Iris Martinez, Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Democratic candidate profile

She has served as a state senator since 2003. She is the chamber’s assistant majority leader.

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Iris Martinez, Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Democratic primary election candidate, 2020.

Iris Martinez, Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Democratic primary candidate.

James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Candidate profile

Iris Y. Martinez

Running for:Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County

Political/civic background: I was sworn into my first term in the Illinois State Senate on January 8, 2003, to represent the people of Illinois’ 20th Legislative District. My election marked the first time a Hispanic woman had been elected to the State Senate in Illinois history. History was again made when I served as Assistant Majority Leader from 2007-2008, a position never held by a Latina. I was named Majority Caucus Whip in 2013 and became Assistant Majority Leader again in 2018. As State Senator, I advocate for affordable housing, expanding health care access, and ensuring seniors and the disabled receive proper care. Additionally, I am a strong voice for Illinois’ children and promote programs to improve the quality of education for youth in Illinois.

Occupation: Illinois State Senator, 20th District / Assistant Majority Leader

Education:Bachelors Degree from Northeastern Illinois University in Public Policy and Administration

Campaign website:

Facebook: @Irisforclerk

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The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent candidates for the Cook County Circuit Court Clerk a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues. Iris Martinez submitted the following responses:

What reforms would you institute to bring the technology of the office up to the standards of the clerk’s office of the U.S. Northern District of Illinois? Given budget restraints, where will you find the money to upgrade the workings of the office, making it more efficient and transparent? 

Efficiency and Transparency are the cornerstones for successfully reforming the Cook County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office. The Circuit Court Clerk’s Office is supported by several funds, and each fund needs to undergo performance and operational audits to determine if each fund is operating efficiently and how the funds could be better used to identify the necessary technology for making the operations of the Office better for the public. The Office needs to be transparent about its problems and the solution to make it efficient.

A new case docketing system has been rolled out, but the office continues to move so slowly that companies that do criminal background checks say they often can’t complete those checks in time to allow young adults to be hired for seasonal jobs. Similar delays occur elsewhere in the system. What will you do about it? 

Besides performance and operational audits, the Office needs to identify issues like this one and work to find ways to address them. The taxpayers of Cook County and the users of the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office need and deserve to know that the status quo is not acceptable, and change is necessary to ensure confidence in the Office.

Large insurance institutions, including banks, reportedly have been moving cases to suburban counties where it is easier to deal with court clerk’s offices. This has had an impact on Cook County’s budget because court filing fees fund not only the court clerk’s office but also help cover expenses in the chief judge’s office and initiatives in the sheriff’s and public defender’s offices. What will you do to reverse the trend? 

The Cook County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office is one of the largest circuit court clerk offices in the country. Prioritizing technology and public interaction is one of my top priorities for changing the culture of the Cook County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office. A modern technological Office will reverse that trend.

Lawyers complain that court files often are incomplete. They say there are sometimes two or three separate files for a single case because things get lost. To what extent do you believe this is really a problem? What will you do about it? 

Casefile management is a severe problem. As a State Senator, I have heard from many people about the issues within the Cook County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office and the failure to have the case file ready and complete when a case is to be heard. This problem is especially real when the circumstances involve some of the more vulnerable citizens of Cook county, such as child protection, criminal matters, orders of protection, and domestic relations. The files for these cases need to be digitized and organized into an information management system that can be easily and quickly accessed. Also, all departments of the Cook County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office need to participate in making a case management file system more efficient. The Office is too dependent on a paper.

In some counties around the country, the clerk of the circuit court is an employee of the chief judge’s office rather than an independently elected official. Would you support such a reorganization for Cook County? Why or why not? 

I will end the neglect, mismanagement, and corruption that has plagued this Office for decades and help usher in a new era rooted in government reforms. Reorganization is an interesting question, but premature. The problems within the Cook County Circuit Clerk’s office need to be identified and addressed immediately. Reorganizing the Office now does not solve its deep-rooted problems.

What would you do to improve the office’s ethical standards and public image? 

The best way to improve the Cook County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office ethical standards and public image is to make the Office more technologically efficient, but most importantly, bring Transparency to the operations of this Office. Bringing the best practices from other court clerk’s offices from around the country will help ensure that ethical standards are part of the solution in turning this Office around.

What will you do to reassure taxpayers that patronage hiring and firing have no place in the office? 

Patronage hiring and firing have no place in this Office, let alone in any public office. I’ve spent my career fighting for working families and breaking barriers for women and people of color. I’ll bring that same passion, dedication, and ability to produce results to the Cook County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office.

What do you see as the core function of the office? 

The Cook County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office is statutorily required to attend court sessions and to make, keep, and preserve complete records of all the proceedings and determinations made in Court. However, the Office’s current core function is to become technologically efficient so that the taxpayers and the users of the court system can be secure in knowing that the judicial system is operating correctly and their lives are not negatively impacted by missing files and papers. Many people rely on this Office to live a day without fear. We need to understand that every day people’s lives are impacted by this Office.

What historical figure from Illinois, other than Abraham Lincoln (because everybody’s big on Abe), do you most admire or draw inspiration from? Please explain. 

President Barack Obama because I had the pleasure of working side by side with him in the State Senate. I’m inspired by him because he never let individuals who advised him to “wait for your turn” to discourage him from running first for U.S. Senate and then for President. I can relate to this because it’s been my experience in my political career.

What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why? 

My favorite show is All Rise, which features different court scenarios, how it affects peoples lives and decisions the judge makes.

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