Katherine M. Keefe: Candidate profile, McHenry County Circuit Court Clerk
In the race for McHenry County Circuit Court Clerk, Republican incumbent Katherine M. Keefe of Woodstock faces a challenge from Democrat Renee Overlee of Harvard.
Keefe has been circuit court clerk since first being elected in 2008.
To explore her campaign website, visit www.katherinekeefe.com.
The candidates were asked to respond to a series of questions.
For complete election coverage, visit www.dailyherald.com and click on "Election Central."
Here are Keefe's responses.
Q. What is the next challenge facing the McHenry County Circuit Court Clerk's Office and how do you plan on addressing it?
A. We have made great strides over the last 12 years working to eliminate paper files, moving to a completely electronic court record. We were one of the first Circuit Clerk's offices in the state to scan court records in 1990 and were one of the first Illinois counties to implement electronic filing in 2013. This early technology usage has allowed us to gradually eliminate the use of paper files.
We worked with the 22nd Circuit Judiciary to reach this milestone last year, and it went a long way toward improving both the Court's and Circuit Clerk's efficiency. As we continue to work toward a completely paperless court record, our next challenge is to move to electronic court orders.
The public benefit to this is not only a printed order, which is much easier to read than a handwritten order, but also the speed which electronic court orders are available to the public, and the cost savings to processing these orders. We currently have electronic orders as pilot projects in a few courtrooms and have a project plan in place to work with the judiciary to expand electronic orders to all courtrooms during the next 12 months.
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. I have drastically increased the transparency of court records in McHenry County. One of the first programs I initiated in 2008 was putting court information online, allowing public access to court records. Our next transparency improvement was our Attorney Access Portal, which allows attorneys to view their case files online. Both programs have improved public access to court information, while also increasing office efficiency.
Technology which improves transparency has made our office more efficient, allowing us to not fill 21 vacant positions, saving taxpayers $1.2 million annually. I do believe the Supreme Court will eventually allow Circuit Clerks to offer online access to court documents. Supreme Court rules currently do not allow this access over the internet, with the exception of attorneys.
The Supreme Court allowing online access to court documents would be the next logical step to expand court system transparency. We are working with the Supreme Court to interface with a statewide system, which allows access to court documents to case parties. I will continue to work with the Supreme Court to develop this access, moving us closer to much needed statewide public access.
Q. What do you bring to the table that your opponent does not?
A. I have 33 years of experience in the Circuit Clerk's office, working in some capacity in every area of the office, but more than 28 of those years have been management positions.
I managed the Circuit Clerk's Accounting Division, and later served as Chief Deputy, before being elected McHenry County Circuit Clerk 12 years ago. I believe what I bring to the table as a candidate for reelection is a proven track record for not only improving our level of customer service by reorganization and increased use of technology, but leveraging those improvements to allow us to not fill 21 vacant positions over the past 12 years, which is saving McHenry County taxpayers approximately $1.2 million every year in reduced personnel cost.
Under my leadership the McHenry County Circuit Clerk's office has developed into one of the most technologically advanced Circuit Clerk's office in the state, but we have done that while always considering the cost to the taxpayer, working hard to ensure that our office is operating as lean and efficiently as possible, so that through our fiscal responsibility we can provide some tax relief for McHenry County taxpayers.
Q. What issue is important to you? How would you approach it?
A. I believe an important Circuit Clerk responsibility is to ensure we provide the best customer service possible to all courthouse customers. Great customer service must ensure meaningful access to the court system, which includes making certain access is available to everyone, regardless of a person's economic status, English language proficiency, cultural background, disability status or lack of attorney representation.
The Circuit Clerk's office is not allowed to offer legal advice, but we strive to assist court customers with user-friendly technology and procedural assistance wherever we can. The Supreme Court has assisted with plain language and translated forms. We provide access to translation services at our counters and courtrooms when courtroom participants have a language barrier.
We implemented text/email court date reminders to help customers remember court dates and avoid the problems that come with missed court dates. We installed scan stations in our public viewing rooms to provide customers with the equipment necessary to file electronically. In my next term I will strive to continue our current efforts to make the court system open and accessible to all.
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. I am currently working on multiple initiatives which will improve efficiency. Scheduled for implementation soon is an iSchedule program, which allows attorneys to view court calendars and schedule court dates. Finding available dates has become more complicated as capacities are limited to ensure social distancing. iSchedule will improve customer service for attorneys, while also reducing staff time scheduling court dates.
I am also working on an electronic arrest warrant integration, which will provide agencies a program to initiate criminal complaints. This program will improve accuracy and streamline the process for the Circuit Clerk, Court and arresting agencies.
All technology improvements I have made were funded by court fees. State statute assesses a court automation fee and document storage fee on most court cases. These funds are controlled by the Circuit Clerk and Court, and are intended by the General Assembly to fund the technology necessary to run an efficient court system.
We have used these funds wisely and financed all Circuit Clerk technology with fees, allowing users of the court system to fund court technology improvements, rather than requiring tax dollars.