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‘Feb. 30’ stamp snafu fuels Brown foes in circuit clerk’s race

Leap day became a two-day affair on a handful of documents filed with Cook County Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown’s office — a minor but ill-timed error that comes as the county courts’ record-keeper is fighting criticism from her political opponents that her office is technologically inept.

With the Democratic primary now little over a week away, one of Brown’s employees didn’t reset the date on a file-stamp machine in the chancery court division on Tuesday, said Jalyne Strong-Straw, Brown’s spokeswoman.

That led to documents in nine court cases erroneously getting stamped Feb. 30, 2016, instead of March 1, 2016, according to Strong-Straw.

The mistake was caught quickly, and the documents got re-stamped, said Strong-Shaw, who called it a “human error not unlike when a typographical mistake occurs in a newspaper.”

But a picture of one wrongly stamped document surfaced on Twitter and Facebook, providing fodder for Brown’s political foes, who said the goof symbolizes a litany of technological problems that the four-term incumbent has heaped on lawyers, judges and taxpayers over the years.

Jacob Meister. | Rich Hein / Sun-Times
Jacob Meister. | Rich Hein / Sun-Times

“Those of us who practice in the courts regularly know that incorrect date stamps are a regular occurrence,” said Chicago attorney Jacob Meister, one of Brown’s two opponents in the March 15 primary. “The clerk’s job is to keep accurate records. Use of this antiquated time-stamp technology is just another example of where our current clerk has failed to keep up with modern best practices.”

Strong-Shaw shrugged off the criticism, noting that the clerk’s office takes in about 5,000 new cases a day and saying, “Date-stamping errors rarely occur.

“The file-stamp machines automatically update,” she said. “However, for a unique month like February, the first business date of the next month has to be manually set.”

Brown has said she’s moved her office forward technologically, for instance implementing online case-filing and traffic-ticket payment systems.

Dorothy Brown, clerk of the Cook County Circuit Court. | Rich Hein / Sun-Times
Dorothy Brown, clerk of the circuit court. | Rich Hein / Sun-Times

A bigger potential problem for Brown in the final days of the campaign is a FBl investigation of her office that led the Cook County Democratic Party to take back its endorsement of her and instead back Chicago Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), Brown’s other opponent.

According to federal court records, a lower-level circuit clerk’s employee has pleaded not guilty to a charge that he lied to a federal grand jury that had been “investigating the purchasing of jobs and promotions” in Brown’s office — including a lie about whether he had spoken to Brown after he was rehired.

Though her county cellphone was seized as part of the FBI probe, Brown has said she’s done nothing wrong.

Harris said she is planning television ads to remind voters about the criminal investigation of Brown’s office. Meister already is airing a commercial that takes note of the investigation.