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Budget cuts could mean no clerks for weekends

Monday, February 26, 2007
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
by Stephanie Potter

Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy A. Brown says budget cuts to her office could make her unable to staff weekend and holiday bond courts and will hurt service to the public.

In an interview Friday afternoon, Brown said when her current overtime budget runs out, she won't be able to have clerks in the courtroom after 4:30 p.m. She said weekend courts won't be staffed unless clerks are willing to work for comp time.

Brown was planning to send a letter Monday to Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans and the presiding judges outlining the problems she says were created by the 2007 budget, which was passed by the Cook County Board on Friday.

Evans' office said he had not received the letter by early Monday afternoon, so he could not comment on it.

Brown spokesman Bryant Payne said the office will lose a total of 112 filled positions and 35 vacant positions. That is 53 more filled positions than Brown originally offered to cut.

The budget amendments approved by the board say the cuts to Brown's office were made to reduce administrative costs and consolidate departments for greater efficiency.

John Gorman, spokesman for the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, said he wasn't sure how bond court would be affected by the cuts in Brown's office.

''If the court is open, our people will show up and do their jobs even though we're the only people in the court that aren't getting paid [for that time],'' Gorman said.

Payne said the office is still working out the details of which departments would be most affected. The office has about 2,000 employees.

In addition to not being able to staff weekend bond court, Brown said significant cuts in her overtime budget will limit her office's ability to work on late afternoon orders of protection, and the office won't be able to serve customers after 4:30 p.m. Previously, clerks would help customers until about 5 p.m. as long as they were in line by closing time, she said.

Payne said he anticipates the $79,000 remaining in the clerk's budget for overtime will run out by mid-March. He said he did not know how employees' union contracts would affect the use of comp time.

Brown also said it will be difficult to keep files properly updated.

''They obviously wanted to have some blood, so they took some blood,'' Brown said. ''So citizens will have to be patient with the courts, realizing the backlog will worsen.''

Payne could not quantify the current backlog of unfiled documents.

Steve Mayberry, a spokesman for Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, said Stroger made it clear from the beginning that all officeholders would share in the burden of closing a $500 million budget deficit.

''The president certainly should not be held responsible for the management decisions that Clerk Brown must now make,'' Mayberry said. ''Our hope is that all elected officials make an effort to run their offices efficiently and responsibly with the funds in their budget.''

Chicago attorney Michael W. Rathsack, who handles appeals, said documents are frequently missing from the record. He said he recently addressed those problems with Brown's office and was hoping for an improvement. But the budget cuts concern him.

''I would bet you out of 10 records, nine times things are missing,'' Rathsack said.

Rathsack said the problem would be solved if the clerk's office could post documents online, something that is routinely done in the federal courts but which is not allowed by the Illinois Supreme Court.

''It's all online; it's always there,'' Rathsack said of the federal courts. ''I've never had a document missing in federal court.''

Payne said he did not know how the department that handles appeals would be affected by the cuts.

Cook County Commissioner Peter N. Silvestri said Brown, like other officeholders, will have to be creative in coping with the budget cuts.

''She needs to reallocate her priorities and if money needs to be there she should transfer it from other accounts,'' Silvestri said.



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