When former Illinois State Senator Iris Y. Martinez was sworn in as Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County on December 1, 2020, the CGLA staff and others throughout the legal community enthusiastically anticipated the positive changes she would bring to the Office through the effective use of technology and by reforming business practices to be more efficient and responsive to constituents and users.
As 2021 dawned and Cook County began to emerge from the COVID shutdown, Clerk Martinez and her staff faced a mountain of over 3,000 petitions to expunge and seal criminal records in the First District that had been languishing since June 1, 2019, 18 months before she took office. Undeterred, Clerk Martinez and her team, led by Assistant Deputy Clerk Darice Goodwin, exemplified the spirit of the Bill Leslie Visionary Award in tackling this problem by partnering with CGLA to develop a strategy to reduce the backlog.
Using a process map of the petition filing process that CGLA created, the Clerk and her team, without hesitation, began implementing both small and substantive changes to eliminate inefficiencies in existing procedures. For example, they redesigned business processes and improve efficiency by exploiting features of the new case management system. More substantially, the Martinez team negotiated with unions to change organizational structures and relocate staff to the Leighton Courthouse.
The results so far have been phenomenal. Darice’s team has rallied to reduce the backlog by over 70%. As new petitions are filed, they are timely uploaded to the case management system in digital form, which means attorneys have access to timely information about upcoming hearings. Petitions are now being scheduled to be heard or granted five days per week, and uncontested petitions are processed within 6-8 months instead of 18 months or longer.
In addition, Clerk Martinez and her team have wholeheartedly supported CGLA in furthering the development of a new technology tool called Monarch that will revolutionize the way the legal aid community prepares petitions. We expect to introduce this tool to the legal aid community in production mode in early 2023.
Helen Keller, an American author and advocate for people with disabilities said, "Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much." CGLA is proud to join Clark Martinez and her team in transforming the ways the Office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County serves the community.