Today a coalition of public service organizations--Chicago Appleseed Center for Fair Courts, the Chicago Council of Lawyers, and the Civic Federation--released a report examining Iris Martinez’s first 100 days as Clerk of the Cook County Circuit Court (December 1, 2020 through March 10, 2021).
In September 2020, the coalition published New Directions for the Office of the Clerk of the Cook County Circuit Court: Recommendations for Planning and Transitioning to New Leadership, which provided a set of recommendations for the new Circuit Court Clerk across a variety of areas including management, technology, transparency, ethics, and public access. New Directions laid out the following suggestions for the new Clerk’s first 30 days:
- Conduct an office-wide audit to review staffing levels, technology and office functions, and identify efficiencies;
- Establish a clear mission statement;
- Establish an emergency remote operation plan; and
- Plan to create the new positions of Chief Accessibility Officer, Chief Public Service Officer, and FOIA Officer.
The group was unable to meet with Clerk Martinez, and it took several months to obtain a response to written questions about the Clerk’s initial priorities and progress made toward our recommendations. Thus, the intended 30-day follow-up became a progress report on her first 100 days. Our findings show that Clerk Martinez’s office has a significant distance to cover before achieving the goals set out in New Directions:
- The office-wide audit is under consideration but has not begun;
- The mission statement has been minimally revised, but no comprehensive strategic or mission planning endeavors appear to be under way;
- The office has established a telework policy that is under review by the Shakman monitor; and
- Clerk Martinez does not appear to have prioritized issues of accessibility or transparency so far -- the positions of Chief Accessibility Officer, Chief Public Service Officer and FOIA Officer have not been created.
“While we recognize that the Clerk inherited an office with longtime structural and operational challenges, we have not yet observed a concerted effort to evaluate and reorient deficient office functions after several months into office,” says Civic Federation President Laurence Msall. “If those efforts are being made, they have not been expressed publicly.”
As Chicago Appleseed & Chicago Council of Lawyers’ Executive Director Malcolm Rich, explains: “We hope to see the new administration make an effort to engage with the community, address accessibility issues, or improve current processes and technology systems. We look forward to working with Clerk Martinez to fulfill her campaign commitments to improve transparency and efficiency within the office.”
The Elizabeth Morse Charitable Trust’s generous support for the Civic Federation’s criminal justice program helped make this report possible.