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Clerk's Race Turns Nasty

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Ald. Ricardo Muñoz (22nd) says there's pay-to-play happening in Clerk Dorothy Brown's efforts to implement electronic filing for millions of legal documents. But Brown calls into question Muñoz's relationship with a certain convicted Illinois governor.

For a political office that often flies under the radar, the race for Clerk of the Cook County Court has turned prickly.
 
Incumbent Dorothy Brown is being challenged by Ald. Ricardo Muñoz (22nd) and the barbs are turning nasty.

  The issue drawing the biggest attention is the office’s efforts to implement electronic filing for millions of legal documents.
 
In 2008 the e-filing contract was awarded to OLIS, On-Line Information Services of Mobile, Alabama. State records show OLIS has contributed $24,000 to the campaigns of Clerk Dorothy Brown.
 
"They have been campaign contributors since 2001. So they have been paying for a while," Muñoz  said.
 
But Brown said she had no idea until recently that the company had been giving campaign contributions for more than a decade.
 
"After I looked at the report recently I saw that," she said. "The good thing about it is, I did not know that they were donating to us."
 
Brown has courted controversy during her tenure as the guardian of court records in Cook County.
 
Following news reports that employees were paying to wear jeans to work on Fridays, she ended the practice.  Brown has also had to fend off reports that employees have given her gifts and she uses a bodyguard as a driver.
 
The campaign controversy is the latest coming just under a month before voters cast ballots in the March 20th primary.
 
The Illinois Supreme Court has approved five pilot e-filing programs.
 
In Cook County only a very small number of cases are eligible to be filed online. 
 
OLIS was chosen over seven companies, which submitted Request for Qualifications.  Brown’s Chief Information Officer, Bridget Dancy, sat on the evaluation committee.
 
"I believe that the technology that is available in the Clerks office is one of the best," Dancy said.
 
It wasn’t just Brown who got campaign contributions from OLIS.
 
"Her Chief Information Officer, the person in charge of electronic filing, also receives campaign contributions from OLIS," said Muñoz .
 
Eight months after the contract was let, according to state records, three of the company’s officers each gave $500 to Dancy’s campaign for election to the Board of Trustee in Matteson.
 
Dancy said there was no quid pro quo.
 
"They had the contract for over six months prior to me even running for office,” she said.
 
A spokesman for OLIS stated in a reply to questions: "Our contributions were legal and appropriate" aAnd were made to Clerk Brown and Ms. Dancy "based upon support for their positions and efforts to work for the community."
 
A key issue in the contract for Muñoz is the $4.95 charge to file electronically.
 
He said there should be no charge.
 
"Its access to justice, number one," according to the alderman.
 
Brown said the $4.95 on-line convenience charge is far cheaper than driving or parking downtown to file a lawsuit.
 
The move to more online filings is in limbo right now.  In a written statement, a spokesman for the Illinois Supreme Court wrote:  "The Court is considering standards to move the entire state beyond the pilot stage…Included in those standards are minimum system requirements, system security, electronic access and fees that are reasonable and in the public interest.”

In this race, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle backs Muñoz while Gov. Pat Quinn has sided with Brown.
 
But it was another governor that Brown choose when responding to Muñoz’s claim that the e-filing contract smacks of pay to play politics.
 
"You know its interesting that my opponent would actually say that when in looking at his [campaign finance documents] over the years, he’s the champion of pay to play, including giving [former Governor Rod ] Blagojevich $27,500,” she said.

When asked what part of pay to play that is, Brown responded: "Well, we know where Blagojevich is right now."
 
Brown also contributed to the Blagojevich campaign, though in a much smaller amount: $200 to help in his first gubernatorial election.

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