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American Dream Betrayed

Dorothy Brown Outraged By E-Filing Pledge She Pretends She Didn't Know About

Fox Chicago, the Chicago Tribune and others attended a press conference [Friday] in Daley Plaza called by a nonpartisan group of software designers and engineers. They were there to ask candidates for Clerk of the Court of Cook County, Dorothy Brown and Ricardo Munoz, to pledge to open up court data to the public and to institute e-filing of court cases.

Candidate Munoz attended, and signed the pledge, but Dorothy Brown's press rep told at least some media who inquired Friday morning about her attendance that Brown was outraged that it was being held without her knowledge and without her being invited.

In response, event organizer Paul Baker, CEO of Webitects, showed five e-mails between him and Brown campaign leadership dating back to March 6 and played a voicemail he received yesterday from Brown's PR Director asking for more details about the event.

Derek Eder, co-founder of Open City spoke about the work they have done using open data from the city (data.cityofchicago.org), including:

* Chicago Lobbyists, a web app that displays, in easy to understand ways, all data related to lobbying that the City of Chicago has made available.

* Clear Streets, which uses locational positions of plows which appear on the City's Plow Tracker website (which shows where snow plows are at any given time) and displays which streets have been plowed and when.

* Vacant Building Finder, which plots vacant and abandoned buildings as reported through the city's 311 system, based on data released by the city.

"Recent data releases by the City and County have made all of this possible," said Eder. "Chicago is leading the country in this area. We've even had conversations with the Ethics Commission in San Francisco about using a Chicago Lobbyists-like format for displaying their lobbying data."

Rey Lopez-Calderon of Common Cause said, "Public data should be made public. Free and fair elections require transparency in government and we can't have real transparency without government data being open, available, and subject to the scrutiny of the media, the public, and civically-minded software engineers like those here today. I'm especially happy to see 'geeks' getting involved in these issues."

Forest Gregg, a sociology researcher, provided an example from the academic world. "Last year I was talking to an emeritus Professor of Law who was asked to make a study of what skills make a successful trial lawyer. He's much smarter than I am, but he turned down the project because he did not have the right kind of data: the kind of data the Clerk can release.

"For any single case it's probably impossible to say that that the jury made their decision because of a lawyer and not one of the hundreds of the factors at play. To try to get a measure of the effect of lawyer, you need a lot of cases.

"The Cook County Circuit Court is one of the largest court systems in the world. It has enough cases. This is the right kind of data to let us begin to figure what skills are really important in the courtroom so we can teach them in the classroom. Please, let us do this work."

During questioning, Baker described some of the lesser known benefits of e-filing. "A more efficient court system means that people who have been charged with crimes but cannot raise bail will spend less time in County Jail, less time away from their families and supportive social networks, and are less likely to return to jail or prison. Fewer prisoners in County Jail saves taxpayers money."

He also described data that the Court is releasing - just not to the public. "The County Clerk is already selling data to private firms who in turn resell it to lawyers, real estate firms, and others who may not have the public interest in mind.

"Foreclosure filing data, for instance, could help residents and activist organizations support the recent city and county abandoned building ordinances and put together responses to the housing crisis which is rapidly degrading quality of life and lowering property values in Chicago and the municipalities in the County. This is particularly important in hard hit areas like Chicago's South and West sides."

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See also:

* Electronic Filing Lags In Cook County Court Cases

* Pucinski, Brown Blame Each Other For Circuit Court Clerk Mess

* Painting The Picture Of An Efficient Operation

* Dorothy Brown Well-Funded In Challenge From Ald. Ricardo Munoz

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on March 19, 2012


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