New Directions for the Office of the Clerk of the Cook County Circuit Court: First Year in Office Progress Report


February 23, 2022


The change in administration within the Office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County in December 2020 represented an opportunity for meaningful reform of an office that has been notorious for corruption, delays and substandard constituent service. Prior to the November 2020 General Election, Chicago Appleseed Center for Fair Courts, the Chicago Council of Lawyers and the Civic Federation offered joint recommendations for the next Clerk to improve management, technology, transparency and public access issues in the Office of the Circuit Court Clerk through a report, New Directions for the Office of the Clerk of the Cook County Circuit Court: Recommendations for Planning and Transitioning to New Leadership (New Directions), in September 2020.

This progress report examines Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Iris Martinez’s first full year in office—December 1, 2020 through November 30, 2021. We find that the Clerk’s Office has made meaningful progress in several areas, particularly compliance with consent decree hiring requirements, creating a centralized call center and rolling out certain aspects of a new electronic case management system. However, much remains to be done to bring the Clerk’s Office up to the standards of technological competence and customer service that are needed in a twenty-first-century public agency. 

To be sure, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges for the Clerk’s Office and its employees and leaders. For an office that, prior to Clerk Martinez’s tenure, operated on carbon paper and outdated mainframe computers, the transition to Zoom (videoconference) hearings, e-mail court orders, and remote trials (as well as some in-person court proceedings) has proved rocky. A security breach in August 2021 on the Clerk of the Circuit Court website was another blow, and today the website remains only partially operational.

We conclude, nonetheless, that the Clerk’s Office needs to pivot some of its attention away from crisis response and toward strategic planning. The Civic Federation, Chicago Appleseed and the Chicago Council of Lawyers previously recommended in New Directions that the Clerk’s Office undertake an office-wide audit and a mission planning process, and those steps are now significantly overdue. We also suggest below further steps toward completing the other items originally recommended in our September 2020 New Directions report.

The New Directions report provided a comprehensive set of recommendations for the next Circuit Court Clerk, covering a variety of areas including management, technology, transparency, ethics and public access. The report included an ambitious timeline of recommendations to be completed within the new officeholder’s first 30 days, first six months, and first year in office. The first update, released in April 2021, examined progress made on our recommendations within the Clerk’s first 100 days in office. This is the second update on the implementation of recommendations issued in the New Directions report.


While we recognize that the Clerk inherited an office with many structural and operational challenges and despite the known problems in the office, it does not appear that Clerk Martinez formed an effective transition committee or developed a comprehensive transition plan prior to taking office in December 2020. The first several months of the new administration were consumed by understanding the problems inherited by the former Circuit Court Clerk, rather than setting priorities and goals for improvement. After a full year in office, we have seen Clerk Martinez take some steps toward the goals upon which she campaigned but there is still much more work to be done.

New Directions called for a major shift in the Cook County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, from a culture that prioritizes political and judicial interests to one that efficiently and fairly serves court users (litigants and attorneys) and the general public.

The first progress report released by Chicago Appleseed, Chicago Council of Lawyers and the Civic Federation in April 2021 examined the initial transition within the Clerk’s first 100 days in office. The 100 Days Progress Report found that Clerk’s Office had failed to adopt many of the recommendations included in the New Directions report as priorities. Of four short-term recommendations examined, two had been partially completed (developing a mission statement and establishing an emergency remote operations plan) and two had not been initiated (conducting an office-wide audit and planning for the creation of new positions to oversee accessibility, public service and external information requests).

This update on the Clerk’s first full year in office examines progress on all 24 recommendations made in New Directions. As shown in the progress summary chart below, the majority of the recommendations made in the New Directions report have not been initiated or fully implemented. This update is meant to recognize progress that has been made and highlight our suggestions for the Clerk to complete these initiatives moving forward.

The following is a summary of the progress made on each of the 24 recommendations made in the New Directions report. Of those recommendations, eight have not been initiated, nine have been initiated but not completed, four are in progress, and three have been completed.

Status of New Directions for the Cook County Circuit Court Clerk

Initiatives within the Clerk’s First Year in Office




Overall Management

1. Office-wide audit to review staffing levels, technology and office functions, and identify efficiencies.

Not Initiated

The Clerk’s Office did not to pursue an office-wide audit within the first year. The office initially focused on understanding the management issues inherited from the prior administration and on hiring to address understaffing. We believe a comprehensive audit is still necessary.

2. Establish a Clear Mission Statement

Initiated but Incomplete

The Clerk’s Office updated its mission statement, although did not engage in a mission planning process.

3. Establish an Emergency Remote Operation Plan


The Circuit Court Clerk worked with the Shakman Compliance Administrator to finalize a telework policy for employees to work remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.


4. Work with Judges to Improve Remote Hearing Capability


The Cook County Circuit Court enabled remote capabilities for court hearings in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

5. Create a Functional Case Management System

In Progress

The Clerk’s Office has migrated several divisions from the legacy mainframe system to a new Odyssey Case Management System. The Chancery, Civil and Law Divisions went live in the new system in December 2021.The final remaining division, the Traffic Division, is planned for implementation in early 2022. The public and self-represented litigants are not yet able to access case data in the new system.

6. Improve Integration of Data Between the Circuit Court and Other Criminal Justice Stakeholders

In Progress

The Clerk’s Office has been making progress on data sharing with other criminal justice agencies through a “data bus” that facilitates exchanges of information from the Circuit Court Clerk’s case management system.

7. Improve E-Filing System

Not Initiated

The Clerk’s Office has not focused on updating or improving the existing E-Filing System. We have recommended surveying users and working with the vendor, Tyler Technologies, to significantly streamline and simplify the E-Filing process.

8.  Make Judges’ Daily Court Calls Available Online

Not Initiated

This recommendation has not been initiated, and the Clerk’s website has not been fully functional since a security breach in August 2021.

9.  Install a Court Recording System in Every Courtroom

Not Initiated

This recommendation has not been initiated by the Circuit Court. With recording capacity provided through Zoom videoconferencing and authorization already provided by the Illinois Supreme Court, the Court should record court proceedings on Zoom and use those recordings to create the official court record.

10.  Implement Court Hearing Reminders for All Litigants

Initiated but Incomplete

The Circuit Court has a system in place for automated text and call reminders for criminal court hearings, which took effect December 1, 2021. This system only applies to criminal cases, however, and not other divisions of the Court. Automatic court date reminders are needed in all other Divisions of the Court.

Public Access to Data

11.  Create a New Office of Data Management to Improve Internal Data Management and Oversee External Data Requests

Not Initiated

The Clerk’s Office has not created a unit or designated a specific position to oversee data or information requests.

12. Work with the Illinois General Assembly to amend state statute to make information in the Clerk of the Circuit Court’s possession subject to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act

Initiated but Incomplete

The Clerk initially supported a legislative amendment to make the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County subject to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, but the bill was subsequently weakened to make the Clerk’s financial records subject to the Local Records Act.

13.  In the Absence of a Change to FOIA, Voluntarily Release Data and Operations Information

Initiated but Incomplete

The Clerk has indicated willingness to improve the availability of information on the Clerk of the Circuit Court website. However, the website is still under construction with no clear timetable for completion.

Accessibility and User Services

14. Appoint a Chief Accessibility Officer

  • Improve ADA and Language Access

Initiated but Incomplete

 The Clerk’s Office has expressed support for making its services more accessible but has not appointed a Chief Accessibility Officer or announced concrete steps to making Clerk’s Office facilities and services more accessible for people with disabilities or people whose first language is not English.

15. Appoint a Chief Public Service Officer

  • Improve Access to Justice

Initiated but Incomplete

The Clerk’s Office has announced several initiatives aimed at improving customer service including establishing a call center, establishing a customer service center in the Domestic Relations Division and increasing staff cross-training.  The Clerk’s Office has not centralized these access-to-justice initiatives under one division or official.

16.  Improve Partnerships with Other Agencies

Not Initiated

It does not appear that the Circuit Court Clerk has initiated suggested partnerships with other government agencies.

Ethics and Oversight

17. Continue to comply with Shakman Consent Decree Requirements

In Progress

The Clerk’s Office has complied with several requirements of the Shakman Consent Decree including finalization of an Employment Plan, policies, a list of employee positions exempt from Shakman hiring requirements and training for staff on the Employment Plan.

18.  Eliminate Patronage Hiring in the Office of the Circuit Court Clerk

In Progress

The Clerk’s Office has been working closely with the Shakman Compliance Administrator to bring the hiring process in line with Consent Decree requirements. The Clerk’s human resources staff worked with the Compliance Administrator to update job descriptions, establish employment policies and train staff.

19. Ensure stronger Inspector General oversight

Initiated but Incomplete

The Clerk expanded the Inspector General’s staff to handle investigations into waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement, which had not been in place under the previous administration. However, the Clerk’s Inspector General still serves in a security capacity that is not central to IG functions, and the Clerk’s IG needs to put policies and processes in place to ensure independence.

20. Executive a New Collective Bargaining Agreement


A collective bargaining agreement with the Teamsters Local 700 union representing Clerk of the Circuit Court employees was approved by the Cook County Board of Commissioners on November 4, 2021.

Budget Transparency and Accountability

21.  Reassess Staffing Levels to Ensure the Best Use of Resources

Initiated but Incomplete

The Clerk’s Office has not completed an office audit or desk audit to review and assess current staffing levels. The State of the Clerk’s Office Report, however, says the office has created a staffing database and analyzed functions across various operations in order to maximize operational capacity.

22.  Conduct a Comprehensive Review of Special Purpose Funds

Not Initiated

The Clerk’s Office has not made any commitment to reviewing special purpose funds.

23.  Revise Annual Performance Metrics

Initiated but Incomplete

The Clerk’s Office has indicated an intention to revise performance metrics.

24.  Produce an Annual Report with Budget, Performance and Statistical Information

Not Initiated

The Clerk’s Office has not made any commitment to producing an annual report with budget, operational or statistical information.


Click here to read the full report.
Click here to read the press release.

The Elizabeth Morse Charitable Trust’s generous support for the Civic Federation’s criminal justice program helped make this report possible.