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Dorothy Brown shrugs off federal probe in re-election bid

Dorothy Brown said being the target of a long-running federal investigation proves she runs her Circuit Court clerk’s office on the up-and-up. After all, she said, federal prosecutors have probed her office and business dealings for months — but have yet to charge her with any misconduct.

Brown and rivals Jacob Meister and Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) spoke Friday to the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board.

“If someone goes through every bank account you have and you can still be standing, it shows that you’ve been doing a lot of things right,” Brown said, though she noted later she was only assuming the feds have looked at her bank records. “I handle my business properly.”

Brown was loath to talk in detail with editorial board members about her business dealings with her employees, which have been under scrutiny from federal investigators. But she insisted the feds have come up empty in their probe of alleged purchasing of jobs and promotions in the office Brown has run for 15 years.

In December, clerk’s employee Sivasubramani Rajaram was charged with lying to a federal grand jury about a $15,000 loan he made to a company owned by Brown’s husband, just weeks before he was rehired to a job in the clerk’s office. Brown noted that neither she nor her husband had been questioned by the FBI.

Rajaram no longer works for the clerk’s office, Brown said, but she would not say if his departure was voluntary. Brown said the loan deal was “an arm’s length transaction,” but declined to say if she was involved in any similar deals with other staffers.

Hiring in the clerk’s office is largely computerized, Brown said, noting that Rajaram was rated highly because of his specialized experience and prior employment with the clerk’s office.

“The computer selected him, not me,” Brown said. “I know who’s hired when I walk into (employee) orientation.”

Democratic leaders said Brown had denied any investigation was underway when she sought their endorsement of Democratic leaders this spring. In October, Cook County Democratic leaders withdrew their endorsement of Brown, replacing her with Harris on the primary slate.

Meister, an attorney and civil rights activist who has run unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate, has said ethics and administrative skill are keys to reforming an office he said is in “a state of decay and collapse.”

Meister touts his experience as an attorney who has managed the operations of both a large law firm and a development company, saying his opponents are either “ethically or operationally challenged.”

“We have to go paperless,” Meister said. “Other courthouses across the state and across the country have done it.”

Harris, the lone non-attorney in the race, said that she honed her administrative skills as secretary to the Board of Commissioners.

“I may not be the best orator, I may not be an attorney but I’m a hard worker,” Harris said.

Both Meister and Harris said upgrading technology in the office is critical.

Brown said her progress on making technological improvements has been slowed by limits imposed by the state Supreme Court and Cook County’s chief judges.

Brown and her opponents also differed on whether there should ever be another election for clerk.

Asked if the job of managing records of the nation’s largest court system — essentially an administrator overseeing hundreds of clerical workers — should be elected or appointed, Meister and Harris agreed that it could be an appointed post.

Brown insisted that the clerk’s duties had to be managed by an elected official, to make sure that the court system’s top record-keeper is independent from judges.

“The judges make the rulings; the clerk keeps the record,” Brown said. “It’s important the persons making the rulings do not control the record.”