Chief Cook County Circuit Judge Timothy C. Evans stressed the need for more clerks in the court system during his budget presentation before the Cook County Board of Commissioners on Monday.
Evans is requesting $268 million for the county court system, though Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s proposed $6.1 billion county budget would allocate $265.7 million to the courts.
Evans’ initial request earlier this year was $279.1 million, the amount the county appropriated for the current fiscal year.
“It wasn’t exactly the amount that we were seeking, but I appreciated working with the administration on that approach,” Evans told the board. “At least we are a lot closer to what was being offered than we were back in July. In any case, I think we are moving in the right direction.”
At Monday’s meeting, printed copies of Preckwinkle’s proposed budget sat on the commissioners’ desks as a reference.
The judiciary budget pays for more than 2,000 court employees, courtroom translation services, treatment courts, the probation and public guardian systems as well as the county’s juvenile detention center.
The circuit court, the largest unified court systems in the United States, handles more than 1 million cases annually.
As part of a deal brokered between Evans and Preckwinkle in July 2018, the court closed two branch facilities at the start of this year.
In addition to answering questions from commissioners about his own budget proposal, Evans spent time advocating for increased funding for the Cook County Court Clerk Dorothy A. Brown’s budget as well.
Evans told the board there is a shortage of clerks in the system, leaving hundreds of judges without one.
Without a budget to a pay for more clerks, the county is tapping volunteers to work for free — typically law students looking to gain career experience. The pool of interested and qualified candidates is small, Evans said.
“We’ve had instances where the judges have had to call their own cases because there was no clerk to do it, or we’ve had situations where more than one judge had to rely on the same clerk — we had clerks running from courtroom to courtroom,” he said. “That is a very inefficient system.”
It is also critical that clerks receive more training, Evans said.
Evans acknowledged his working relationship with Brown but also noted that she is not running for another term and that there will be a new officeholder in late 2020.
“I have said to the clerk that I would support [her] request for additional personnel, and I would also urge the clerk to make sure she ties into it a training program for these new people,” Evans said.
“I would appreciate the commissioners providing the clerk’s office with what is needed,” he said.