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Clerk of Circuit Court

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The questions

All candidates were invited to respond to questionnaires, although not all chose to participate. Click on a candidate's name to see the unedited response to each question.

Biographical information & experience
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    ALL
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    Brown
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    Muñoz
Brown
Birthdate: 9/4/1953
Occupation: Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County
Marital status: Married
Spouse: Benton Cook III

Education:

I am a Certified Public Accountant, an MBA and an Attorney. My specific educational background is as follows:
· Chicago-Kent College of Law, Juris Doctorate, 1995
· DePaul University, Master of Business Administration – Finance, 1981
· Certified Public Accountant, February 1977
· Southern University, Bachelor's Degree – Accounting/Computer Science, Baton Rouge, LA, 1975

Civic, professional, fraternal or other affiliations:

· Chair – Cook County Integrated Criminal Justice Information System Committee
· Chair Outreach Committee – Illinois Integrated Justice Information Systems Implementation Board
· Founder and Chairman – Dorothy Brown Scholarship & Community Development Fund
· President – Urban Ministries, First Jurisdiction of Illinois COGIC
· Past President – National Women's Political Caucus of Greater Chicago
· Past Treasurer – Working in the School, Chicago Public Schools
· Past Treasurer - Illinois and American Institutes for Certified Public Accountants
· Board Member and Secretary – COGIC Charities, Incorporated (National) (2002 to Present)
· Board Member (Trustee) – King of Glory COGIC (1997 to Present)
· Board Member – First Jurisdiction of Illinois, COGIC, Incorporated
· Board Member – Moriah Community Development Corporation
· Board Member – Citizen's Action Illinois (2003 to Present)
· Past Board Member – First Jurisdiction Bible College (1998-2005)
· Past Board Member – South Central Community Services, Inc (2002-2003)
· Past Board Member – Jobs For Youth, Chicago
· Member – Illinois CPA Society (2003 – 2005)
· Member – Cook County Bar Association (2002 – 2004)
· Member – Black Women Lawyers Association (2000 – 2001)
· Member – NAACP
· Member – Operation PUSH
· Member – National Association of Black Accountants
· Member - Chicago Bar Association
· Member - Cook County Bar Association
· Member - Black Women Lawyers Association
· Member - National Forum for Black Public Administrators
· Member - Delta Sigma Theta Sorority
· Member - King of Glory Tabernacle Church of God in Christ.
· Member - Illinois Bar Association

Have you held elective or appointive political office or been employed by any branch of government?

I am currently the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County. I have held this office from December 1, 2000 to the present.

Please list jobs or contracts you, members of your immediate family or business partners have had with government.

None I am aware of, besides my own service as Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Muñoz
Birthdate: 1/30/1965
Occupation: Alderman of the 22nd Ward, City of Chicago
Marital status: Married
Spouse: Betty Torres-Munoz

Education:

Northern Illinois University: Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, 1987
Major in Constitutional Law
Minors in Spanish, English, & Philosophy

Civic, professional, fraternal or other affiliations:

I've been a Board Member and strong supporter of organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs and the YMCA. I've been an active participant in pro-labor causes ranging from the Living Wage to justice for our hotel workers. In my neighborhood, I helped organize the hunger strike that forced the city to build our first new high school in over 90 years. Nationally, I served for 10 years as a Board Member of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials.

Have you held elective or appointive political office or been employed by any branch of government?

I am proud to represent Chicago's 22nd Ward, and I strive to live up to the words the Sun-Times used in endorsing me during my last serious campaign for Council. “Munoz is an independent, practical and competent alderman who doesn't shy from challenging Mayor Daley but is by no means an obstructionist,” the Sun-Times wrote. After helping build 5 new elementary schools, a new high school, an expanded library and a new police station, I am currently working to create a major new hospital and park that will double the amount of local green space.
I am also a progressive voice within the local Democratic Party as both a Ward Committeeman and a State Central Committeeman for the 4th Congressional District.

Please list jobs or contracts you, members of your immediate family or business partners have had with government.

My sister currently works in the Office of the Chief Judge of the County Adult Probation Unit. My wife formerly worked for the Cook County Department of Human Resources as a Classification Analyst from 1991-2002 and as a Human Resources Manager from 2002-2011.
Both my wife and sister were hired by the County before I entered politics.

Campaign information
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    ALL
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    Brown
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    Muñoz
Brown

Campaign headquarters: 3960 S. Cottage Gr., Chicago IL 60653
Website: www.friendsofdorothybrown.org
Campaign manager: Peter Dagher
Campaign budget: A minimum of $500,000.
Name your five biggest campaign contributors and the amount they contributed.
This information is available in our campaign financial report filed with the State Board of Elections and can be viewed publicly at the Board's official Web site (www.elections.il.gov).

Muñoz

Campaign headquarters: 2500 S. St. Louis Ave, 2nd Floor
Website: taxpayersforrick.com
Campaign manager: Andrew Sharp, General Consultant
Campaign budget: We've matched the incumbent in fundraising, despite the fact she continues the corrupt practice of accepting contributions from the employees and contractors she supervises. We've raised over $100,000 so far and will have enough to get our message out.
Name your five biggest campaign contributors and the amount they contributed.
All 5 of my largest contributors last year were from working men and women in the labor movement.

AFSCME Illinois Council No. 31 -- $17,000
UNITE HERE! PAC -- $16,406.75
SEIU Healthcare IL IN PAC -- $6,000
Unite Here Tip State & Local Fund -- $5,580.62
SEIU Illinois Council PAC Fund -- $5,450

The U.S. District Court for northern Illinois is paperless. What would you do, given the resources of the Cook County office, to get all court records online?
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    ALL
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    Brown
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    Muñoz
Brown

The Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County is at the forefront of electronic records management in Illinois. We currently have over 50 million electronic images of court records through both the Imaging and Document Management System (IDMS) and the Electronic Filing System (e-filing). These documents can already be viewed online on the public access terminals at the courthouses, in accordance with the Illinois Supreme Court Public Access Policy, which currently restricts access to these documents to the public access terminals only. (“Electronic Access Policy for Circuit Court Records of the Illinois Courts, Revision Effective, April 1, 2004, Section 4.30 (b), Item 9). The reason for this restriction is the Court's concern about identity theft in the cases where identifying information is included in the court filings. The policy states the following.
"Section 4.30 – Electronic Court Records Excluded From Public Access
(b) While there is no authority prohibiting public access to certain other categories of information, there is no need to disclose such information to the public in an electronic form. The following information is excluded from public access in electronic form, unless access is provided at the office of the clerk of court. Such access shall be through the use of the computer terminal that does not allow information to be downloaded or exported, and only if such access is not otherwise prohibited by this Policy….
· "Any document filed or imaged, i.e. complaint, pleading, order."

The IDMS system has already been implemented in the Chancery, Civil, Law, and Probate divisions. In addition, the case management system for the County Division has included electronic images since 2005. Therefore, five (5) out of the (7) civil case type divisions have electronic images available already. The final civil case type divisions, Domestic Relations and Child Support will have the IDMS system implemented in early 2012. The IDMS system will be implemented for the remaining divisions, Criminal Department, Criminal Division, Juvenile Justice and Child Protection by the second quarter of 2012.

We have also programmed the e-filing system to upload all electronic documents filed into IDMS so that those documents are also already available on the public access terminal at the courthouse as well. Electronic filing is being done within the Commercial Litigation section of the Law Division. Upon approval of the Illinois Supreme Court, e-filing will be implemented to the remaining civil case types as approved.

The IDMS is a $6 million project that has been funded using the court automation special purpose fund. Therefore, the issue is not the resources necessary to prepare court records filed after implementation of the IDMS to be shown online. The issue is the Illinois Supreme Court Public Access policy that restricts the Clerk's Office from showing the documents online for the general public. There is a need for $21 million, according to a Needs Analysis performed for the Clerk's Office, to fund the imaging of all the old court records. Currently these funds are not available, but this will not keep the Clerk's Office from moving forward with implementing the IDMS for prospective records. As stated above, many documents are already available online via the public access terminals at the courthouses.

I believe court records should be made available online via the Internet for the general public. To move the Illinois Supreme Court to change the Public Access Policy toward that end, I have already discussed with Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride and the Illinois Supreme Court E-Business Committee both the importance of and practical recommendations for protecting the privacy of parties to the litigations, as well as providing the general public electronic access to the documents. I will also work closely with the Illinois Supreme Court to develop an appropriate privacy policy.
In sum, the Clerk's Office already has the mechanism in place to make the Circuit Court of Cook County paperless. My goal is to work with the Chief Judge to have paperless, 21st Century courtrooms modeled after standards promoted by the National Center for State Courts.

Muñoz

Though she blames others, Dorothy Brown is the single largest reason electronic document filing has not moved forward in Cook County. Of the 1.3 million cases filed and the 18.3 million related case activities, less than 3,000 documents were filed electronically last year, according to Dorothy Brown's own statistics. Cook County deserves much better.

The Illinois Supreme Court has refused to approve full electronic filing in Cook County, although they did so in DuPage. The difference is that Dorothy Brown gave the Cook County contract – a sweetheart, no bid contract worth millions of dollars -- to a major campaign contributor. This contributor, On-Line Information Services (OLIS) of Mobile, Alabama, and its Chief Lobbyist, Steve Windom, have showered Dorothy Brown – and her e-filing project supervisor, Bridget Dancy – with campaign contributions.

Dorothy Brown can claim that Steve Windom gives her money – and her deputy money -- because he likes her politics. However, that seems unlikely given Windom is a Republican lobbyist from Alabama, the former Republican Lieutenant Governor of Alabama, the head of Alabama Bush-Cheney 2004, and an ally of Mitch McConnell, who wants to make President Obama a one-term President. In fact, the only major contributions Windom and OLIS make in Illinois are to Dorothy Brown and her deputy. This is pay-to-play politics on the level that would make Rod Blagojevich blush.

While DuPage County moved forward with electronic filing using commercial vendors to acquire a system that was pre-tested and ready to go, Dorothy Brown saddled Cook County with the proprietary system owned and operated by her campaign contributors. As she accepted more than $20,000 in campaign cash from these vendors – cash she passed along to her family on her campaign payroll – Cook County fell further and further behind. That is why replacing Dorothy Brown is the critical first step to creating electronic filing in Cook County.

I want to reboot the electronic filing debacle and bring it up the high standards set by the federal government's PACER 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. I 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. I will work with President Preckwinkle, who has endorsed my campaign, to weed out corruption and eliminate waste. We can make this happen, and the time to start is today!

Is there a deadline you would be willing to set by which you would guarantee your office would be paperless?
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    ALL
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    Brown
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    Muñoz
Brown

The Imaging and Document Management System (IDMS) will be completely implemented by December 31, 2012. All documents filed with the Clerk's Office, after the date of implementation of the IDMS in each particular division, will be available on the public access terminals at the court houses, in accordance with the Illinois Supreme Court's Public Access Policy.

In order to image documents filed prior to implementation of the IDMS system, it will cost an estimated $21 million, according to the Needs Analysis that was performed for the Clerk's Office. Currently, there are no funds available for this type of project.

It is important to note that, according to the Illinois Supreme Court Public Access Policy, “the “official court record” is the basic record as defined under Part 1, Section F of the Manual on Recordkeeping or law. This is the paper record for imaged documents. In addition, a paper record must be created for e-filed documents. According to the Illinois Supreme Court's “Policy for Implementation of an Electronic Filing Pilot Project in Illinois Courts” Section A:

"10) The [electronic filing] application shall explain how the proposed electronic filing system will meet the following: …
(r) A means to produce paper copies of documents filed electronically."

Thus, although the Clerk's Office will have the IDMS completely implemented by December 31, 2012 -- and have all documents filed after implementation in each division online on the Clerk's Office public access terminals and paperless -- the Illinois Supreme Court policies on public access to documents and electronic filing require that the Clerk's Office maintain paper documents as well.

Muñoz

Yes, 1 year. Every new document filed with my office will be filed electronically within the guidelines established by the State Supreme Court within a year of my taking office.

Cook County is facing some very tough financial decisions in the coming year, and one of my top priorities is saving taxpayers money. Electronic filing could reduce the cost of maintaining accurate court records by as much as 30 percent.

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.

Lawyers often say that the Cook County Circuit Court clerk's office, when compared with court clerk offices in the collar counties, is dysfunctional and loses too many records. What are your plans to resolve such complaints?
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    ALL
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    Brown
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    Muñoz
Brown

First, the Clerk's Office has never been provided any specifics to support the “dysfunctional” criticism. On the other hand, there are supporting letters on file at the Clerk's Office, available for viewing, from lawyers praising the Cook County Circuit Court Clerk's Office and how it has been run by the current Clerk, Dorothy Brown.

Second, this question is like comparing the Sun-Times to a college newsletter. The Circuit Court Clerk's Office handles over 1 million pieces of paper a year, serves over 5.2 million Cook County residents, and has almost 2 million new cases a year. The Clerk's offices in DuPage, Will, and Lake Counties serve 900,000, 700,000, and 600,000 residents, and have 309,000, 223,000, and 175,000 cases filed a year. The numbers of cases handled by these counties represent only one division of the Cook County Clerk's Office.

Third, I long ago recognized the challenges in handling huge volumes of paper, particularly court files that must be made available to the public, where documents can be misplaced and sometimes even stolen. I determined that the only way to ensure files are always available is through imaging all documents when they are filed. These are reasons why I worked hard to get the funds to implement the Imaging and Document Management system (IDMS). Once the IDMS is completely implemented, the problem of missing records will be solved because there will be an electronic image of all documents. The system will be completely implemented in the entire Clerk's Office by December 31, 2012.

I will to build on the Office's nationally recognized reputation for innovation during my next term. I plan to help the Chief Judge make court rooms paperless by using the IDMS system and implementing elements of the 21st Century Courtroom demonstrated by the National Center for State Courts, such as computers at judges' benches and attorney desks, overhead and/or computer screens for jurors, and interactive video conferencing.

Muñoz

The closest you can come to time travel in this lifetime is stepping into the Clerk of the Court's Office as administered by the incumbent, Dorothy Brown. One local TV reporter complained requesting files from her office is “like stepping into a Charles Dickens novel.”

Ten years ago, in a review of her own office, Dorothy Brown called the system of manual data entry “cumbersome and inefficient.” She promised computerized technology to alleviate the problem. A decade later, though, most attorneys still file their paper documents at the Clerk's Office, much as lawyers did at the time of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, the most cumbersome and inefficient fictional lawsuit of all time.

This past year, the present Clerk was quoted in the April 22 edition of the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin as saying she is powerless in the face of frequent complaints that files are lost and documents are missing. Of course, this is a disaster of her own making, because the Clerk has failed to institute electronic document filing.

E-filing is what it sounds like. Documents such as complaints, motions, etc. are written on the lawyer's computer and filed to the clerk's office with a mouse click. Judges can do the same, writing their opinions and orders on the computers in their chambers and sending them to the clerk's office with a mouse click. Anyone with an account on the system can then call them up and read them (docket access). But because they are pdf files they cannot be altered, stolen or destroyed – problems now plaguing the paper files in the clerk's office.

There is no way to underestimate the importance of electronic filing. There will always be losses and thefts until electronic filing is implemented. Electronic filing will also dramatically improve public access to information.

DuPage County Circuit Court has had E-filing for five years. The federal government has had it for 16 years. New York courts are light years ahead of Cook County. E-filing is MANDATORY in some New York courts and extensive throughout the New York court system. It includes E-filing in criminal cases as well as civil.

Will you accept campaign contributions from employees in your office?
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    ALL
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    Brown
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    Muñoz
Brown

I will only accept contribution in compliance with all campaign finance laws.
I support the policy of the Cook County Board of Ethics in regards to fundraising and political activity. The policy specifically states, “County officials and employees shall not compel or intimidate any other official or employee to make or refrain from making any political contribution.” Also, the policy states, “Nothing in the Ordinance prohibits a County employee from engaging in activities related to his or her official duties or from voluntarily engaging in political activity on his or her own time (including vacation personal or compensatory time off.”

I strictly enforce this policy in the Clerk's Office. Every year, I send bulletins to employees stating that they are free to engage in or refrain from political activity, in accordance with the Ethics Policy.

A few years ago, I requested an official inquiry into an accusation that I pressured employees to contribute to my campaign. I was specifically exonerated by the Cook County Inspector General's Report of October 21, 2004, which stated, “Neither statements provided nor statistical information supports the allegation that Brown pressured her employees to make contributions to her campaign fund. In fact, the evidence is quite the contrary.”

Muñoz

No. I have never accepted contributions from my employees, and I never will. I believe taking contributions from employees is unfair to them, since they will naturally feel pressured to give. Just as importantly, I believe it is unfair to the public we serve, since you cannot hold employees to the highest standards if you are personally dependent on their contributions.

This is another area where I disagree strongly with the incumbent, Dorothy Brown. Brown has raised tens of thousands of dollars from employees for her Friends of Dorothy Brown campaign fund. One news report identified 33 Clerk employees who had contributed a combined total of $34,000 to Brown.

Allegations that employees of the clerk's office have felt pressure to sell political fundraising tickets have surfaced repeatedly.

• In February 2004, Barbara Nicosia, the former president of the Clerk's office employees union, claimed that Brown's managers were given the choice to sell political fund-raising tickets or to purchase the tickets themselves.
• Another former employee told a similar story. Ellen Krebs, a former Chief Clerk, claimed that twice she had been given 10 fund-raising tickets by her superior. Krebs said she was never ordered to buy or sell tickets, but “We knew what we had to do. We had to sell them. I knew what I had to do, and I did it.”
• On July 9, 2004 Benjamin Zomaya, who had been fired two years earlier from the Purchasing Department, filed a federal lawsuit. In the suit, he claimed that he had been harassed about his repeated refusal to sell fund-raising tickets. After writing a letter to Brown about the harassment, he was fired.
• On November 20, 2006, a similar lawsuit was filed against the Clerk of the Circuit Court. Donna Hammond claimed that she was dismissed from her job as Supervisor in the Domestic Relations Division after she refused to buy tickets to Dorothy Brown's political fund raisers. Hammond also claimed that she was denied a termination hearing.

Dorothy Brown has also admitted receiving cash gifts from her employees. Current and former employees said Brown accepted the gifts, which sometimes total thousands of dollars, for many years as presents at birthday parties organized by top-level employees and her campaign fund "If you didn't contribute, you were treated differently than other people who did," said a former employee.

Cash gifts and campaign contributions are relics of Illinois' political patronage system that belong in our past. Federal prosecutors condemned both practices when they prosecuted former Governor George H. Ryan for racketeering and fraud.

Dorothy Brown says she sees nothing wrong with either practice, but she did agree to stop taking cash when the press questioned her about the issue.

You can't fight corruption if you cannot see it. Dorothy Brown does not see anything coercive about taking money from the people you supervise, but I do. As Clerk, I will issue an ethics code stating that campaign contributions will not be accepted from vendors and employees of the office. The code must ban cash gifts from employees to higher ups. And, 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.

The race
The candidates
Dorothy A. Brown
Rick Muñoz
The office

The Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County oversees an office of 1,800 employees that acts as the official record-keeper for all judicial matters brought into the court. The office serves Cook County residents and more than 400 judges and operates offices in Chicago, Skokie, Rolling Meadows, Maywood, Bridgeview and Markham.

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