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Fed judge orders Dorothy Brown to make electronically filed lawsuits accessible

Dorothy Brown

Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown | Sun-Times file photo

A federal judge on Monday gave Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown one month to provide public access to new, electronically filed lawsuits.

Courthouse News Service sued Brown over access to the lawsuits in November, complaining that Brown’s office withheld them from the press for days at a time.

“Brown has not explained why she cannot implement any of the measures other state and federal courts have taken to provide access to e-filed complaints,” U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly wrote in his opinion granting a preliminary injunction Monday. 

The judge gave Brown 30 days to implement a system making the newly filed lawsuits publicly available.

When electronic filing was first introduced in 2009, the clerk’s office printed out complaints as they were filed, which reporters could review alongside paper-filed complaints, according to the lawsuit filed by Courthouse News Service.

In January 2015, the clerk’s office stopped printing out newly filed complaints and instead began withholding them from review until after staff members completed “administrative processing tasks,” according to the suit.

Now, the clerk’s office only makes newly e-filed complaints available to the press on a delayed basis, after processing and official “acceptance,” according to the suit.

“In recent months, nearly 40% – roughly two out of every five complaints, on average – were withheld from the press for a day or more, with delays stretching up to ten and eleven days, and even 28 in one instance,” according to the suit.

Contributing: Jordan Owen