Barbara R. Bellar
Running for: Cook County Clerk Circuit Court
Political party affiliation: Republican
- Prior candidate for Illinois House of Representatives
- Prior candidate for Illinois Senate.
- Medical Missionary work Dominican Republic
- CVLS Guardian Ad-Litem
Occupation: Licensed Attorney and Licensed Physician
- Current Graduate Student, Harvard Univ. Social Justice
- Masters of Divinity
- Master of Public Health
- Masters in Bioethics and Health Policy
- Juris Doctorate
- Medical Doctorate
- Bachelor of Science
- Bachelor of Health Science
- Bachelor of Arts
The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the nominees for Cook County Circuit Court Clerk a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues. Barbara R. Bellar submitted the following responses:
1. Lawyers complain that employees of the Circuit Court Clerk are inept at managing Zoom sessions during the pandemic. They complain that they are left waiting in Zoom waiting rooms for hours without even being told whether there’s someone on the other end to eventually admit them. They also complain that it is difficult to learn which Zoom meeting to join to get into a particular courtroom. How would you solve these problems?
From the top, we know that video conferencing is here to stay. Working from that premise a system as large as the Cook County Circuit Court needs the most friendly (UI) User interface, for an optimum (UE) User experience. Since the pandemic has forced immersion into all electronic processing of cases currently, for first tier, I would hire a designated Chief Innovation Officer to lead and drive technology development, as well as oversight of all employee technology training. Zoom is currently being used but it may not be the only best system for the Circuit court, other video conferencing systems would be evaluated for future incorporation. For second tier, it is vital that all personnel be efficient in use of video conferencing, which means intense internal training and continued education in utilization. Third tier, my expectation would be that each attorney demonstrates their own proficiency in utilizing video conferencing, the court system will not be responsible for training attorneys. A vibrant roster system must be created that streamlines flow of cases and designated courtrooms.
2. If even skilled lawyers are feeling stymied by remote sessions, what can the clerk’s office do to help pro se litigants navigate the system?
Pro se litigants deserve as much support as is possible to be able to utilize and navigate the court system. To that end, I propose, using some of the law library space to create an electronic training area with a designated staff person present to give a live tutorial, which would be mandatory if you are a pro se litigant. For those who chose an interactive online tutorial, or those who have adequate home electronic access, there will an option for a live chat for familiarity training with the electronic legal system.
3. Now that Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown is stepping down, many of her top employees also are leaving. How will you fill Shakman-decree exempt positions to make sure you hire highly capable people who understand the court system?
Sadly, it is public knowledge that this office has a pervading persona of deception, denial, secrecy and investigations regarding corruption and patronage. I am no one’s puppet, so I can just do the right thing. There will never be a case of hiring political allies to positions that are deemed to be free of political influence. Further, any new employees hired will be the result only of personal integrity and the highest of qualifications for the position, as selection criteria. The lack of ethics in the current department is shameless, but finally revealed. I have coined, “Dirty laundry always gets delivered, so I don’t have to do it.”
4. Should the chief judge’s office use “courtroom administrators” to perform some tasks traditionally performed by Circuit Court clerk employees? Why or why not?
Typically, court clerks are the oil in the hub of the court system running smoothly, and their role will continue to be vital. Having said that the entire court process must involve team action. Cross-training to interface when and where needed would be a premise of my leadership. Court administrators also have essential functions, and I do not see court clerks performing their duties, but at times, it would be beneficial for a court administrator to extend their function to cover for court clerk duties as needed.
5. The Cook County courts struggled with a backlog of cases even before the pandemic arrived. Now that backlog is expected to explode. What will you do about that?
Cook County court is back in session for in-person processing excluding jury trials. The judges all have zoom licenses and are continuing to do their functions via video. A case backlog understandably arose as a result of the pandemic. The department can only move forward and at a more efficient manner if case prioritization is instituted based on offense. More entry level prosecutors need to be hired, and probono assistance is professionalism that is always welcome. Negotiations with the ARDC regarding Illinois considering making pro bono services a license renewal requirement would help relieve the backlog. Additionally, hopefully the process of expungement of 800,000 marijuana related offenses will help relieve the backlog.
6. Traffic cases at the Daley Center are being held via Zoom, not in person. What will you do to you to make this operate more smoothly?
Court proceedings done in any manner, i.e.; in person, via video conferencing, still are upheld to the highest legal standards and any tampering can be grounds to be jailed for contempt of court. Traffic cases at the Daley Center are being held via Zoom. First priority is respect for the procedure, and tight monitoring for any Zoom-bombing. As many services that are rapidly incorporating teleconferencing and accessible video solutions to achieve ends, so too, the circuit court must further streamline technologically. A dedicated Chief Innovation officer and interns should address more rapid and increased ease of access for traffic cases.