Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County making legal system more accessible
By Tia Carol Jones
With the opening of a call center, as well as a program that goes into the community, the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County is creating pathways to make the office more accessible for people. While the office might have operated in a silo in past years, Iris Martinez, Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County, is looking to change that. Martinez and her team came in, did some reforms, and started to do outreach in the community to inform people about the resources that are available.
On Tuesday, June 13th, the Office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County opened its Customer Service Call Center. Martinez said the office heard from people that it was difficult for people to get through to a clerk on the phone. “It was important to me to make sure that access to the justice system was as easy as possible,” Martinez said.
One of the things Martinez envisioned was a call center, with experienced clerks, to handle legal situations over the phone, the same way they would at the Daley Center. The call center also has an inlingo system, which enables anyone who calls for assistance to receive that assistance in their native language. There are more than 200 languages in the system that can be tapped into to resolve people’s issues without any impediment.
Martinez said the call center is averaging 1,100 calls and the average wait is between three and four minutes. There are 29 clerks working to take the calls. “I am very proud of that. I am also proud of the people who helped us put together this vision and the clerks that are taking care of serving our constituents,” she said.
Clerks in the Community is another way the Clerk’s office is making the justice system more accessible to people. Martinez acknowledges that sometimes people do not want to come down to the Clerk’s office or might be afraid to go to a courthouse. Martinez has been teaming up with townships, elected officials and community organizations.
There was a Clerks in the Community event in Roseland a couple of weeks ago, in partnership with The Rock Enterprises and Development Corporation (T.R.E.A.D.). The organization offers ex-offender counseling as part of its mission to break the cycle of poverty for families and individuals who are low-income and/or homeless. During the event, people were able to find out if they had outstanding warrants or any other legal issues they might not be aware of.
“For me, Clerks in the Community means I am taking our system into the communities where people need these services but are too afraid to access them. It’s another avenue for access to justice, bringing them into the communities where people are comfortable going into an environment where they feel safe,” Martinez said. Martinez added that the police will never be engaged during the Clerks in the Community events. The goal is to guide people and give them the legal assistance they need to take care of whatever outstanding legal issues they might have.
Martinez believes that being able to help people navigate the legal system is a big step toward people feeling comfortable and seeing the system is there to assist them. Martinez said the Clerk’s office is also doing Expungement Summits to educate people on how to process an expungement. Those summits have taken place in Englewood and Roseland. The next stop is Maywood.
“In the environment that we’re living in today, we need community input. We need to work with communities to address a series of problems that are going on. One of the things I’ve always said is that access to justice is a very important component of us trying to help people get their life back in order,” she said.
The Clerk’s office also has opened a Pro Se office on the concourse floor at 69 W. Washington. The goal is to take the fear out of the legal justice system. For more information about the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County, visit www.cookcountyclerkofcourt.org.
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