Cook County circuit court clerk race heating up

Incumbent Cook County circuit court clerk Iris Martinez says her accomplishments during her first term — including updating and automating technology — and her position as an independent Democrat make her the best choice in the March 19 Democratic primary.

Challenger Mariyana T. Spyropoulos, a former Cook County prosecutor and private practice attorney who spent 13 years as a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner, says the office has been mismanaged. She says she understands how to “navigate the court system” and would be better suited to head up the office charged with maintaining the records of one of the world’s largest unified court systems.

In her Daily Herald candidate questionnaire, Martinez, a former state senator, cited as her accomplishments the digitization of 70 million court records; the establishment of a domestic violence survivor center that provides a safe place for individuals seeking protective orders; and processing thousands of backlogged expungement requests.

Additionally, compliance administrator Susan G. Feibus noted in her 2022 report that “good progress has been made toward substantial compliance” with federal court orders prohibiting political patronage in public agencies. The orders, known as Shakman decrees, date back to 1972.

Spyropoulos said in her Daily Herald candidate questionnaire bail bonds have not been refunded in a timely manner during Martinez’s tenure. To that end, she cited an August 2023 ABC 7 report about a man who waited more than a year for a refund of the $100 bail he posted for his son after his son’s case was dismissed. That same man, according to ABC 7, waited months for the refund of a separate $500 bail he posted for his son in 2023 after his son agreed to serve probation. According to ABC 7, bail bond refunds were due four to six weeks after the case closed.

“This case had an order of protection ordered by a judge, which was still active in civil court regardless of the criminal case proceedings,” a Martinez campaign spokeswoman responded via email. “The long-standing policy in the Cook County court system was to hold the bond until all cases were resolved unless a judge approved a specific motion entered by the defendant’s attorney to release the bond prior to the cases being adjudicated.”

Noting that the passage of the SAFE-T Act means courts no longer issue bonds, the spokeswoman said Martinez’s office still is processing bonds from earlier cases with assistance from the new staff Martinez hired and trained.

Citing a WBEZ report from May 2023, Spyropoulos also claimed in an email that the clerk’s office mistakenly added felony chargers to the records of some defendants. According to WBEZ, a man was fired after his employer noticed a felony on his record. The man had been arrested several years earlier for a nonviolent felony. He participated in a diversion or “second chance” program for low-level offenders that would have kept the felony off his record. An error occurred and the arrest was not removed, according to WBEZ. His attorney learned other diversion program participants also “had felonies wrongly stamped on their records,” according to WBEZ.

Martinez’s spokeswoman said while the clerk’s office keeps court records, the office does not create them.

“In this specific case, the public defender never entered a motion to remove the charge from the defendant's record,” she said via email. “The clerk’s office has worked with the public defender’s office and communicated that better training for their staff in these courtrooms would prevent further cases from occurring in the future.”

“To date, we have not identified one case where the error occurred due to clerk's staff,” she said.

Spyropoulos also claimed “technology is not up-to-date” in the clerk’s office and “personnel are not allocated as they should be.” She pledged to initiate an agency-wide audit and hire a consultant “to make sure staff and resources are being utilized according to best practices.”

Martinez’s spokeswoman labeled the accusations “entirely false.”

“The clerk's office has been completely transformed under the Martinez administration,” she said via email. “... The clerk has brought independent leadership to an office long-wrought with politics and corruption.”

The primary winner will face Republican candidate Lupe Aguirre and Libertarian candidate Michael Murphy in November’s general election.

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