Restoring faith in the office, improving customer service and enhancing transparency are among the goals shared by Cook County circuit court clerk candidates Barbara Bellar and Iris Martinez.
Bellar, a Burr Ridge Republican, and Martinez, a Chicago Democrat, are running to replace Dorothy Brown, who for 20 years has headed up the office responsible for maintaining the judicial records for Cook County’s unified court system.
Brown announced last year she would retire at the end of her current term. Her tenure has been dogged by controversy, most recently in the form of a federal corruption investigation that resulted in the conviction of two former employees for lying to a grand jury about a pay-to-play scheme. Brown has not been charged.
“The clerk’s office needs a real scrub” to remove the “dark cloud” hanging over the it, Martinez, an 18-year state senator, said during a cordial Daily Herald Editorial Board interview last month.
Bellar, a physician, lawyer and Army reservist, agreed, saying she would “bring a breath of fresh air” to an office that has a reputation of “deception and secrecy.”
“I want to heal the lack of trust … and the confusion that’s been allowed to contaminate this office for 20 years now,” she said. “It’s time to clean house and be fully transparent.”
If elected, Bellar said, she intends to streamline technology, reduce the duplication of personnel positions and functions, and cross-train employees.
Asked about how she would balance her responsibilities as a physician and an attorney if she’s elected, Bellar said the clerk’s office “would get my full attention 25 hours a day.”
Martinez, who chairs the Democratic National Committee’s Hispanic Caucus, said, if elected, she will initiate an operations and performance audit and improve training.
She also called for making the clerk’s office subject to Freedom of Information Act requests. By statute, it is not subject to FOIA requests; however, official court records held by the clerk’s office are open for public inspection.
Martinez said if she’s elected, she will bring in a team of qualified individuals who have been part of the system, have seen everything that is wrong with the system and are committed to improving it and making it more transparent.
“This is not about one leader but a team of people who care about what goes on in the clerk’s office,” she said, adding anyone resistant to those changes “needs to go.”