After March 20, Dorothy Brown hopes to continue the post as clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook Countya position she has held for more than a decade. However, she faces a potentially stiff challenge in the primary from Ald. Ricardo Munoz. Brown talked with Windy City Times about her duties and her opponent.
NOTE: View downloadable election guide charts at the following link. This election chart was updated online on Tuesday March 13 with corrections and updates. www.windycitymediagroup.com/pdf/WCT_2012_primarychartsforweb.pdf .
Windy City Times: Some people may not know what your duties are as clerk. Could you discuss those?
Dorothy Brown: The clerk of the court is the official record-keeper of the court system.
It's good to compare this office with the city clerk, who maintains the minutes of the city council and issues the city stickers, and the county clerk, who runs the elections and who maintains the minutes of the county board. I handle all the records from the circuit court.
We have to create case files, maintain electronic and manual versions of case files, and then deliver court files to judges. Then, we have to pick them back up from the judges and put them in storage.
WCT: And you've been clerk for more than a decade?
Dorothy Brown: Yes; I was elected in 2000. The significant thing is that this court system is the second-largest in the country. We have almost a million new cases filed every year. Data has to be entered and images are entered into the electronic dockets. It sounds simplistic but it's actually very, very complex because it's so humongous.
WCT: What are two of your biggest accomplishments?
Dorothy Brown: I'm very proud of our customer service. I told my staff that every case file represents a human life. People deserve to be treated with courtesy and respect when they come to the court system. We worked on customer-service training, and we got on top of things when when we had a complaint about an employee.
We focused on going above and beyond the call of duty for requirements for the court, such as interpretersSpanish, Polish and even Mandarin; we also have interpreters for Hindu and a lot of different languages. Also, we have online forms for orders of protection. Then there's mortgage foreclosure surplus, so people can look to see if they have any surplus money if they lost any property. Right now I have $16 million due to people who lost their property and the bank sold it for more than it's worth.
In addition, we got a grant from the National Archives Association. We actually have microfilm for immigration documents we had from the time the clerk was responsible for that. Online, we have an index for those documents. We also do expungement seminars; I did one recently [ at Center on Halsted ] .
The second thing I'm proud of is the technology. When I took office, the system was very outdatedto the extent that they were still writing in the books. We had to automate the divisions, and we worked on bringing in a $5-million integrated cashiering system. We worked on an electronic filing system in 2009 that the [ Illinois ] Supreme Court approved of; we're waiting on the court to approve [ that system ] for additional case types. We also have our imaging system; we have 50 million documents that we have imaged that the public can access.
WCT: How can the system be improved further?
Dorothy Brown: For my next term, my plan is to have a paperless courtroom, [ including ] the bench and the jury. You could have a screen popping downlike at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va.where a witness can be cross-examined outside the courtroom. People could bring in expert witnesses from all over the world.
WCT: Your opponent has said that you run your office unprofessionally and that you've even mismanaged a petition case against him. How do you respond to those charges?
Dorothy Brown: I didn't have a petition case against him, number one. Our office is so well-run that the chief justice of the Supreme Court appointed me to a committee to help the court come up with a policy on how to balance privacy with the public's right to see documents online. I'm always updating my skills, in terms of management. I make sure we have accountability all the way down the chain. I went to the Kennedy School of Government, and I observed performance-management techniques we will be implementing very shortly.
Of course, my opponent would say these things but he's simply wrong. He doesn't even have a website after 18 years. He talks technology, and he doesn't even have a website about what's going on in the ward. The only web page he has is with the City of Chicago. He has a campaign website, but for the office itself? No.
He told the Sun-Times he didn't have a website because he didn't want to self-promote. I said, "The only thing you have there is a web page, and the only thing you have [ on it ] is a bioand an outdated bio, at that." If that's not self-promoting, I don't know what is. What's the cost of putting of putting up a website$250?
WCT: I saw a recent report on CBS Chicago that had you saying you found $700,000 in your office funds that you didn't know you had. How accurate is that?
Dorothy Brown: That was something [ Cook County Commissioner John ] Fritchey said. I know every dime in my budget; my background is in finance. I think John Fritchey made that statement to reporters after that meeting, and it was absolutely not true.
The county board had actually deleted one of my departments; the board can provide funds but can't make any decisions about how I run my office, so it was actually an error on their part. So when I went to the budget director and the chief of staff for the president, and explained the error they made and that the department they deleted was one that helped to export evidence, secure our floors and investigate. When I explained that to the county board, it was indicated that, in order to have the department reinstated, I'd have to transfer funds from some of the other line items, so that's what we did. We were able to pull out about $200,000.
So Fritchey went to the media pool and said, "She found all this money she didn't know she had." He led that charge, and I know he was working with my opponent; they were trying to use my budget time for politics.
WCT: We now have civil unions in Illinois, as you know. How do you feel about same-sex marriage being the next step?
Dorothy Brown: Well, I want to see how civil unions evolve. Of course, I supported it and we've done everything we could. I was at the civil-union ceremony over at [ Millennium ] Park [ last June ] . We should work with the federal government to have them recognized on a federal levelpension benefits, taxation, housing, that sort of thing. We'll keep our minds and eyes open when it comes to moving from that.
WCT: Talk a little about your history of LGBT support.
Dorothy Brown: I've received two awards from a Black gay youth group. I'll get that information to you.
My office is very diverse. We have our annual event in June honoring various organizations in the LGBT community. We hosted the expungement seminar at the Center on Halsted last year. I have supported increased funding for HIV/AIDS treatment. I worked really closely with the [ now-defunct ] Let's Talk, Let's Test Foundation. I participated in the AIDS Walkwe were actually the highest donors to that effort. When I first took office, I signed an order banning discrimination based on race, gender and sexual orientation. Of course, I participate in the pride parade every year.
WCT: Is there anything else you wanted to say about your candidacy?
Dorothy Brown: I feel that the voters should re-elect me because I made promises when I took office in 2000, and I have kept those promises. We have revolutionized the office, improved customer service and made it run more efficiently. And, in the tight budgetary times I inherited, I turned the deficit into a profit and brought $365 million to the county. So we have a proven track record of management, and it's important that we have someone who can properly manage that office. I feel I'm a guardian of the public trust.
WCT: By the way, I know that you endured a personal loss regarding your home [ in a fire ] recently. How are you doing?
Dorothy Brown: Well, you know, I'm just being strong. I'm just trying to get through all the different things that are out there.
See www.FriendsOfDorothyBrown.org .