the kinds of programs that people on probation must complete or how many people successfully complete those programs?

Yes

Given the discretion afforded to the Clerk, would you comply with journalists' and researchers' FOIA requests for information on the disciplinary records of the 4,000 non-judicial employees who work in the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County office?

Yes

The Cook County Circuit Court lags behind in use of technology in the courtrooms. How will the Clerk encourage greater use of technology in the courtrooms?

Create an electronic courtroom. This is already being used many places and would allow greater access to many parties.

What has been or should be done to make the system more transparent and accessible especially for people without lawyers and how would that be a change from Dorothy Brown's tenure?

Work with pro-bono legal clinics to help people file their documentation.

What is your biggest goal if you are elected Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County?

Create a professional, transparent clerk's office that is accessible to everyone.

How important is the party's slating to your candidacy?

Support from the Cook County Democratic Party is important to reach voters and shows that the candidate has been vetted.