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Pay close attention to court clerk race

Updated: March 23, 2012 8:13AM

To hear Dorothy Brown tell it, she’s clueless about county contractors giving her campaign contributions.

Brown has been clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County since 2000. And she had no idea until recently, she says, that the company that got a no-bid, e-filing contract from her office has, in turn, given her $21,400 since 2001.

“After I looked at the [campaign disclosure] report recently, I saw that,” she said in an interview. “The good thing about it is I did not know they were donating.”

The company is On Line Information Services (OLIS), of Mobile, Alabama. They also are donors to Bridget Dancy, Brown’s chief information officer, who helped approve the OLIS contract.

In 2009, Dancy was running for trustee in suburban Matteson. She received three contributions of $500 each from officers of OLIS. But she says there was never a quid pro quo.

“They had the contract for over six months prior to me ever running for office,” said Dancy.

In an email, OLIS wrote, “Our contributions were legal and appropriate.”

I’m not arguing about legality.

It’s what Brown considers “appropriate” that should concern us.

Dorothy Brown carries herself with poise and confidence. But in 11 years in office, she has been plagued by absurd controversies.

Like her employees paying a fee to wear blue jeans on Fridays, ostensibly to raise money for charity. Trouble was Brown could never enumerate all the charities in question. She has since discontinued “Jeans Fridays.”

Then there’s the business of accepting gifts from employees. You know, Christmas and birthdays. How much? Brown told WTTW in 2010 that the IRS knows how much because she’s reported it.

To them. Not us.

And then there is her “bodyguard” or “chauffeur.” A retired police officer is on the county payroll to protect her from threats Brown says she’s received. “But I don’t have an advance car or a follow car,” she pointed out.

Phew, there’s a way to economize.

In the March 20 primary, this is a critical race. The clerk’s office controls 2,300 jobs and a $100 million budget.

The Regular Democratic Party — Gov. Pat Quinn and House Speaker Mike Madigan — are in Brown’s corner. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and a block of independents are endorsing her opponent, 22nd ward Ald. Ricardo Munoz.

Experienced trial attorneys I spoke with complain that the still-mostly-paper files in Brown’s office are a mess, with critical legal documents often missing.

A full implementation of electronic filing is long overdue.

The Illinois Supreme Court, eager to advance e-filing, won’t comment on why it hasn’t given Brown the go ahead to do more. But the court has signaled it wants clear statewide e-filing standards before proceeding.

Munoz pledges not to take gifts from employees or contributions from vendors. It’s a pledge Brown is not taking.

Her retort is that Munoz is the one who has enabled pay-to-play politics because he, over the years, donated $27,000 to the campaigns of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

What Brown fails to mention is she gave Blagojevich money too — far smaller, $200 — but a contribution nonetheless.

There are four weeks left until the primary. Watch this race.


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