Gloria Schmidt Rodriguez: Candidate profile, Lake County circuit court clerk
Republican Gloria Schmidt Rodriguez of Waukegan is challenging incumbent Democrat Erin Cartwright Weinstein of Gurnee in the race for Lake County circuit court clerk.
Q: Why are you running for this office, whether for reelection or election for the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you? If so, what?
A: My primary motivation in running for the Circuit Clerk's office are the severe injustices I have witnessed regularly occurring within the processes of the Circuit Clerk's Office.
Access to justice and access to the courtroom are not equal for all Lake County residents. I have been practicing in this county for nine years and see an unmotivated workforce and a lack of inspiring leadership. I see significant room for improvement in providing better experiences for all litigants and attorneys who practice here, particularly for people that cannot afford an attorney, do not speak English, or are disabled.
Q: If you are an incumbent, describe your main contributions. Tell us of any important initiatives you've led. If you are a challenger, what would you bring to the board and what would your priority be?
A: As the challenger, I have three top priorities: Number 1 is ensuring that marginalized population groups have equal access to justice. The main groups I see being left behind are people without attorneys, people who do not speak English, and disabled people.
There are simple things the Circuit Clerk's office can do to help them navigate the court process better. For instance, the existing circuit clerk has a firm policy of not providing legal advice to anyone, but I have seen this policy misused as an excuse to turn people away. It seems arbitrary in its execution, and I have ideas to remedy that (which you can read more about on my website, www.gloriaslaw.com).
Number 2, I would focus on a better work environment for the existing staff, where passion for public service and longevity are both encouraged and recognized. The clerks with the most experience should be recognized and applauded, not demoted for arbitrary reasons. I will reinstate those that deserve it, period.
Number 3, I would focus on upgrading the electronic access to the court files. DuPage County currently allows you to see the actual papers in the court file. That technology exists, we just have to be proactive and make it a priority.
Q: Describe your position regarding the allocation of resources in the clerk of the circuit court's office. Are personnel allocated as they should be? Are there capital expense or other budgetary items that the office must address, and, if so, how do you propose to address them?
A: I would certainly not bring my dogs to the office, nor would I allocate personnel to walk my dogs or feed them throughout the workday. I would start there. Then I would reinstate the good employees that were arbitrarily removed or demoted without cause, along with a robust apology.
Q: Name one concrete program you'll create or personnel move you'll make to improve efficiency in the office or make it more successful. Explain how it will be funded and how you will overcome any obstacles to initiating it.
A: The Circuit Clerk's Office Policy Manual takes great length to describe disciplinary procedures, but is silent on incentives and rewards for the personnel who are subject to it. This kind of negative leadership does not foster positive work environments.
I would focus more attention on cultivating a pleasant work culture and less on dumb infractions. For instance, under the current regime a person wearing a nose ring or winter boots to work would be disciplined. Removing useless, draconian rules, or uninspired employees, and providing praise and recognition are leadership principles that I learned as a veteran of the Armed Forces (USMC and USAF).
My leadership style and personality are completely different than the current circuit clerk, and through my experiences managing my own successful law firm over nearly the last decade, I have seen that my leadership principles can be executed without any increased capital or funding.
Q: Describe your position on transparency in the office and the ease of access to records by the public. If you believe improvements are needed, what are they and how would you go about achieving them?
A: Currently, if you need to review a document in a case file, you must physically appear at the Waukegan courthouse, wait in line at the records counter, and request to pull the file. If you need copies over 100 pages, you have to pay first (in person only) and wait for a callback, because the records office gets 72 hours to complete your request.
There are easier ways of getting documents to people, and I would effectuate those changes within my first 100 days as the circuit clerk.
I question how evaluations are being conducted on existing staff members, as I have reviewed the salary listings under the union agreement and there are some clerks earning higher salaries with significantly less experience than other employees. I would focus on creating a system that is equitable among everyone and not the dubious system in place now.
The public should also have a method of praising and complaining about the services they receive from the courthouse, with processes in place to effectuate positive change. With high- risk individuals still sheltering-in-place, a priority for me is to have the court file visible through the circuit clerk's office, just as they do in other Illinois circuits.
Q: In light of the coronavirus pandemic, going forward, do you see needed staffing or equipment improvements/reductions/changes? Does/will how services are provided have to fundamentally and permanently change as a result? What do suggest?
A: My utmost concern would be for the clerks to feel safe in their work environment while still providing excellent service to the Lake County residents. It is unclear what the existing procedures are in response to the pandemic, but I am open to telecommuting and following CDC guidelines in the workplace.