With the retirement of Sally Coffelt, current Clerk of the Circuit Court for Lake County, Gerald Dietz and Keith Brin are vying for the Republican slot in the March 20 primary to run against Democratic candidate Cynthia Pruim Haran, who is running unopposed.
Dietz and Brin participated in Sunday's candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Lake County (LWV) at the University Center in Grayslake.
Dietz, of Round Lake, has never held an elected office, but touts his legal background as an attorney who specialized in representing government entities. He has served as chairman of the Lake County Community Development Commission from 1996-2011.
Brin, of Highland Park, has also never held an elected office, but for the past three years has served as the chief deputy for the Lake County Circuit Court Clerk. He also is an attorney, and serves as chair of the Technology Committee for the Lake County Bar Association.
The candidates answered questions drawn from the LWV, the Daily Herald and audience members. Here is a cross-section of those questions and their responses.
- Is there technology that would improve the flow of business in the circuit clerk’s office and provide easier access to the public? What would the return on investment be?
"There certainly is technology out there. We need a collaborative effort with the judges, with the attorneys, to sit down with the vendors and find out what that will mean for us. Eventually that will mean getting online access for everyone, spend less time chasing files around and spend more time with bringing the actual system to the people."
"Actually it’s something we are doing right now. For example, modernizing the way we take money. Now we take a greater variety of payments with an increased safety and increased use of technology in the office. We have instituted an e-mail countering system and electronic filing program that we are spearheading, it’s being promoted not only as a solution for the state of Illinois but in courts across the country. With no cost to the taxpayers to operate that system. It’s probably significant in actual time and money that we spend on supplies and use of people to get files from point A to point B."
- What three changes would you propose to improve the office of the circuit clerk?
"First, change the way we do business. Try to make things more efficient, modernizing the office. Get rid of the case management system called CRIMS. It’s based on an old COBALT system. They are having to attach a new system to it and most likely is not going to last. Second, I would like to improve online access. Have you as a user look up basic court information, and third bring accountability and transparency to the office."
"One important change is continuation of what we are doing in the office. Further improve technology so that clerks offices across the state can communicate with each other. Improve access and customer service to make records available online, where appropriate, at no cost to you. And to make sure we have an electronic filing system in place so you have secure access to these records from wherever and whenever you need them. We turn over all of our funds to the County Board to ensure we keep transparency and accountability."
- Why was a cease and desist order necessary for providing remote public access for something you (Keith Brin) worked on? Were you part of the solution or the problem? Why was there a cease and desist court order and not just a letter to the users?
“It wasn’t a cease and desist order. It was an administrative order. We started remote access testing in the office knowing full well we would want remote access to our computer systems for records and the like in the future. The judges believed at a certain point after 40 users were on, that we should move forward with a comprehensive policy and move the whole circuit forward. We agreed. I actually crafted with the judges and the state’s attorney an administrative order that laid out what was going on and why it was going on so we could actively post it and provide it to those on the system. We pulled back so we and the judges so we could develop a policy going forward, a comprehensive policy in electronic usage for the circuit."
"The clerk is the keeper of the courts records, but not the keeper of the clerk’s records. The Supreme Court created a policy on electronic access, and it says the Clerk of the Circuit Court needs to get permission. If they don’t get permission, they are doing something illegal. In 2009, what they did, they started this remote access without getting the court’s permission. The court found out about it in September 2011. The court order said the clerk of the circuit court should immediately cease and desist. They were doing something illegally, they wouldn’t stop, so the court made them stop."
- Why are you the best candidate for the job?
"I have spent my legal career representing governmental entities and doing governmental watchdog things, so I know what the government is supposed to be doing and not supposed to do. I have spent a lot of that time as an attorney working in the courtroom every single day on the user side of it, so I know what the clerks are supposed to be doing. I spent 15 years on the community development commission, mostly as chairman/vice chairman. I'm a volunteer firefighter/paramedic, so I can make decisions quickly."
"I have something in my skills and knowledge that no other candidate has – the last 3 ½ years I have been the chief deputy of the Clerk of the Circuit Court. In addition to being an attorney and in the business world, I am the only one trained as a deputy clerk of the court. I know how the clerk’s office operates, knows the logistics, knows about the finances, managing and doing strategic development for the office. I would be doing the same things once I am sworn in. There is no on-the-job training for me. I start from Day One doing what I have been doing the last 3 ½ years."